Home » UPA’s Educational ‘Reforms’ : Myths and Reality

UPA’s Educational ‘Reforms’ : Myths and Reality

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This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. – Albert Einstein, 1930.

Announcing the 100-day agenda for the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), Kapil Sibal promised ‘radical’ reforms in the country’s education system. These ‘reforms’ are being touted as an important step in deciding the destiny of the students and youth of the country. Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta, all praise for the neoliberal agenda, expressed his wish-list for the Manmohan Government: “In his first innings as a politician, Dr Manmohan Singh liberated our economy. In his second, as prime minister, he brought about a paradigm shift in … our foreign policy… Our guess, and wish, is that he now does to our higher education what he did to our economy and foreign policy in 1991 and 2008, respectively.”

We can clearly see what this ‘liberation’ means for the Indian people: if the 1991 ‘reforms’ in economy are still causing an unending spate of unemployment, hunger and farmers’ suicides; if the 2008 ‘revolution’ (about-turn) in foreign policy shackled India to the imperialist US through the Indo-US Nuke Deal; then the Government in its new term is all set this time, through ‘educational reforms’ to complete its coveted agenda of privatizing and commercializing education.

The first 100 days of the UPA Government were marked by various ‘expert’ reports setting out an agenda of educational ‘reform,’ the ‘revolutionary’ measure of making Std. X exams optional and by the passing of the Right to Education Act with much fanfare. Within the first 150 days, however, the real agenda behind the hype has begun to trickle in. In a memo dated 12 September 2009, the HRD Ministry has, in the wake of ‘austerity’ measures necessitated by the drought, announced drastic cuts in higher education funding and instructed Universities to resort to fee hikes, levy user charges, withdraw hostel subsidies and so on in order to meet the expenses of buying chemicals for labs and books for libraries.

Are these fund cuts or ‘austerity measures’ really an emergency move necessitated by the drought? Or are these measures, along with the “feel good” reform package announced earlier by Sibal, two sides of the same old liberalisation agenda (introduced way back in 1991) of the government washing its hands off its responsibility towards education and delivering it entirely into private hands? In the pages ahead, we will try to closely read the fine print of the RTE Act, the Reports of the Yashpal Committee and the National Knowledge Commission, and try to see the linkages between those policy documents and the latest fund-cut and fee-hike offensive announced by the MHRD. Our close reading will establish how the fee hikes and fund cuts are not sudden belt-tightening measures called for by the drought. After all the Government is practising no ‘austerity’ when it comes to doling out thousands of crores to the corporate sector through tax breaks, gifts and giveaways!

The fact is that more than a decade of anti-privatisation struggles by students have forced Governments to change their vocabulary; to ‘dress up’ the naked privatization-commercialisation agenda in a grand cloak of ‘reform’. In the first 100 days of the Government, the HRD Ministry did not openly unveil its privatisation agenda. Subsequently, however, the Government has decided that the drought is a good excuse to announce fund cuts and fee hikes – a good chance to push through its pet privatisation schemes on the pious pretext of ‘austerity.’

The manner in which capitalism has packaged itself in the past two decades has turned many fundamental notions on their heads: the most brutal and pitiless of economies are called ‘liberal’, autocratic regimes now represent ‘democracy’, and brutal wars of occupation herald ‘liberation’ from oppression. Our governments too have also followed these prescriptions. In their vocabulary, development is the displacement of lakhs of people, and ‘employment guarantee’ means starvation. When they set out to ostensibly ‘reform’ anything, it really means that they are hell-bent to destroy it. It is but natural for any person, therefore, to worry about this enthusiasm for educational ‘reforms’.

The truth is that education is never neutral terrain. Governments and power lobbies may try to look innocent, but they always have agendas when it comes to educational reform. Education makes knowledge a weapon of power. It uses it to reproduce the existing order, to manufacture consent, to keep those on the margins perpetually excluded. This is why Macaulay’s famous minute is so central to the way we study colonial rule in India. This is why, not so long ago, the Sangh Parivar was bulldozing its way through an entire range of educational and cultural institutions. And now here is the UPA in its new avatar, promising us educational ‘reform’ as neoliberal economists declaim that Manmohan Singh should “set our campuses free”. Clearly, the regime needs not only participants but also defenders. The UPA needs to hand over education in the hands of private capital, so that young and energetic minds are pressed to the service of market forces. Education is being turned into a commodity, so that a large section of society is kept out of the ambit of the educational system. Not just this, the educational system ensures that those who do manage to get ‘educated’ become loyal defenders of the present unjust and exploitative system – the very pillars on which the system rests.

MHRD’s Latest Assault:

An Open Call for Commercialising Government Universities

Universities without seminars… libraries without books… labs minus chemicals… and campuses with only students who can pay…

That is what Kapil Sibal wants to do to Government Universities.

The MHRD Circular to all Universities dated 12 September 2009:

  • Imposes ‘Mandatory cuts’ to the tune of 15% on central government funding to Universities.
  • Orders Universities to generate its own funds for chemicals, library books, etc through “gradual revision of tuition fees, levy of user fees (for electricity etc), withdrawal of hostel subsidies and through other measures.”
  • Orders Universities to hold fewer seminars

This will mean that the life breath of a University – its libraries, its classrooms and labs, its seminars, will be strangled out.

Hikes in tuition and hostel fees, user charges for electricity, water etc, will mean that Universities will become unaffordable for the mass of students from poorer or deprived backgrounds.

The UPA Government tells us that such huge cuts are required as ‘austerity’ measures: “In view of the current fiscal situation and that arising out of insufficient rain in large parts; of the country, and the consequent pressure on Government’s resources, there is need for further economy and rationalization of expenditure.” (Ministry of Finance circular, dated 7 September 2009)

Austerity: For Whom?

When the Congress dons the ‘austerity’ mask, (its leaders travelling economy class etc), it is clearly trying to garner legitimacy in order to prescribe ‘austerity’ to the public in the name of drought and recession.

But with the media revelations that UPA’s External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and his junior Shashi Tharoor both spent the Government’s first 100 days at luxury suites in five-star hotels, that other Ministers are busy spending public money to satisfy luxurious whims like Spanish and Italian tiles and vaastu-aligned toilets, and with Tharoor’s candid tweet branding economy class travellers as ‘cattle class’, Congress suffered a serious embarrassment. Recognising that the aam aadmi mask had slipped, the Congress hastened to position the mask in place once again: carefully crafted to display the correct expressions of sincerity and sacrifice.

Let’s take a look – when in the name of ‘austerity’

  • Workers are being asked to put up with wage-cuts and job cuts in times of acute drought, price rise and hunger
  • Students are asked to tighten their belts and forced to pay out of their own or their families’ pockets for essentials like library books, laboratory materials,

What kind of ‘austerity’ is the Congress government imposing on the richest in the country – the corporate houses?

700 crore a day gifted away to corporates

(Excerpts from P Sainath’s ‘Drought of Justice, Flood of Funds,’ The Hindu, ??)

There’s always money for the Big Guys. Take a look at the budget and the “Revenues foregone under the central tax system.” The estimate of revenues foregone from corporate revenues in 2008-09 is Rs. 68,914 crore. (http://indiabudget.nic.in/ub2009-10/statrevfor/annex12.pdf) By contrast, the NREGS covering tens of millions of impoverished human beings gets Rs. 39,100 crore in the 2009-10 budget.

Remember the great loan waiver of 2008, that historic write-off of the loans of indebted farmers? Recall the editorials whining about ‘fiscal imprudence?’ That was a one-time, one-off waiver covering countless millions of farmers and was claimed to touch Rs. 70,000 crore. But over Rs. 130,000 crore (in direct taxes) has been doled out in concessions in just two budgets to a tiny gaggle of merchants hogging at the public trough. Without a whimper of protest in the media. Imagine what budget giveaways to corporates since 1991 would total. We’d be talking trillions of rupees.

Imagine if we were able to calculate what the corporate mob has gained in terms of revenue foregone in indirect taxes. Those would be much higher and would mostly swell the corporate kitty for the simple reason that producers rarely pass on these gains to consumers. Let’s take only what the budget tells us (Annexure 12, Table 12, p.58). Income foregone in 2007-08 due to direct tax concessions was Rs. 62,199 crore. That foregone on excise duty was Rs. 87,468 crore. And on customs duty Rs. 1,53,593 crore. That adds up to Rs. 3,03,260 crore. Even if we drop export credit from this, it comes to well over Rs. 200,000 crore. For 2008-09, that figure would be over Rs. 300,000 crore. That is a very conservative estimate. It does not include all manner of subsidies and rate cuts and other freebies to the corporate sector. But it’s big enough.

Simply put, the corporate world has grabbed concessions in just two years that total more than seven times the ‘fiscally imprudent’ farm loan waiver. In fact, it means that on average we have been feeding the corporate world close to Rs. 700 crore every day in those two years. Imagine calculating what this figure would be, in total, since 1991. (Er.., what’s the word for the bracket above ‘trillion?’) Ask for an expansion of the NREGS, seek universal access to the PDS, plead for more spending on public health and education — and there’s no money. Yet, there’s enough to give away nearly Rs. 30 crore an hour to the corporate world in concessions.

Rs 20,000-cr gift to Mukesh

(Excerpt from a story in The Statesman News Service, 20 September 09) NEW DELHI, 19 SEPT: Did an unusual provision in the Budget this year help a single individual to the extent of nearly Rs 20,000 crore?
The Finance Minister, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, inserted Section 35AD in the Finance Act, 2009 to allow 100 per cent tax exemption on the entire capital expenditure incurred on setting up and operating a natural gas or crude oil pipeline. In other words, he permitted capital expenditure to be allowed as revenue expenditure. The concession was allowed to three industries ~ cold chains, agricultural warehouses and operators of gas pipelines.
But the Minister’s benevolence has helped one company ~ Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Limited (RGTIL) ~ more than anyone else. According to one estimate, the benefit is of Rs 20,000 crore.

A Government that budgets a mere Rs 15,429 crores on a country’s higher education, claiming to be strapped for funds, at the same time has enough to give away 30 crore an hour on some of the richest men – not just in the country, but in the world!

Clearly, the privatisation of education has nothing to do with drought or recession – it is a priority dictated by political choice – a choice of appeasing the corporate super-rich and making the poor and common students shoulder the burden of recession.

The Farce And Deceit Of the Right To Education Act

One of the showpieces of MHRD is the ‘Right to Education’ Act, recently passed by bpth houses of Parliament. The grand-sounding name of this Act suggests that it aims to provide ‘education for all’. What does the RTE really aim to do?

Right to Education was declared a fundamental right in 1993 itself

In 1993, in its landmark Unnikrishnan judgement, the Supreme Court cited Article 45 of the Constitution and declared that from birth until the age of 14, children were entitled to free and compulsory education and this was accorded the status of a basic right. Children below the age of 6 were to be given adequate nutrition, healthcare, a safe childhood, and pre-primary education (KG, nursery). Children between the ages of 6 and 14 were granted the basic right to primary education for these eight years. This is the most widely accepted definition of the ‘Right to Education’: namely – the right of all children until the age of 14 to nutrition, healthcare, safety, and education of an equitable standard free of cost.

The Unnikrishnan judgement also stated that according to Article 41 of the constitution, the right to education extends beyond 14 years of age. In other words, it was also essential to see secondary education up to Standard 12, higher education, technical education as well as professional education in the light of an essential right. The only difference is that while the government cannot be allowed to get away with any excuse for not providing the basic right of education up to 14 years of age, the responsibility of providing education beyond 14 years can be limited by the government’s financial capacity and state of development. Well before this, in 1966 itself the Kothari Commission had recommended that all children should be given an equal standard of education from public funds; that a democratic, secular, egalitarian and awakened society had to be created through a curriculum oriented towards scientific thought, productive work and knowledge creation; until 1986, 6% of the GDP should be allocated to these tasks and this level of allocation had to be maintained. Forty years have since passed, yet successive governments have not implemented these recommendations.

Does the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act (2002), introduced by the BJP-led NDA Government, reflect the spirit of the Unnikrishnan verdict?

In order to escape from the responsibilities mandated by the Unnikrishnan judgement, the BJP-led NDA government resorted to amending the Indian Constitution. The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act (2002) inserted a new Article (21A) in the Constitution, making the Unnikrishnan judgement redundant on two counts. Firstly it limited the fundamental right to the 6-14 age group, thereby disentitling 17 crore children below six years of their right. And secondly, it stated that even free and compulsory education shall be provided “in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.” Accordingly, the Government is allowed to define, according to its own whims, what constitutes ‘free and compulsory education’ and is not bound by the terms of the Unnikrishnan verdict. No other fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution is left to the interpretation of Governments in this manner.

What about the UPA Government’s Right to Education Act in its present form? Surely this Act is sincere about ensuring Right to Education?

The UPA’s ‘Right to Education’ Act is based on the 86th Amendment. It is, therefore, nothing but the next step in circumscribing the Unnikrishnan judgment’s mandate of genuine right to education as a fundamental right. This is not just our understanding – the UPA has not hidden its real intentions. In February 2008, the MHRD sent a letter to the Cabinet Secretariat along with the draft text of the Right to Education Act 2008 saying: (Letter no. F.N. 1-1/2008 E.E. 4 February 2008 (Confidential). One can well imagine what the Right to Education Act will really achieve, if this is the stated intention of the government. The following points in the RTE are worth noting:

a) This Act does not aim to bring about any change in the discriminatory, multi-layered education system that currently prevails. Rather than demolishing the wall of privatized, high cost schooling by bringing in government-funded quality schooling for all, it reinforces the wall! While leaving the rampant exploitative private schooling system untouched, and refusing to provide universally available government schools free from the profit impulse, it proposes ‘Private-Public Partnerships’ through which private profiteers are allowed entry into government-run schools. This essentially frees the government from the responsibility of providing for universal education, and keeps education at the mercy of private business.

b) Rather than providing free government schools for all, it proposes that 25% seats will be reserved for poor students for “free education” in private schools. The proof of the pudding lies in the eating: how does the Act propose to ensure that this quota will be filled? The 25% quota regulation is violated routinely in Delhi where it has been in force for some time now.

c) The RTE Act claims that “education vouchers” will be provided to poor students. These vouchers will however only amount to the average amount spent on a child in a government school! Do Mr. Kapil Sibal and the MHRD believe that there is any comparison whatsoever between the expenditure on a child in government schools and the enormous price demanded by private schools? The RTE Act does not spell out if vouchers will be given to all of the 19 crore children of schoolgoing age who are in need of education. Apart from the admission fees, will the voucher cover the costs of “picnic fees”, “exam fees” and several other such costs such as uniforms and shoes that private schools regularly demand? The fees charged by private schools is skyrocketing at such a rate that even the middle class is finding it increasingly difficult to afford. The ongoing movement against the high fees in private educational institutions in Delhi is proof enough.

d) Further, even if poor children manage to survive until Class 8, what will happen after this, when the government stops paying their fees? These children will be out on the streets once more, while those of their classmates who could pay the exorbitant fees, will pass Class 12 and go on to enter the hallowed portals of IITs, IIMs or prestigious foreign universities.

e) Most important of all – can this provision of 25% reserves seats solve the problem of the 19 crore children between the age of 6-14 in our country who need education? At present, around 4 crore children study in recognized private schools. If we allow for 25% reservation in these schools, then, assuming it is implemented faithfully, 1 crore children can avail of education – what is to become of the remaining 18 crore? They will remain condemned to the sub-standard education as usual. Further, second-rate private schools mushrooming which currently charge around Rs. 100-150 will take advantage of the 25% reservation clause to avail of Government funds by hiking their fees to match the Government grant. In the name of educating poor children, private schools will claim and enjoy all sorts of subsidies and grants. This will mean public money flowing into private profiteers’ coffers. What an illuminating example of PPP or ‘Public Private Partnership’!

f) What is stopping the Government from improving the quality and expanding number of government schools to ensure access for all students? Why, instead, is the Government hell-bent on sending poor kids to expensive private schools? Actually, the Government’s agenda is to discredit and dismantle the huge network of government schooling, so that the market for private schools can flourish unchallenged.

g) A fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution means that any citizen can approach the court for justice if such a right is violated. But according to the RTE Act just passed by Parliament, if any citizen wishes to go to court against any private school, then he or she must first take permission from the requisite government authority! The Act also states that if any authority violates any clause in the Act in “good faith”! What a crude and cruel joke in the name of ‘fundamental right to education’! Clearly, the state desires to lend itself to supporting and protecting the interests of the already powerful private schools than actually bringing in legislation to expand the domain of education.

For the more than 77% of our population which subsists on less than 20 rupees a day, what else is this Act except a document of deceit and lies – a ‘Right to Education’ turned upside down?

Haryana schoolgirl Schoolgirl paraded without top over fee row

Manveer Saini, TNN 29 August 2009

CHANDIGARH: In a shocking incident, a Class III student was allegedly humiliated by her class teacher and stripped of her top for not paying the tuition fee. The victim, who is entitled to full fee concession, was made to move from one classroom to another to cries of “shame, shame”, it has been alleged. The incident happened at Faridabad Model School on Friday. The nine-year-old daughter of an autorickshaw driver who had been sanctioned full fee concession by the district education department under a scheme for underprivileged children told her teacher that she had not paid the school fee.

“The teacher then took off her T-shirt and tried to pull the skirt too. When she failed in her attempt, she paraded my daughter from room to room and made the children say shame, shame,” the mother said. She claimed she came to know of the incident only when the distraught girl returned from school.

Though school principal H S Malik denied the matter was related to fee, she said the teacher has been suspended. The police, too, took cognizance of the complaint made by the victim’s mother against the teacher, Neetu. “We came to know about this incident in the afternoon. I have instructed the police station to register a case,” police commissioner P K Aggarwal said.

Faridabad’s district education officer K Bala claimed ignorance but assured immediate probe and appropriate action against the school management and the teacher. According to reports, the victim was made to pay the fee regularly. Her parents had approached the district administration regarding this and invited the school management’s ire.

N L Jangid, president of Parent’s Association of Faridabad, said the government had failed to implement fee-related instructions of Punjab and Haryana High Court and Supreme Court.

Court raps Apollo, says treat poor for free

Harish V Nair, Hindustan Times

New Delhi, September 23, 2009

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday slammed the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital for denying free treatment to poor patients as per its lease agreement with the government while availing land at concessional rates 15 years ago. It asked the hospital to immediately earmark 33 per cent of in-patient beds and 40 per cent of out-patient beds for economically weaker patients. This comes to 200 beds.

The hospital has been told that `free bed’ includes all expenses of the patient from the time of admission till discharge: tests, medicines, visits by doctor, surgery and even organ implants.

Any person with an income below Rs 2,000 per month is entitled to be treated free.

The bench headed by Chief Justice A.P. Shah also imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh on Apollo for forgetting its social obligation after getting land at Re 1 per 15 acre per year and, on the other hand, indulging in “frivolous litigations” challenging the norm.

The ruling came on a publicinterest petition filed by lawyer Ashok Aggarwal.

The court was particularly angry at the hospital’s repeated non-compliance of its orders to provide free treatment to the poor. The orders were first given in 1998 and repeated in 2007.

Making Std. X Board Exams Optional: Will it Relieve Students’ Stress?

Will the move to make the Std. X exams optional reduce stress and pressure on children? Educational and exam reform are no doubt called for: the spectre of students committing suicide due to bad marks haunts us. But removing the board exams is like touching the tip of an iceberg and going no further. Even making these exams ‘optional’ will lead to an increase in the divides in society: what will be the status of students from less fortunate backgrounds who by not doing this exam will be underrated by society? The stress caused by the board exams has a lot to do with the fact that opportunities for higher education and employment are so few and highly contested. So long as opportunities remain limited, and exams exist as a mode of elimination rather than evaluation, students will continue to feel stressed wondering whether they will make it to college or a good job.

Foreign universities: Shining Shops for Education

As the mess in the deemed universities becomes clear, the HRD ministry has an innovative solution: it is time to invite foreign players onto the scene. On the cards is the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations, Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercialisation) Bill, first cleared by the cabinet in February 2007. It is said to be one of the first files Sibal requested upon assuming office. Sibal, shamefully, tried to exploit the assaults on Indian students in Australia to tout the entry of foreign universities in India.

Who will foreign and private players cater to?

As Sibal himself admits, only 160,000 students have the means or ability to go abroad and study each year. It follows that the large numbers of students who remain have to ‘make do’ with an Indian education. Pandering to the upper middle class and elite constituency as if they alone have the right to education. Sibal’s moves do nothing to improve the quality of education for the many, but cater only to the select, privileged few.

Will the best foreign universities come to India?

It is a simple fact that any foreign university that sets itself up here, at such a distance, will come with the intention of making profit and gaining control over the market for higher education. Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, USA, points out that foreign providers are usually not ‘top’ universities, “but are rather institutions at the middle or bottom of the hierarchy in their home countries. Some have financial or enrolment problems at home and want to solve them with offshore ventures. And some are “bottom-feeders” who will provide a substandard educational product in India… International experience shows that the “market” is slow to detect low quality — and there seems to be a clientele for poor quality in any case.”

PMO objects to Foreign Varsities Bill

Anubhuti Vishnoi Indian Express Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009

New Delhi : The long-pending Foreign Education Providers’ Bill, that promises to usher in Ivy League institutes, has now run into objections from the Prime Minister’s Office, which feels the legislation is not in keeping with the new reform agenda it is working on for the education sector. Sources said this was likely to further delay the Bill, which was expected to be on the Cabinet agenda this week.

Highly placed sources in the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry confirmed that the PMO had written to them on the issue. The PMO, it is learnt, feels the Bill does not go along with the reform-centric higher education sector envisaged keeping in mind the Prof Yashpal Committee’s recommendations. Moreover, the draft legislation, which has already undergone the inter-ministerial consultation process, does not factor in the National Council for Higher Education, the single independent higher education authority.

The legislation, which had run into stiff opposition from the Left parties in the last UPA government, had been recently resurrected by the HRD Ministry with some changes like terming them ‘foreign education providers’ and not ‘deemed to be universities’ as proposed earlier.

The Bill also fails to specify a time-bound and transparent process for getting the approval for setting up a centre in India. While a proposal by a foreign university/institute will stay pending with the University Grants Commission (UGC) for over six months, the Bill does not specify the period within which the ministry will grant its final approval. This absence of a time-bound mechanism, the PMO has said, will defeat the very aim of the legislation.

The PMO has also objected to the fee regulation process saying it will reflect badly if the UGC regulates fee for foreign varsities when it does not do so for universities of India as of now. The PMO thinks the fee regulations may act as a deterrent for Ivy League institutes planning to set up to centres in India.

“The PMO also wants clarity on exemptions from the bureaucratic approval process for certain highly prestigious institutes if they want to set up an institute in India. That apart, certain penal provisions in case of violations by foreign varsities have also been frowned upon by the PMO,” an HRD official said.

The Yashpal Committee Report:

Progressive Smokescreen for Privatisation

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has said that the recommendations of the ‘Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education in India’ headed by the much-respected educationist Prof. Yashpal, will be his Bible. The Yashpal Committee Report henceforth YCR) has been widely hailed all around – and indeed, it has much in it that deserves praise. Indeed, it begins with the poetic and powerful affirmation that “A university is a place where new ideas germinate, strike roots and grow tall and sturdy. It is a unique space, which covers the entire universe of knowledge. It is a place where creative minds converge, interact with each other and construct visions of new realities. Established notions of truth are challenged in the pursuit of knowledge.” It emphasises the inter-disciplinary character of University education, a holistic, humanist vision of the University, and the organic link between University and society. It speaks out against the rapidly expanding trend of private engineering and management colleges that have reduced education to a business. It criticizes rote learning and speaks of the need for curricular reform. The report also described how the “Indian system of higher education has kept itself aloof from the local knowledge base of the worker, the artisan and the peasant.” (p.13) In other words, the YCR expounds a holistic and humanistic vision of education where the university and society are not separated from each other.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. A closer reading reveals that cloaked in this humanist vision, the doors for privatisation, fee hikes, corporatisation have been strategically opened up. In other words, we have before us now the MHRD’s latest offensive recommending fund cuts and fee hikes.

Recommendations of Private Funding

The YCR states that one of its key concerns is upholding the autonomy of universities so as to ensure freedom in research and training. (p.9).This is indeed a laudable principle, especially insofar as it calls for academic freedom and self-evaluation and self-reform in Universities. It also recognises that funding to universities has become “inadequate, irregular and inflexible.” Yet it prescribes, not a quantum increase in Government funding but rather a regimen where the University must solicit private funds to ‘supplement’ public funding. For instance, it recommends that Universities must develop an “ability to attract partnership from the private sector.” (p 38) It states that the role of a VC must extend beyond the academic realm to financial prowess too. It recommends that the Universities hire ‘professional fund raisers’ who will highlight the University’s ‘USP’ to attract funding. All this is but a short step to tailoring the academic curriculum to suit the market and letting corporates take over campus spaces, thus fencing off many of the university’s resources from its own students and teachers. The dependence on professional fund raisers and the inevitable preoccupation with ‘selling’ itself is compatible neither with the social responsibilities nor with the academic autonomy of the university as outlined by the YCR itself.

The issue is not of blind opposition to any private investment in education. The report does not openly advocate the withdrawal of the State from its responsibility to fund education, rather it says the “State cannot walk away from” education (p 41). But in the same breath it talks of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in education (p 34). The real issue is: At whose doorstep lies the primary responsibility for funding higher education lie? This is the test where the YCR fails us. It speaks as though private and public responsibility for education are mutual and equal. It does not spell out how ‘Government responsibility’ is defined and it makes no recommendations of how much govt. spending should be allocated towards education.

How can a university be both a centre of free thought, uphold humanist values and pander to corporate interests? There is a certain ambiguity to this definition of autonomy. How is it possible to be both the “trustee of humanist traditions’ and a slave to the market? How is “the principle of moral and intellectual autonomy from political authority and economic power” to be upheld by a university if its resources are determined by how well it panders to these interests?

Public Private Partnership: the World’s Experience

‘PPP’ (recommended by the Yashpal Committee too) is being justified in the name of correcting the “undersupply” in higher education: but can the private sector really meet the needs of the mass of India’s students? The example of other countries suggests not. In most cases, the higher the share of private universities in higher education, the lower the share in enrolment. In China, for instance, private institutes constitute 39.1% of higher education institutions, but a mere 8.9% students study in them. In the US, private universities constitute 80% of higher educational institutions, but they account only for 42.8% of total enrolments in the country. By contrast, public sector institutions in the US constitute just 19.6% of total higher education institutions, but they account for 57.3% of enrolments.

No Effective Correctives for Capitation Fees

The report describes the rampant corruption and commercialisation in private institutions. But when it comes to a “credible corrective mechanism,” all it can suggest is that family members of investors should not hold administrative posts. It says private institutions ‘should’ not have a ‘sole motive of profit’ and ‘should’ not confine themselves only to ‘commercially viable’ sectors. The question is, if profit remains one of the motives, how can the institution avoid ills like steep fees, capitation fees etc.? As a solution for the problem of exorbitant fees in private institutions, the YCR recommends, not strict curbs on fee hikes, but merely a certain percentage of ‘freeships’ for poor students – a formula that has proved a dismal failure in the private sector schools in Delhi. The YCR seems to have no idea of the structural logic of private capital and private profit. Mistakenly locating the profiteering motive in ‘family’ greed, it fails to see that private capital inevitably has a profit motive that militates against the humanist vision of university.

The Reality of ‘Differential Fee Structure’ and ‘Education Loans’

The question of fees is a central one. Time and again, in the context of both private and government institutions, YCR repeats that “No student should be turned away …for want of funds for education.” And it says “primary focus” should be “on making education affordable.” (p 38-39) This can be achieved only through making public funding and low fees the norm: but the YCR does not recommend this. Rather it proposes a ‘differential fee structure’ – high fees for those who can afford it and scholarships, educational loans for those who can’t. The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) too recommends a differential fee structure. Such a measure cannot cater to poor students; it is nothing but a pretext to make high fees the norm, while virtuously denying the agenda of commercialisation. The best way of making education accessible to the poor is to provide education at a very low cost. If we want to avoid subsidising the rich, the best way is not through increasing fees, but through taxes: through an educational cess on people in a certain salary bracket, and an even larger cess on industry. High fees, ‘for those who can pay’ means privatization by the back door: the government is sure to decree that all but the very poorest, ‘can pay’!

Red Carpet for Foreign Universities

The YCR points out that the best Universities are rooted in their social milieu and good foreign universities may not be transplantable. But he contradicts himself by recommending that the “top 200” foreign institutions be welcomed in India. The NKC also similarly recommends “incentive” for “good” foreign institutions and disincentive for sub-standard ones. Both YCR and the NKC evade the point that “incentives” for the “good” institutions are likely to mean that they poach on our public resources and existing institutions, rather their investing their own academic assets and resources here.

Single Regulatory Body:

Backdoor Entry for Corporate Share in Education Policy

In consonance with the YCR and NKC recommendations, the govt. is considering doing away with regulatory bodies like the UGC, the AICTE, the MCI and so on. In their place, it will establish a single, ‘independent’ regulator. The YCR states that its conception of a single regulator has a different rationale than that offered by the NKC. At first glance this is true: the YCR’s main argument for this recommendation is that University education should not be cubicalised or fragmented. But one fails to see how such an ‘independent’ regulator will be held accountable to the humanist vision of University as outlined by the YCR. The danger is that such a regulator will be free from checks and balances, accountable and answerable to none, with less need to respond to protest mobilisations from the students or teachers.

Interestingly, both YCR and NKC propose that the single regulator comprise of seven members. The NKC says all seven must be distinguished academics; the YCR says five of them must be academics, while one must have a background of social engagement while another must represent industry. The idea of corporates having a say in education policy has thus made an entry – not through the NKC which was widely perceived as having a neoliberal agenda, but through the YCR which commands greater acceptability.

How ‘Autonomous’ are the Proponents of ‘Autonomy’?

The Yashpal Committee lays great stress on autonomy of universities. The ‘autonomy prescribed by him is ambiguous and open to many interpretations. At one level, ‘autonomy’ means the laudable idea that universities should be able to decide their academic content – free from the ideological control or meddling by the State. But behind this idea lurks the idea that the State should be free from responsibility for Universities; and Universities should seek funding from non-State sources.

How ‘autonomous’ is the Yashpal Committee itself? Why is it that the YCR bears the imprint of the World Bank’s agenda for education in countries like India?

In 2000, the World Bank released its report on ‘Higher Education and Developing Countries: Peril and Promise,’ prepared by a Taskforce of which Manmohan Singh too was a member. This report recommended the reduction of government spending on higher education and transfer of administration and control of higher education institutions from government to private hands – all in the name of autonomy. Subsequently, the Birla-Ambani Committee report, the model Act, the National Knowledge Commission and even the Yashpal Committee report have in one way or another echoed these recommendations.

The World Bank Taskforce report is against elections to student and employee unions on campuses, because elected representatives are against ‘change’. It is true that any honest students’ union or employees union would be committed to resist the kind of ‘change’ (privatisation and commercialisation) being ushered in by Governments in this phase. Montek Singh Aluwalia, Planning Commission Vice Chairman and Manmohan Singh’s right-hand man, openly spelt out his objection to unions:

“Unionisation in higher education personnel is a major impediment. When you talk to students unions, I am not sure that they are arguing for the kinds of things that are oriented towards educational reform. They are certainly interested in keeping fees low.”

-(Planning Commission Vice Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Walk the Talk, Indian Express, December 4, 2006)

“Political activism means that students are spending a large proportion of their time on politics rather than education. There are situations… where levels of activism can rise to the point where high-quality education becomes impossible. In situations… where academic pursuits have been taken hostage, activism may need to be restricted.”

-From the Report of a World Bank Task Force on Higher Education in Developing Countries, February 2000, of which the present PM Manmohan Singh was a member)

Isn’t the Lyngdoh Committee merely echoing this neo-liberal agenda scripted long ago in the corridors of the World Bank?

Anticipating that a direct crackdown on student unions would lead to revolt, the crackdown has taken a devious route. The Supreme Court’s directives based on the recommendations of the Lyngdoh Committee Report – ostensibly to end money- and muscle-power in campus elections – have been used to gain greater legitimacy for restrictions on student unions.

The Yashpal Committee report speaks of comprehensive change and reform in the character of higher education but it is quite silent on the question of student unions. Why? It appears that it has been weighed down by the burden of the agenda spelt out by the World Bank Taskforce report!

Successive Governments, through successive reports – the Birla Ambani report, Model Act, NKC, YCR etc, have tried to give an Indian stamp of approval and legitimacy to the World Banks agenda for education.

The Unspoken Politics of ‘Educational Reform’

Why, after all, is education so crucial an agenda for the government? Why was education chosen as the key target for the neoliberal agenda dictated by imperialism, after the economy and foreign policy?

Re-ordering education is crucial in order to ensure a workforce tailored to the needs of global capital. Global capital requires that education be provided only to the degree and extent that it serves the market. The vast mass of students excluded from higher education by high fees can, then, be provided with just enough literacy to allow them to read ads and be better consumers. Of this mass, it is enough to provide 30-35% with schooling up to Std X or Std XII so that they can become technicians in computerised markets. The top 10-15% – trained in the better schools and universities – is enough to produce new research and knowledge as required by the capitalist market.

The question, for us, is – do we in India need education that will further knowledge and make us more self-reliant? Or do we need education that is a slave to global capital and the ‘free’ market? The needs of our people and the needs of global capital are at odds with each other. Higher education and research are not just means of eking a livelihood or getting a job – they equip people with the capacity for critical analysis. And the market does not need or want people with a faculty for critical analysis. In fact, the market views such critical analysis as a threat – because it can see through the seductive mask of the market to the cruel face beneath. The market needs research, certainly, – but not the kind of research that seeks to understand, change or benefit society. Rather it merely wants the kind of research that produces technologies like the ‘terminator gene’ – that kills the capacity of crops to produce fertile seeds, and therefore kills the self-reliance of farmers, forcing them to buy seeds from MNC seed companies every time.

To disguise the real politics of educational ‘reform,’ our Governments tell us that privatisation of education will create better knowledge by promoting ‘competition’. Can they tell us – did the Wright Brothers invent the aeroplane due to ‘competition’? Did the world’s greatest scientists, philosophers and writers establish themselves in ‘competition’ with others? The fact is that knowledge never needed competition to justify itself. Rather, competition came into being only as a means of dividing surplus and private profit.

When we question the quality of private universities, the Government reassures us that if private and foreign universities prove to be of poor quality, they will be eliminated in ‘competition’ in the open market. Even if this dubious assertion were true – the fact is that education is not a consumer good like a TV or a pair of shoes. If one buys a poor-quality TV, one can always discard it and buy a better one. But a poor-quality degree and education is a lifelong burden that no one can compensate or replace. Can one throw away a poor quality degree or exchange it for a better one? Can there be any insurance or warranty for education as there is for a TV or fridge? We have already pointed out that the market is slow to detect low quality. By the time the market assesses and eliminates the poor-quality educational institutions, the minds, careers and lives of at least one generation and maybe more.

We have shown that the credibility of government schools is deliberately and systematically being lowered. The quality of education offered in those schools is being lowered so much that people are being forced to opt for private schools. Now it is being subtly propagated that good-quality schooling is impossible in government schools. But one wonders – did Ravindranath Tagore, C V Raman or Amartya Sen study in private schools? The argument of ‘quality’ is a patently false one – a mare pretext to allow the Government to shed its responsibility for education and schooling.

Can such a process ever take us towards a more self-reliant India? Certainly not. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee tells us that proudly that the share of the service sector in our GDP is 60%. The question is – in whose service are 60% of our young workers deployed? The discomfiting answer is that our young generation is having to serve the consumers of the world’s MNCs – since BPOs are a large part of the service sector. The service sector can never be a firm foundation for a self-reliant economy – self-reliance requires a strong agricultural and manufacturing sector. But our ruling class is committed to the long-term agenda of indefinitely shackling our country’s autonomy and sovereignty to the interests of imperialism and global capital.

The question of saving education is integrally linked to the question of saving the country’s future, its sovereignty and its people’s survival and livelihood. Even the small section of poor and marginalised people who had some limited access to schooling and higher education will now be comprehensively evicted – and all this under the garb of sweet phrases like ‘affordable education’, ‘stress-free education’ and inclusive education. The revolutionary poet Gorakh Pandey had observed, quite rightly, – “Your enemies speak your own language more cunningly than even you.’

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