INDIA is one of the youngest nations in the world with more than 54 percent of its total population below 25 years of age. An effective education system with proper balance between the three basic parameters of accessibility, equality and quality is essential for utilisation of this young human resource towards the task of nation building.
Today India has the largest number of youth and adult illiterates in the world with the youth literacy rate (15-24 years) and adult literacy rate (15 years and above) at 86.1 percent and 69.3 percent respectively. India is also known for higher level of gender gap (8.2 percentage points) in youth literacy rate. Youth literacy rates for male and female population is 90 percent and 81.8 per cent respectively.
This is the sorry state of the foundations over which the higher education system in our country is based. There is no doubt that we need to strengthen our higher education system. The present government has not done anything in this direction. The only explanation government has is that they are in the process of formulation of new education policy, which will decide the direction of future of education in India including higher education. For last two years, we are listening about the NEP. We are not going into the debate about the process followed by MHRD and their false claims. After two years, there is a draft policy on the website of UGC namely ‘Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016’ that explains the framework of the future education system of India.
TOWARDS ACCESSIBILITY AND EQUITY
This draft identifies low gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education as one of the major challenges, which we are facing in India. The enrolment ratio in higher education was 23.6 percent in 2014-15 and it sets a target to increase GER to 25.2 percent in 2017-18 and further to 30 percent in 2020-21. While identifying low GER as major challenge and defining its objective, the draft says, “Reform higher education system in order to ensure equitable access to tertiary education, including technical and professional education, narrow group inequalities in access to higher education.”
However, in this same draft, it proposes that government will not open new institutions due to lack of funds. There is a clear contradiction between the objectives of the proposed policy and the methods to achieve these objectives. The draft says, “Instead of setting up new institutions, which require huge investments, priority of the government will be to expand the capacity of existing institutions.” There cannot be any expansion of education and reach of education cannot be expanded without opening new institutions of higher education. This explains the future course of action of this government regarding higher education. This draft policy indicates that in future there will be no new institutions; meaning if GER of 30 percent has to be achieved; it will be done through private education institutions only. It will further privatise Indian higher education system, which is already massively privatised with accounting to 62 percent of the total enrolment.
After analysing the above proposal, it becomes clear that the government is not worried about the question of equity in the higher education. Presently in India, there is a gross disparity in GER in higher education with respect to region, social groups and gender. For example in 2011-12, GER in higher education ranged between 8.4 percent in Jharkhand and 53 percent in Chandigarh, which speaks about the regional disparities in GER.
Similarly, the variations among the social groups too are considerable. If we analyse overall GER of 23.6 percent for participation of gender and social groups we will find that it is 24.5 percent for boys, 22.7 percent for girls; 18.5 percent for SCs and 13.3 percent for STs in 2014-15. This is one of the major challenges in higher education of India, but the draft policy on higher education fails to address it. Merely raising concerns in the draft will not serve the purpose (as is done in the draft). To overcome this regional and social disparity, we need more new institutions of higher education in areas, which have low GER. Presently we are creating educational hubs around metro cities and state capitals, which are further widening the gap. Most of these institutes are under private sector, which demands huge amount of fees from students. Only those students from well-off families come to these hubs. This is also leading to the migration of students from their home state.
To address the educational needs of the socially marginalised sections and to overcome social disparity existing in GER of the society, we need new education institutions in the public sector as there are no provisions of reservation in private institutions. As discussed above due to high fees structure private institutions are hardly of any use for socially backward sections. Present draft does not have any special proposal to overcome these questions of equity in higher education.
It seems a compulsion for every committee and commission to recommend 6 percent of GDP on education as it was proposed by earlier national policies on education of 1968 and 1986/92. The government cannot back step from this landmark recommendation (which was never implemented). It is proposed in this document “The government will take steps for reaching the long pending goal of raising the investment in the education sector to at least 6 percent of GDP as a priority.” It looks good but in the next point, the real intention of the draft policy became apparent as it put emphasis to encourage investment by private providers through philanthropy and corporate sector responsibility. It proposes various steps for incentivising private sector investment in education, such as tax benefits and inclusion of education within the definition of infrastructure. Private funding and FDI is proposed as an important strategy for mobilising financial resources for R&D and other quality enhancement activities in education institutions.
This means in the coming days there will be more privatisation of higher education in India. This draft on new education policy clearly indicates the intention of the government to facilitate private houses in the name of mobilisation of funds and resources, their old strategy. Along with this mentioning private funding and FDI as an important tool for R&D is a serious threat to already fund starved, research in higher education. We need more and more fellowships to encourage research for which more allocation is required from the central budget but government seems to be in a mood to further reduce budget on higher education and leave higher education at the mercy of private houses. In fact, these proposals, if implemented, will further help private houses for plundering loot of the aspirant of higher education in India.
GOVERNANCE REFORMS IN
HIGHER EDUCATION AND UGC
Draft policy proposes various administrative changes regarding governance and regulation of higher education. It proposes to set up an ‘Education Commission’ comprising of academic experts, every five years to assist MHRD. There is a proposal for the creation of an Indian Education Service (IES), which will be an all India service with HRD as the cadre controlling authority. Draft policy also recommends the establishment of education tribunals at the centre and in the states headed by a retired High Court judge. Along with these proposals, it also recommends a mechanism for administering the National Higher Education Fellowship Programme and a Central Educational Statistics Agency.
Since some of these proposals look good but the long term aim is to completely replace the UGC with various new agencies with different functioning. There will be no role for UGC, means very silently government is planning to destroy UGC, which is an important institution to keep watch on education institutions. UGC is always seen as a hurdle in the path of private institutions. This is a long pending will of private players and government to destroy UGC to make it easy for them to operate in India. Indian higher education system is already having too many issues regarding their regulation, governance, administration and redressal system, now with these proposals, which will divide each function into a different compartment through a separate agency, will make coordination more difficult and less effective.
For the furtherance of neo-liberal agenda in the field of education, there is an emphasis on promoting foreign universities in India. There is a continuous effort to invite foreign capital in the field of education. During the time of UPA also various bills were introduced in the parliament to pave a way for this capital in the form of foreign universities, but due to the resistance from broader sections of society, none of these was passed. Presently there are fresh efforts in this direction, which is reflected in the draft policy, which quotes “If required, steps will be taken to put in place an enabling legislation. Rules/ regulations will be framed so that it is possible for a foreign university to offer its own degree to the Indian students studying in India”. Not only this, even foreign faculty will also be encouraged to work in India.
For foreign universities to work in India there is a need to reform over-all higher education system. One of these requirements is to have a uniform system of higher education in India. Draft identifies this need: “Steps will be taken to gradually move from years-based recognition of qualifications to credit-based recognition” Government has already implemented CBCS and RUSA, which is working in this direction. It is evident that these so-called ‘academic reforms’ (CBCS, semesterisation, RUSA) are not a need of Indian students but of foreign education players to have common playground for them.
IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Ensuring quality in higher education is one of the major challenges in India. Various reports tell us about the low standard of institutions catering degrees to students. Most of the public, as well as private sector institutes, are facing the issues of inadequate infrastructure and facilities, large vacancies of faculty positions, poor quality of faculty, outdated teaching methods, declining research standards, etc. It is impossible to ensure quality education without addressing these issues.
The issue of teacher’s recruitment is dealt in a separate section. There are various proposals to attract youth for teaching professions in India. It is reflected as the youth in India is not interested in higher education ignoring the fact that there is a big number of aspirants who want to make their career in teaching but never get a chance due to policies of the government not to fill the vacant posts. Draft policy is also silent on thousands of the ad hoc/contact/guest lecturers teaching in higher education institutions. If we want to really improve the quality of education in India, we need good teachers in large numbers (India is one of the countries having worst student-teacher ratio), all the sanctioned posts in education institutions should be filled immediately following the proper procedure and maintain transparency. One cannot imagine ensuring the quality of education with temporary (ad hoc, guest, contract etc.) faculty. There should be concrete proposals to overcome these hurdles.
Draft policy indicates about these issues but is silent on the remedies. The only remedy it suggests for ensuring quality in higher education is the mandatory accreditation of education institutions by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and National Board of Accreditation (NAB). It looks like, for quality improvement, national and global ranking is the only solution. While acknowledging the importance of ranking and accreditation, one has to ask the question that these mechanisms can only check the quality but to improve quality more emphasis has to be laid on competent faculty, infrastructure, research facility etc. It is also important to check the widespread corrupt practices when it comes to accreditation and assessment of private sector. Draft policy fails to address these issues.
In fact, there is no proposed mechanism to monitor and check the private institutions. The student community is demanding for long to bring a central legislation to monitor the admission process and fee structure of private institutions but there is no mention of such provision in the draft.
There are high hopes from this new education policy, people are hoping that this policy will address problems and issues of higher education and will rejuvenate the education system. One of the reasons for this high hope is the kind of hype created by the government, but after analysing the draft, academic community and students will be disappointed. This policy will further strengthen the trends of privatisation and fund cuts in higher education, which is the root cause of all the problems related to accessibility, equity and quality.