UPA’s Upcoming Bills on Education: Blueprint for Commercialisation and Privatisation

The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010:

This Bill claims to regulate the functioning of foreign universities who provide education in India.  However, as per the provisions of the Bill, the FEIs will be free to charge any fee. Will be free to select any student.  With  no provision for SC/ST/OBC reservations in the Bill; will be free to have their own norms regarding pay of teachers and employees(leading to  appointments without necessary qualifications on exploitative terms as is in existence in most private institutions today) ; will have complete autonomy over course structure and syllabi leading to offering of courses which the market needs and will not be required to submit reports to the UGC or to the central government( implying that neither the UGC, nor any other regulatory authority in India will have control over the functioning of these foreign universities making it almost impossible to withdraw the recognition given to a foreign university, even if there are serious problems).  International experience indicates that such legislation can neither attract truly ‘world-class’ institutions, but can only allow unreliable educations shops to sell sub-standard wares (relatively free of regulation) to Indian students.

The Universities for Innovation Bill 2010:

This Bill proposes to set up 14 “Universities for Innovation” in India, which will enjoy Government funding but be totally free from any kind of regulation of standards or fees! These Universities, in the name of being ‘free to innovate”, will be free to have foreign VCs; ‘merit-based’ admission process free from any obligations to reserve seats for SC/STs and OBCs; fix their own free structures; pay differential fees to faculty; and admit up to 50% foreign students (in contrast to ordinary universities which have a 15% cap on foreign students). These Universities, while enjoying Government funding in the shape of grants of land, fellowships etc, will be free from supervision by regulatory authorities like the UGC. There are no norms for curriculum, teaching quality, students’ assessment etc spelled out for the promoters of these universities, and no penalty for making false claims or failing to provide quality education.

The Educational Tribunals Bill 2010:

In the name of setting up educational tribunals at national and state level to resolve disputes among stakeholders in the education sector and penalise unfair practices, the aim of this Bill seems to be to restrict the recourse of teachers, employees and students to courts. This would facilitate foreign and private players in the education sector who would like to be free from the prospect of being taken to court.

The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill 2010:

This Bill proposes to make accreditation compulsory. It may be that fund cuts can follow in case an institution fails to achieve sufficient credits. However, the central government will have the power to offer exemptions. Private or otherwise influential players can therefore secure such exemption, which is an open invitation to graft and corruption.

National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill 2010:

Under provisions of this Bill, all existing regulatory like UGC, AICTE, NCTE and the MCI will be replaced by the establishment of a single-window National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). The NCHER will draw its resources directly from Ministry of Finance and thus not be accountable to the MHRD mandated for this purpose. This body has been designed on the lines of World Bank-recommended regulatory bodies for every service sector in every country. It is designed to bypass the political process and to facilitate global corporate trade.

Higher education is thus being thrown open for the private players in the name of ridding it of problems like corruption and capitation fees and ensuring higher standards. However, the telecom scam is a reminder that privatisation and greed for profit go hand-in-hand with corruption. The UPA’s agenda for India’s higher education dictated by the WTO, FEIs and corporates will not only further exclude the poor and underprivileged, it will increase the scale of chaos and corruption in education manifold.

Reject UPA’s Blueprint for Commercialization of Education!

Reclaim the Right to Affordable, Quality Education!!

Reject UPA’s Blueprint for Commercialization of Education: AISA to Organise ‘People’s Parliament on Education’ On Feb 21st 2011

Why Fund Cuts for Education, When Crores Looted in Scams and Black Money?

Resist Corporate-Run, Corrupt Government and Corporate Dictated Education Policies!

Reject UPA-II’s Education Bills that are a Blueprint for Fee Hike and Privatization!

The UPA Government is hell bent on privatizing and corporatising education on the pretext of a ‘fund crunch.’ However, it is the same government whose every arm is immersed in scams – each fresh scam dwarfing the other. The Government is willing to allow thousands of crores of rupees to be plundered in mega scams and black money stashed in Swiss banks – at the cost of the rights of India’s young generation. The 2G Spectrum scam (which resulted in a loss of a whopping Rs 1,76,379 crores of public funds) and other such scams expose the falsity of excuses used by the powers-that-be: the amount lost due to the 2G Spectrum scam alone equals an astonishing 3% of our GDP. With this money, the government could have ensured education FOR ALL for next five years (as per the estimates of National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration, NIEPA). The amount of black money estimated to be stashed away in Swiss banks is nearly Rs. 1.5 trillion, nearly one-and-a-half times India’s GDP.

The spate of mega scams have been a direct result of the Government’s willing surrender of various sectors such as telecom and mining to the whims and diktats of corporates. Now the UPA Government is preparing to offer up the education sector to the same corporate loot, with a slew of legislations which are nothing but a blueprint for massive fee hikes and privatization (see overleaf for details of the proposed Bills). These proposed legislations (which include the Universities for Innovation Bill and the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill) come close on the heels of the farcical ‘Right to Education’ (RTE) Act which in its final form is a diluted version of a genuine ‘right’ to education.

No matter how the UPA tries to couch its agenda, the fact remains that all the proposed legislations will lead to institutions of higher education becoming exclusive enclaves of the rich. Their main agenda is to increase privatization and commercialization, expand the grip of foreign educational institutions (FEIs), and nullify the potential of social justice in higher education. Moreover, even the limited public funds made available for education are being siphoned off to corporate capital (including foreign) through Public Private Partnership (PPP).

These legislations are neither the need nor the demand of the people of the country. Rather, they are being forced on us by the diktats of the World Bank-WTO-IMF and corporate lobbies like ASSOCHAM, according to whose estimates education market in India stands at $25 billion and is projected to reach $50 billion by 2015. These Bills are evidently pre-requisites for bringing higher education under the WTO-GATS regime and are aimed at by-passing the legislative, judicial and executive processes that constitute the foundation of democracy as per the Constitution. It is to be noted that these “offers” made by the UPA to bring higher education under the WTO-GATS regime are entirely voluntary; there is no need for India to liberalize the education sector. Educational institutions in the US and the UK are currently facing an acute crisis due to the global economic meltdown, and are desperately in need for newer markets. It is a shame that the UPA is making India a willing partner in this attempt to bail out neo-liberal policies.

At a time when the UPA is planning to push through several anti-student policies, it is necessary that all those who aspire to see a democratic, inclusive education system in India – including students, teachers and parents – come together to express their demands and protest against the agenda of the government to further commercialize education. It is in this context that a ‘People’s Parliament on Education’ is being organized in New Delhi on 21st Feb 2011, which is the first day of the upcoming budget session of the Parliament. People’s Assemblies will also be organized in various state capitals.

The Agenda

At this ‘people’s parliament’, students, teachers, parents and democratic voices from across the country will debate and discuss policies related to education and put forward their agenda. There are several issues at hand, which urgently need to be discussed and addressed:

School-level Education: Primary and secondary education has to be universalized and made truly accessible to the poor. For instance, for years, concerned educationists have been highlighting the need for a common school system as well as increased state funding for primary education.

Higher Education: The existing regulatory structure in higher education is being demolished altogether in order to allow unregulated fee hikes, as is already becoming evident in school education as a result of the farcical Right to Education Act. Moreover, current budgetary allocation on higher education remains abysmally low.

Scuttling of Inclusion and Social Justice: Though SC/ST/OBC reservations are now legally mandatory (at least in government aided colleges and universities), we are nevertheless witnessing systematic attempts to keep students from deprived backgrounds away from the ambit of the higher education through blatant scuttling of the law of the land by university administrations. In the latest set of Bills, the Govt proposes to bid an official good bye to all kinds of affirmative action and reservation in higher education.

Students at the Mercy of Profiteering Swindlers: The deemed universities in India or sham institutions like the ‘Tri-Valley University’ of California are only a small foretaste of what is to come if higher education is opened up to profiteers both Indian and foreign. The various fake medical colleges approved even by regulatory bodies like Medical Council of India showed that ‘regulation’ is quite ineffectual in a system structured around profit-seeking. Remember, such sham educational institutions like Tri-Valley are not cell-phones that one can discard if one if dissatisfied with their quality! Even if they are exposed and thrown out, it will not be before irreversibly devastating the lives of thousands of hapless students.

Scuttling of Campus Democracy: Democratic participation of students in decision-making processes is also shockingly poor. Campuses across the country are witnessing a virtual emergency: administrations routinely crackdown on protests, student union elections have not been held in most colleges and universities, and the Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations are being used to scuttle organised student movements.

The common people of the country therefore have to demand an answer from the elected representatives: When will the loot of public resources end? When will all the illegally siphoned off money be retrieved and used for funding education and health? When will students’ right to education be a priority in public spending?

At the ‘People’s Parliament on Education’, we intend to set off a debate and discussion on the Policies, Bills and Acts  in education, that people in the country truly wish to see, and would expect the elected representatives in the Parliament to take up, instead of merely endorsing the corporate-market led Bills that the government has been pushing. AISA appeals to you to participate in this nation wide campaign and in the People’s Parliament at Jantar Mantar on 21 Feb. 2011.

Condemn Chhattisgarh High Court’s Decision to Reject Dr. Binayak Sen’s Bail Application!

The Chhattisgarh High Court has today (Feb 10th, 2011) rejected the bail application of noted human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen who was convicted to life imprisonment on December 24th 2010 on ‘sedition’ charges. AISA strongly condemns this verdict, which once more highlights the brutal face of state repression and the crackdown on dissenting voices.

Throughout the course of the farcical trial against Dr. Binayak Sen, Piyush Guha and Narayan Sanyal, it was amply evident that the Chhattisgarh government had absolutely no credible evidence to back its demand for punishment on ‘sedition’ charges. Even then, and despite the fact that the Chhattisgarh government had clearly tried to plant false evidences against all of three accused, the Raipur Sessions Court convicted them. And now, the High Court has also upheld this outrageous judgment.

It is a known fact that Dr. Binayak Sen is one of the most vocal critics of the Salwa Judum military campaign of the Chhattisgarh government. Today, all those who have criticized the Chhattisgarh government’s policies of forcibly displacing people from their land and livelihoods to make way for corporates – whether is Kartam Joga, Kopa Kunjam or thousands of other languishing in jails in Chhattisgarh – find themselves being punished for their ‘crimes’. Not just in Chhattisgarh, but in Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal and elsewhere in the country, dissenting voices are being brutally suppressed.

AISA demands the immediate release of Dr. Binayak Sen and stands in solidarity with the wide-spread movement against this crackdown on democratic dissent.

Expose UPA’s Attempts to ‘Greenwash’ its Pro-corporate Policies!

In the midst of massive protests, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has paved the way for implementation of India’s largest foreign direct investment (FDI) – POSCO’s Rs 52,000 crore integrated steel and mining project in Jagatsinghpur, Odisha. Ever since 2005 when the idea of the POSCO project was first mooted, the huge social and environmental implications of this project have repeatedly been highlighted, and consequently there is massive opposition to the loss of land and livelihoods. In order to justify this disastrous decision to grant permission to POSCO, the self-proclaimed ‘Green Crusader’ Jairam Ramesh has claimed that this clearance is ‘conditional’ – 28 conditions have apparently been imposed on the steel plant, and 32 on POSCO’s proposed private port.

A careful reading however reveals that the conditions themselves do not correct or undo any of the grave violations pointed out by MoEF’s own inquiry committee. In its October 2010 report, the Meena Gupta Committee of the MoEF had shown how the original conditions imposed by the Ministry in its 2007 and 2009 clearances were not being fulfilled. It had recommended scrapping both the environment and forest clearance and asking POSCO to reapply.

And now the latest verdict of the MoEF on giving ‘conditional’ clearance’ to POSCO reveals several loopholes. For instance, the verdict asks POSCO to “ensure no industrial activity be carried out in the CRZ area.” For this to happen, POSCO will have to redesign and probably relocate its entire plant and port, which is currently within the CRZ zone. The verdict has not specified whether this is a precondition for work to begin. If it is not, the condition itself is meaningless and perpetuates the violations of the CRZ Act. Similarly, responding to concerns that the proposed project will reduce drinking water supply to Cuttack and surrounding areas, the verdict asks POSCO to “voluntarily sacrifice” water. What if POSCO chooses not to comply? How will MoEF ensure water supply? No answers. On the issue of violations of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the MoEF verdict say that it wants ‘categorical assurance’ from the Odisha government that no violation has taken place – the very same Odisha government which has been proved time and again by various MoEF-appointed committees to have aided and abetted in gross violations of the FRA!

Overall, the MoEF has skirted several contentious issues by passing the buck on to either POSCO or the Odisha government to address these issues. Whether it is ensuring drinking water, or compensation to the 20,000 fishermen likely to be affected by the project, or impact on marine ecology and the endangered olive ridley population, or violations of the Forests Rights Act, the MoEF has placed the onus of responsibility on POSCO and the state government. This is laughable, since both have repeatedly shown that they have scant regard for implementing the law of the land or for the social and environmental implications of the project.

The least the MoEF could have done was to revoke the 2007 environment clearance and ask POSCO to reapply. This was not done, and the clear message that has gone out is that the UPA and the MoEF has given a green signal to this project, and hence to industrial investment. If indeed the MoEF and the UPA are interested in ensuring that these conditions are met, then what stops them from demanding scrapping of the current MoU when so many issues remain unresolved?

The strategy is clear, and is also an old one. The so-called ‘conditions’ provide the ‘feel-good’ factor – they will remain on paper, rarely to be imposed and implemented. These conditions merely provide a much-needed façade of social and environmental responsibility, while the state machinery works overtime to ensure the implementation of disastrous projects. We have not forgotten how the height of the dam constructed under the Sardar Sarovar Project was allowed to be increased, in a clear violation of the Supreme Court directives that no new construction could take place unless rehabilitation of the displaced people first takes place.

The challenge for the people’s movement in the days to come is to expose the variety of tactics employed by governments to promote corporations, and to confront and defeat the nexus between corporate robbers and ruling governments which support them.