Future Academies

Lecture at the Future Academy Symposium at the Edinburgh College Art School of Architecture, March 2005, later published in Geetha Narayanan, ed., Tana Bana: Srishti School of Art Design & Technology Bangalore at Ars Electronica 2005 in Linz, Austria, August 2005.

Two distinct but inter-related phenomena have been dramatically reshaping the environments of academic institutions in India over the past five years. The first phenomenon is the widespread dissemination of networked media and information technologies, and the challenge this poses to large centralised structures, such as academic institutions and state bureaucracies. The second phenomenon is the decline of the traditional arts, humanities, and social sciences in the social prestige and market value they once commanded, and the erosion of the principle of liberal education and citizenship they represented. Taken together, these two technological and cultural shifts necessarily disrupt the institutional moorings of arts education, creating new spaces both inside and outside the academy for new pedagogic practices, which the academies of the future must seize on.

With regard to the first phenomenon, virtual and networked forms of self-education, enabled by new media and information technologies, will soon have the potential to supersede the classroom and campus as an environment for learner-driven pedagogy, beyond the confining institutional frameworks evolved by the modern state (colonial and national) in its drive to standardise and certify graduates in the disciplines. Today, new technologies are lowering the barriers of access to the means of producing new and imaginative forms of creative reflection and civic engagement. What is left is to articulate a new pedagogy — and institutional forms appropriate to this practice — which gives young people the space, discipline and the equipment to create these new worlds and act on them, not just as good students or workers, but as confident citizens. Most teachers and college administrators are unprepared for these social and technical shifts for a variety of reasons — social and generational gaps in computer literacy; the technophobia sanctioned by academic culture; and the general crisis posed to academic hierachies and recruitments by open source models of intellectual property, publishing and archiving.

With regard to the second phenomenon, at least in India, historic biases in higher education towards technical education — and a decade of retrenchments and vocationalisation in arts colleges — have effectively destroyed what was left of the old arts-humanities-social sciences disciplines at the undergraduate level. The response of mainstream colleges to these changes in India has been primarily defensive, shoring up their role against a weakening state and an aggressive market — with the introduction of new vocationalised courses and degree programmes. The decline of the traditional arts and humanities courses, and their replacement by career-centric education, while a complex phenomenon, also presents new opportunities for pedagogic experiments, both inside and outside the curriculum and classroom. However, our imagination of academic institutions is still dominated by the sedentary imagery of the residential campuses and territorial enclaves of the elite universities, gated against the ‘real world’ outside.

Institutions have never been static forms or stable structures, but are constantly changing processes, better understood as nodal points in flows of people, ideas and resources which are always in motion. The residential campus, gated against or located outside the city, can no longer enforce its separation from the outside world, if it ever could. Today’s academy can neither be an ivory tower nor an exam factory, but must engage with its outside, the public spaces and arenas for civic action with which many artistic and cultural initiatives are now concerned. Similarly, the increasing mobility of students, faculty, and administrators across borders — whether driven by cultural curiosity or commercial necessity — is a fact in our era of globalisation. The question is not whether to be sedentary or not, but how we can evolve new pedagogic practices which creatively harness this increased mobility, making movement itself into a vital principle of learning.