Hidden toll of higher education

The competitive trajectory for students begins even before admission and persists through campus placement, detracting them from the holistic experience of higher education

Published Date – 27 March 2024, 12:01 AM

Opinion: Hidden toll of higher education

By Neeraj Madke, Dr Rajitha Venugopal, Dr Moitrayee Das

On the campuses of higher education institutions across India, students navigate a complex struggle between academics, campus culture, extracurricular activities, hostel life, student-teacher relations, friendships and intimate relationships. These complex struggles may lead to various mental health challenges for them. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data suggests that student suicides increased by 70% from 2011 to 2021. News reports have highlighted that approximately 35,000 students in India have lost their lives to suicides during 2019-21 with 2023 recording the highest number of student suicides nationwide. These numbers underscore a concerning social trend. The numbers are alarming and indicate a rising social epidemic.

Within highly competitive environments, academic achievement often becomes the primary measure of success, leaving little opportunity for self-reflection or community involvement. Students find themselves focused on individual survival within this demanding framework, which frequently contributes to mental health challenges. The competitive trajectory for students begins even before admission to educational institutions and persists through the campus placement process, potentially detracting from the holistic experience of higher education for many individuals.

Detachment, Disillusionment

The education system in India was conceived post-independence to nurture nation-building ideals. This was a collective dream. However, the appalling data mentioned above indicates that students are unfortunately driven to self-harm due to increasing alienation and dehumanisation, as they may find themselves estranged from their surroundings and communities. This alienation arises when individuals perceive their academic pursuits as disconnected from the broader societal context, leading to a sense of detachment and disillusionment.

In this hyper-competitive milieu, cooperation and compassion wither, supplanted by a relentless pursuit of individual excellence. Assignments, grades, internships, volunteering, debates, speeches and extracurricular activities done only to showcase in their CVs dominate the student psyche, eclipsing broader societal concerns.

The pursuit of high-paying careers becomes the singular obsession, irrespective of the everyday issues of society they live in. For numerous students, the weight of familial aspirations adds to the stress of academic achievement. Balancing societal expectations and personal identity maintenance creates internal conflicts, as students navigate diverse demands from family, community and self.

Internal, External Tensions

Within this framework of higher education, students from diverse social backgrounds and experiences grapple with different internal and external tensions, exacerbated by their career aspirations, lifestyles and interactions. Differences among students can be reflected through their different cultural capitals, perpetuating privileges and backwardness.

Consequently, these individuals may find themselves embroiled in systemic practices that perpetuate inequalities and hinder the development of a progressive social and scientific outlook. Even then, the illusion of meritocracy reigns supreme, fostering a belief that academic success is the ultimate — a narrative which has always fostered an antagonistic approach towards constitutionally guaranteed affirmative action.

Students in elite higher education institutions are exposed to global trends and opportunities through various campus initiatives, including international student exchange programmes. These programmes aim to foster a culture of diversity and cross-cultural understanding among students. However, while these experiences expose these students (mostly a homogenous crowd) to global diversity, they may sometimes overlook regional diversities, disparities and social realities such as poverty, labour issues, climate change, gender disparities and political unrest.

Feelings of Isolation

In the pursuit of individual achievement, students often experience feelings of isolation and loneliness, perceiving themselves as competing against everyone, irrespective of their privileges or disadvantages. This individualistic focus can detach students from broader societal concerns, including collective traumas and struggles. Suicides in educational settings shouldn’t be seen solely as individual actions but as a reflection of broader social issues. Many students feel overwhelmed by the myriad challenges they face alone, lacking avenues for support or shared experiences.
As a result, they may succumb to various forms of addiction and dysfunctional behaviours. This cultural context within the education system has tragically resulted in a concerning rise in student suicides, prompting interventions such as the ban on ceiling fans in hostels.

However, addressing the root causes of student vulnerability requires a more comprehensive approach beyond mere physical measures. Viewing these suicides through a sociological lens, as French sociologist Durkheim posited, reveals them not as isolated incidents, but rather as social phenomena requiring systemic change. Institutions must recognise the social dimensions of student distress and the pattern behind the cases of suicides and implement reforms that address the underlying structural issues contributing to their vulnerability.

To nurture a generation capable of confronting the myriad challenges facing India, higher education institutions must transcend the narrow confines of academic excellence and job-seeking approach. It is crucial to foster qualities like empathy, critical thinking and social responsibility. Students should not only excel academically but also become conscientious citizens irrespective of their socio-economic background. Institutional practices can help in establishing this kind of learning culture.

Unfortunately, the current scenario is different. Albert Einstein had said, “The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, should attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.” Only then can we unlock the full potential of India’s brightest minds and build communities founded on progress and justice, thereby serving the larger interest of the nation.


(Neeraj Madke is Teaching Assistant, Dr Rajitha Venugopal is Assistant Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies and Dr Moitrayee Das is Assistant Professor of Psychology at FLAME University, Pune)


Crime Today News | Telangana

Source | Powered by Yes Mom Hosting

Crime Today News

Welcome to Crime Today News, your trusted source for timely and unbiased news coverage. Since our inception in 2014, we have been dedicated to delivering the latest updates to our valued readers and viewers across Telangana.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *