What Is the Purpose of a University?

The Discussion Map charts important debates from the pages of EPW.


For Gopal Guru, universities are not merely institutions that exist within a physical structure but sites that cultivate and nurture creative minds. The state should therefore support universities, and not see students as “enemies” of the nation.

Swatahsiddha Sarkar writes that in colonial India, universities were established to serve the interests of the ruling elite. Today, Sarkar believes, universities are directed to “fine-tune” their academic coursework and research in “consonance with national priorities.” He uses Aristotle’s theory of episteme, techne and phronesis to understand the university and contends that the idea of a university was “premised in the search for episteme.” 

Venkataraman Ganesh states that Guru and Sarkar do not critically engage with the idea of a university and overlook its “telos” or purpose. Looking at how universities fit into the larger schema of society, Ganesh posits that the purpose of a university should be to impart civic education to its students and train them in constitutional theory, democratic participation and governance.

A few other works that are broadly related to this discussion:

  1. Scourge of the Scoundrels, Anand Teltumbde, 2016
  2. Public University in a Democracy, Sudhanshu Bhushan, 2016
  3. The Media, the University, and the Public Sphere, Subarno Chattarji, 2017
  4. Do Universities Threaten National Security? EPW Engage, 2018
  5. Are Public Universities and the State Destined to be at Odds? EPW Engage, 2019
  6. Student Protests: Universities Need to be Committed to Principles of Social Justice, EPW Engage, 2020


Ed: To contribute to a more comprehensive discussion map, please share links to other relevant articles in the comments section or write to us at edit@epw.in with the subject line—“University and the Government.”


Curated by Anandita Chandra [anandita@epw.in]




Image courtesy: Modified. Wikimedia Commons/iMahesh [CC BY-SA 4.0]

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