Friday, 31 March 2023

SFI is to organise a one-day national convention of students studying in the universities which has been listed for grating autonomy by the UGC. This is a stingent attack on the public funded higher education. The convention will take place in Delhi on April 7th. 
Modi government whose track record is filled with uninterrupted attacks on higher education , has unleashed another brutal attack by their latest decision to provide autonomy for 62 higher education institutes. It is alarming that instead of democratically discussing this decision in Parliament and addressing various concerns of other stake holders, they have unilaterally decided to impose this on us through  UGC.
Autonomy: An Excuse for Self-Financing and Privatization
The UGC Notification which deals with autonomy is unambiguous on the meaning of autonomy. The University will have autonomy to start new courses, new centres, off campus centres, incentivize talented faulty by additional pay etc. But they categorically state that no funding will be provided by the government for this purpose. A cursory  look on the clauses make this evident.
Clause 4.2 states“Universities may start a new course/programme/department/school/centre in disciplines that form apart of its existing academic framework without approval of the UGC, provided no demand for fund is
made from the government on account of starting the new course/programme/department/school/
Caluse 4.3 states“Universities may open constituent units/off-campus centres within its geographical jurisdiction,
without the approval of the UGC, provided it is able to arrange both recurring and non-recurring
revenue sources and does not need any assistance for the same from the UGC or the Government.” 
Caluse 4.8 states“Universities, while following the pay scales as laid down by the Commission, shall build in an
incentive structure to attract talented faculty, with the condition that the incentive structure shall have
to be paid from their own revenue sources and not from Commission or Government funds .”
Mobilsing funds for these purposes can be possible only through Self-Financing.  From examples of universities in the West, it is clear that Self– Financing would invariably result in changes in fee structure and increased role of private players. This would mean that only a privileged few can access higher education in India. Doors of Universities like JNU which is already closed to marginalized sections due to the draconian 2016 UGC Notification will remain forever closed. 
Increased Role of Private Players-The UGC notification also states that Universities can have increased collaborations with private players.  But private players are not innocuous entities. They have their own market centric agenda rooted in profit. They would have no incentive in supporting critical studies, which Universities like JNU are known for, resulting in reduced fund allocation for these departments. 
Saffronisation of curriculum– The timing of these notifications is perfect from the view-point of RSS. They have appointed their men in almost all the leading Universities of this country, giving them a free hand in deciding different courses. Although UGC states that statutory bodies should be consulted for these changes, from the experience of JNU, we know how these bodies are misused by the administration.
Obsession with Foreign faculty and Students– The policy of this government to use autonomy of higher institutes to attract foreign students and faculty to India makes no sense. It is the same government which overlooked  competent individuals and appointed Sanghi stooges in Universities like JNU. Appointment of foreign faculty members would require additional resources which would further bleed students. The notification also states that there can be 20% reservation for foreign students. This is a significant number. Ours in developing country, where the primary motive of the government should ensuring that maximum students  from deprived background access quality higher education. We are in no position to turn our higher educational institutes into educational hubs catering international market. 
Incentives to talented faculty members? The Notification also states that the  University can give incentives to talented faculty in the form of extra payment. But there is clarity on how this talent is measured. Ultimately, this would mean that Sanghi Chamchas of the government/Vice Chancellors, who are invariably incompetent, would be given incentives for their loyalty.
Overall, the autonomy clause  is a merciless and brutal attack on higher education. It should be noted that many of the clauses in this notification have been purposefully made ambiguous for ensuring maximum impact. For long, the WTO has recommended withdrawal of Indian government from institutes of higher education.  Modi government has made this a reality. But they forget that it is unbridled privatization which has made students across the world hit the streets against their governments. The same will happen in India.