It has been more than a year since the BJP-led government came to power at the centre. Far from ensuring their pre-election commitments made to the youth, what we see today are hu rried attempts by the central government to destroy existing educational institutes and to make higher education more inaccessible for a vast majority of the country’s population. Realising the urgent need of the hour, AISA has started a nation-wide campaign ‘Save Education, Save Country’ to mobilize students and exert pressure on the government to withdraw its anti-education policies. As we enter this campaign, it is important to understand the urgency of the situation and implications of these policies.
- Binding Commitments at WTO: Preparations by the Central Government to Sell Away Higher Education to Profit Driven Global Capital
In August 2005, the UPA had submitted its offers for ‘Market Access’ in ‘Higher Education Sub-Sector’ to WTO, as a part of the Doha Round of trade negotiations. The current BJP-led government is preparing to make these offers a ‘binding commitment’ on part of the Government of India, thus converting education into a ‘tradable service’. If these offers are not withdrawn immediately, they will have several implications for higher education in the country:
It will open flood gates for profit-driven foreign corporates to open substandard educational institutions in the country. A report of a survey by World Bank in 2000 on foreign educational providers is on record stating that ‘well-known universities of Developed Countries established low standard branches in backward countries’.
These commitments would seriously compromise the country’s sovereignty to the WTO regime and make the MHRD more accountable to WTO than to the people of India.
The GoI will be bound to cut subsidies to state-funded institutions in education, in order to provide a ‘level playing field’ for foreign corporates to trade in education.
We have witnessed the great agricultural crisis and farmers’ distress in our country because of WTO diktats in the arena of agriculture. If we allow the government to go ahead with this plan to commit to WTO, higher education and students of the country will also face the same fate.
- Imposition of Choice Based Credit System in Universities:
After a prolonged struggle that saw the exit of the disastrous FYUP programme, the spectre of FYUP-style experiments are back to haunt not only DU, but all Indian Universities and this time in a new avatar, titled- ‘Choice Based Credit System’ or the CBCS!
What indeed is CBCS? As per the UGC guidelines, “The CBCS provides choice for students to select from the prescribed courses” (Core, elective or minor or soft skill course) and complete a number of prescribed ‘credits’ for the degree. Just like the FYUP, CBCS too is being sold with several misleading, high-sounding and baseless claims of ‘flexibility’/ ‘choice’ /‘mobility’ for students. How valid are these claims?
- Does the CBCS Structure Indeed Offer Any REAL ‘Choice’ to the Students?
A ‘choice based credit system’ should allow the possibility for both – choice to study additional subjects, and also the choice to not study additional subjects if one does not find them useful. But the structure of the course binds students to study Core courses+ 4 Elective papers+ 2 Foundation papers. Where is the choice when students will have to take papers beyond their core courses? The experience in FYUP in DU which existed for one year has clearly shown that in the name of elective and foundational courses, unnecessary burden of substandard papers are being imposed on the students.
Also, the ‘choice’ would exist if – (a) there are no restrictions of “first come first serve basis” or “merit-basis” norm to it and if each and every student enrolled could opt for the preferred subject, irrespective of the number of students opting for a given subject and (b) if there is enough space and teachers needed for the purpose. Which then leads one to ask- Where is the required Infrastructure?
It is indeed shameful that the UGC and the government are trying to hide the fact that all our universities and colleges lack proper infrastructure such as classrooms, well equipped libraries and laboratories, and proper faculty for even the existing courses. As thousands of permanent teaching positions are vacant for years, one wonders who is going to teach the new courses! The fact is that the ACTUAL AVAILABILITY of ‘choices’ for papers/subjects/courses on the ground will be determined by the availability of teachers and classrooms for those subjects, which at present is grossly insufficient!!
- Claims of ‘mobility for students’
An apt response to this farcical claim was given by eminent scholar Romila Thapar when she pointed out that – “In India, merely enabling students to move is pointless because the institutions they would choose are already overcrowded.” Such a situation will only force a majority of students to opt for either courses of their choice in high priced private institutes or opt for low quality distance programmes.
The truth is that CBCS offers neither ‘choice’ nor ‘quality’ to the students, who are forced to opt for it. The Students of DU and AU are already protesting against the imposition of CBCS. It is time that students all over the country join hands to resist the imposition of this substandard scheme intended towards diluting the existing academic content of our universities.
- Centralisisation of Power by the MHRD through Common Central University Bill:
In a country bursting with diverse cultures and people, the RSS and the BJP want to impose a uniform model of higher education by introducing ‘one University Act’ that has ‘one syllabus’, ‘one entrance system’, and ‘one recruitment pattern’. Here is how the ‘Central University Act’ looks like:
- Common Syllabus: All Central Universities in the country will have a common syllabus. This will kill the possibility of universities creatively fashioning courses and assessments that makes for the unique profile of each university! This will also give handle to the govt to saffronise syllabus and courses.
- Common Entrance Test: Such a proposal, which is based on a single, tailor-made entrance exam across the country, does not allow institutions to design their admission process keeping in mind the divergent nature, requirements and specificities of their research and academics, responding to diverse social needs and priorities.
- Centralised Recruitments: This will give the Central Government a free hand to dictate faculty appointments of its ideological/ political choice. We are already seeing the nature of appointments that have been happening in the institutions in past few months. YS Rao, who shamelessly hailed the caste system in India, was made the Chief of Indian Council of Historical. Lokesh Chandra was awarded with ICCR chairmanship for expressing his loyalty to Modi. Latest in this series of appointments is the appointment of Gajendra Chouhan as the chairperson of FTII, whose sole contribution has been his active role as a campaigner for the BJP as well as for the likes of Asaram Bapu. With centralised recruitments, the only qualification required for all appointments in these institutions would be the loyalty the ruling party.
- Faculty Transfer: The provision to ‘faculty-transfer’ will act as a weapon to keep the upright faculty members who ‘do not fall in line’ under permanent threat. Moreover, especially for a research institution, the provision of faculty transfer makes no academic sense. In case of a transfer, what will happen to the students and researchers working with the faculty concerned?
Instead of these proposals which go against academic freedom and autonomy, plural and critical quest for knowledge, the need of the hour is to put in place more inclusive and diverse classrooms, having adequate systems of accountability and student feedback.
- RUSA: Weakening Public Funding of Public Universities and Colleges
The Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) started by the MHRD is all set to curtail the funding duties of the UGC, and make the funding of state Universities ‘norm-based’ and ‘performance-based’. At the same time, RUSA also provides space for public funding of private institutions at a time when budgetary allocations for education is shrinking. Let us note, in the 2015-16 Union budget, allocations for school education has been cut by 23 % and for higher education by 8% compared to 2014-14 budget. So, RUSA will : (a) give public funding to private institutions that serve the more privileged; and (b) in the name of ‘performance/outcome’ based funding, deny funding to state universities that are lagging behind instead of giving them special attention to help them improve. This will mean that the poor and underprivileged who have no option but to attend the universities that are lagging behind, will be starved of the funding they deserve, which will instead be diverted to private profit-seeking universities.
The offers to WTO, and the proposals of CBCS, Common Central University Bill, and RUSA must not be seen in isolation from each other. All these policies complement each other. To make the Indian education sector ‘ready’ for global profit-seeking capital, it is necessary that our existing education structures are dismantled first. Only when the courses are made compliant with foreign demands and the existing quality of public-funded higher education is destroyed, would the foreign and private universities entering India be able to tap the pool of students in India! These assaults have a common purpose, and our resistance too has to be against the entire package.
- Saffronisation of Courses and Appointments, Attacks on Academic Autonomy and Campus Democracy:
Instead of promoting rational and scientific temper that is the hallmark of any modern education system, the BJP govt. is hell bent on destroying school and university syllabi – replacing history with hate-spewing myths, science with superstitions, democratic values with obscurantism. From ICHR, NCERT, IITs, NITs, Universities to FTII – experts are being shunted out, while people loyal to RSS-BJP, who have no credentials in their fields are being placed at the helm of every academic and cultural institution.
Alongside these, freedom of expression and debate in campuses are being muzzled as seen in the de-recognition of Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle, IIT Madras and a series of expulsions of student activists in several campuses.
Lyngdoh Committee Recommendations continue to curb democratic student participation and representation in campuses. In most of the campuses Student Union elections do not happen, and students are denied their fundamental right to associate. Despite protests, the current MHRD refuses to even review the LCR after so many years of its implementation, though a clear provision exists in the LCR for a review.
- Denial of Social and Gender Justice:
Today as we resist the policies mentioned above, there is also a simultaneous need to address the urgent need for ensuring social inclusion and social justice in educational institutions. Humiliation and denial of rights of dalit, adivasi, and OBC students on campuses and increasing cases of sexual harassment, molestation, and gender-based discrimination is a shameful and lived reality of our campuses. Differently-abled students also are denied equality and access in schools and campuses. Most campuses in the country do not have effective bodies to deal with sexual harassment and gender violence. Reclaiming educational institutions as spaces of genuine social inclusion is therefore a primary task that we face today.
If the future of the country has to be saved from substandard, expensive and corporate driven education, then we must take up the task of forcing the government to withdraw its anti-student initiatives and instead focus on ensuring an inclusive, affordable and quality higher education for all.
We appeal to you all to join AISA’s NATION-WIDE CAMPAIGN and participate in the signature campaign, public-hearings and mass conventions to mobilize students and exert pressure on the government to withdraw its anti-student policies before the next parliament session.