Tuesday, 24 November 2020
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Aparna KK
Call it a ‘February Recurrence’ or another of the systematically planned attacks on University spaces by the right wing, the events that unfurled on the 21st of February at Ramjas College of Delhi University was yet again a brazen attack on the underlying democratic principles of a University-freedom of speech, debate and dissent. After JNU and HCU it was DU’s turn to witness the curbing of free spaces that are open to multiple voices. 
It all began with the Ramjas English Department and the Ramjas literary society organizing a two-day seminar on the topic ‘Cultures of Protest: A Seminar Exploring Representations of Dissent’.  Umar Khalid, a PhD scholar from JNU who was earlier labeled as ‘anti-national’ by the right-wing, was invited to deliver a talk on Adivasi rights along with Sanjay Kak and Bimol Akoijam.  This led to protests by ABVP, following which the principal of Ramjas withdrew the permission for Khalid’s talk. The organisers of the event decided to continue the discussion without Khalid. What followed then was a shocking display of hooliganism by the ABVP goons who disrupted the event using violent means like stone pelting and breaking of glass panes of the seminar hall. The police force present there to ensure the smooth conduct of events proved to be a sham since they did little to stop the ABVP goons who were attacking the students and teachers, and instead evicted the people present in the seminar hall. 
The events that transpired on the second day in the university were a firsthand experience of fascism for many students. The biased state machinery heavily cracked down on the students who were protesting against ABVP hooliganism. The professors, students and media persons were brutally attacked by the ABVP goons who were holding the tricolor on the one hand and were pelting stones, bricks, bottles and eggs with the other. The ABVP-Police nexus was clearly visible in the manner the police dealt with them, where the ABVP goons were practically “allowed” to climb on top of the the police van and threaten the protestors. An emergency-like situation prevailed in the campus that evening with the saffron brigade doing rounds of the university and thrashing people whom they’ve sketched during the protest. Female students who received rape threats both publicly and privately moved to safer places out of fear of being attacked. Isolated incidents of thrashing were reported unofficially. The students were forced to flee from their own PGs and hostels because rumours of the saffron brigade checking hostels and PGs were being circulated. Heavy police force along with CISF was deployed in the university.
A peaceful protest in front of the Delhi Police Head Quarters followed the next day, condemning the Delhi Police’s inaction during the protest and also their refusal to file an FIR against ABVP. The copy of the FIR filed by the police reported the whole incident as a “clash” between two parties, “with the rightists on the right side and leftists on the left side”. The fact that it was an assault on common students and professors by the ABVP goons was overturned by this narrative. From all this, one can be sure about a thing - Universities that open up spaces of debate, dissent and alternative discourse make the fascist state feel insecure and will in turn create extra-judicial situations, with paid media and state machinery for its aid.  
The social media has surprisingly taken up this issue very well with twitter and facebook handles like #FightBackDu and #StudentsAgainstABVP going viral. Student community all across the country has extended support to DU and a mass profile picture campaign was also launched. The students shall hopefully struggle against the fascist forces and would reclaim university spaces. DU awaits redemption from hooliganisam and corrupt forces and together we shall move towards a progressive learning environment tha would encourage free thought, debate and dissent.
(Aparna is a B.A Honours student of Miranda House, University of Delhi)
Dr. Vikram Singh
Modi government has completed two and half years. The promise of ‘achhe din’ has vanished long ago and instead of that, we are seeing an all-out attack on life and livelihoods of common people. Students and youth had voted in large numbers for BJP in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 with the hope that it will provide relief from the unrelenting miseries imposed by the Congress rule. However, the experience of these two and half years has proved to be contrary. This government has relegated education and Employment- the 2 prime agendas of the students in this country. 
We have witnessed during last couple of years an unrelenting authoritarian assaults on the campuses and students in the wake of the imposition of RSS’ agenda of Hindutva. This has also been period of growing struggles and resistance, with student movement emerging as a catalyst in the movement against authoritarianism. However, what have gone largely unnoticed is the increasing economic attacks on students. 
Attacks on education:
The successive central governments of India have been demonstrating its stanch commitment to private capital and its neoliberal offensive. Present government is strictly implementing these neoliberal policies in the field of education which is weakening the hard earned public education system of India. These developments are nothing to be surprised at because they are part of the global campaign of the neoliberal capital. The impact of these policies is visible in rampant growth of private education institutions both at the level of primary and higher education. Due to commercialisation of education is becoming costly and more students are compelled to leave their education. On the other hand this impact is visible in poor condition of our education system and low achievement level of students. 
According to the latest ASER report of Prathan organisation the overall enrolment in schools is 96.9% in 2016. However, in some states, the fraction of out of school children (age 6-14) has increased between 2014 and 2016. These include Madhya Pradesh (from 3.4% to 4.4%), Chhattisgarh (from 2% to 2.8%), and Uttar Pradesh (from 4.9% to 5.3%). In some states the proportion of girls (age group 11-14) out of school remains greater than 8%. These states are Rajasthan (9.7%) and Uttar Pradesh (9.9%). Joining them in 2016 is Madhya Pradesh (8.5%).
Nationally, the proportion of children in Standard III who are able to read at least Standard I level text is 42.5% in 2016.  Nationally, reading levels in Standard VIII show a slight decline since 2014 (from 74.7% to 73.1%). In 2016, for the country only 27.7% of Standard III children could do a 2-digit subtraction. From 2014 to 2016, for class V children, the level of arithmetic as measured by children's ability to do simple division problems has remained almost the same at 26%. However, the ability to do division among Standard VIII students has continued to drop. This declining trend has been observed since 2010. The proportion of Standard VIII students who could correctly do a 3-digit by 1-digit division problem was 68.4% in 2010. This number dropped to 44.2% in 2014, and has further declined to 43.3% in 2016. In 2016, 32% children in Standard III could read simple words in English. In comparison, in 2016, 24.5% of children enrolled in Std V could read simple English sentences. This number is virtually unchanged since 2009. However, the decline in upper primary grades continues. For example, in 2009, 60.2% of children in Standard VIII could read simple sentences in English; in 2014, this figure was 46.7% and in 2016 this ability has further declined to 45.2%. In 2016, of those who can read words (regardless of grade), roughly 60% could explain the meanings of the words read. Of those who can read sentences, 62.4% in Std V could explain the meaning of the sentences. Both these levels are virtually unchanged since 2014. 
The main reason for this low level of achievement of students in schools is the huge number of vacant posts in the educational institutions and poor infrastructure.  We have a shortage of trained teachers as well as training institutes. There are 6 lakh posts of teachers vacant under the SSA. Even in the KVs, 7698 out of 44,529 sanctioned teaching posts are vacant; so are 50 per cent of positions in teacher-training institutions. The picture is even worse in higher education: Universities (both state and central), IITs, NITs, IIMs, are all suffering crippling shortages of teachers. According to the Government records the institutes of higher learning under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) face a faculty shortage to an extent of 35%. Even the top institutions of higher education are facing faculty crunch, IITs have 39% vacancies and Central Universities follow with 38% vacancies.  In all the central universities 1,277 positions for the post of professor (or 53% of the total sanctioned positions); 2,173 for associate professor (46%); and 2,478 for assistant professor (26%) are vacant. Even Delhi University (DU), some 60% of faculty positions at the university are vacant. The situation of state universities and colleges affiliated to them is worst and beyond imaginations. 
Government is continuously bringing various notifications through UGC and MHRD which is bringing education more towards central list undermining the rights of the states. Central University Act, NEET, RUSA, Central Syllabus etc. are such efforts which are aimed to have more central control on education. We can clearly see increasing thrust of centralization with the proposal of a separate testing agency to take all entrance exams in the country; while the existing bodies such CBSE, AICTE etc will be asked to focus on academics only.
BJP government is pushing its Hindutva agenda in education sector especially through the changes in text books. These changes range from distortion of historical facts to teaching of pseudoscience. Various attempts are there to give text books a colour of Hindutva. Numerous appointments are there of heads of different universities, educational and research institutes, who are vigorously implementing the agenda of RSS. This is the most dangerous aspects of the plans of Hindutva Brigade. They want to convert education institutions the centre of training the minds of future generation to think, visualise and comprehend India as Hindu Rashtra, centres where minds will be trained to hate people from other communities, to establish so called supremacy of one religion against the pluralistic character of real India of People from diverse cultures, castes, regions, languages etc. 
Apathy of government towards public education can also be witnessed in the budgetary allocations and promises made in the education sector. While the education sector today requires massive expansion to reap the benefits of the demographic dividend, the present approach of this government will only lead to worsening of the quality in all spheres of education. India has decreased its spending on education from 4.4 percent of GDP in 1999 to around 3.71 percent, undermining the work done in getting more children into school, and its prospects for improving its poor quality of education. “Most of the developed world, having a more mature education system then India and higher levels of GDP are even today spending around 4.5 to 6 of GDP on education sector, realizing the benefit the education sector has on society, but in India, despite the massive demand-supply gap in the quality of education, still has not been able to reach those levels. 
Education sector has seen remarkable reduction of budgetary allocations during the Modi regime. This downward spiral started from the first budget itself, which the Modi government presented.  For the Dept. of School Education & Literacy, Modi Sarkar spent Rs.45722 crore in 2014-15, down by Rs.1134 crore over the previous year (UPA’s last year). Then in 2015-16 Rs.42187 is estimated to have been spent (revised estimates), further down by Rs.3535 crore and in 2016-17 budgeted allocation, the govt. has allocated Rs.43554 crore, up by about Rs.1367 crore over the previous year. 
Story of the 2017-18 is same. One more important aspect of this year’s budget has been the decision to do away with the classification of plan and non-plan expenditure. This is in line with the government’s decision to dismantle the Planning Commission and replacing the Five-Year Plan mechanism by a medium to long-term planning system under the NITI Aayog. Apart from a more aggressive push towards market reforms, this move also means that this year’s budgetary allocations can’t be compared with the last year’s allocations.
While the fiscal deficit for the financial year 2016-17 was 3.2% of GDP, in the same year the tax forgone was a massive 3.18 lakh crore that is equal to 2.1% of the GDP. The social sector spending including that on education can be increased by reducing the concessions to the corporates and big businesses. Clearly during last three years government is pushing the agenda of triple ‘C’ in education system i.e. Commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation of education. 
Basic ideology of BJP and RSS is against any kind of democratic process. This is visible in the functioning of the central government. This government takes most of its decisions through ordinance only and very less time is spent in parliament debates. Our Prime Minister and other central minister are not keen to participate in the parliament debates. Our vocal Prime Minister, who is known for his rhetoric speeches, always escapes when it comes to speak on relevant issues in the parliament. Even when he speaks, speaks like as he is speaking in election public meeting. Most of the sessions of the parliament are failed to do public business demanding presence of Prime Minister during important debates. We have witnessed, just before the every Parliament session government will take some controversial move and there will be deadlock in the house. It looks like these are deliberate efforts by the government to avoid the discussion and decisions on real issue of common man in house. Same is the practice of state governments which have BJP governments.
BJP government is adopting the same understanding in the educational institutions. There is an all round attack on the education institutions especially university centres. Our campuses are being converted into police stations in the name of providing security. UGC through notification have asked all the universities to establish police station inside the campus along with various other anti democratic measures. The real aim of all these steps is to control the student politics. This government do not like any dissent or question from any section of the society. Education teaches us to ask rational questions. Naturally students become the first target of this government because they raise their voice against any wrong policy of the government. Instead of addressing the genuine issues raised by the students, central government and MHRD is attacking the democratic culture of the campuses. Even students are being arrested for critical facebook posts. There are planned conspiracies in various universities to attack the democratic spaces of campuses and in all these incidents ABVP was a close ally of the government and administration. We have witnessed these types of attacks in IIT Chennai, FTII Mumbai, HCU, JNU etc.  
There are physical attacks as well as ideological attacks in campuses by BJP government. In the name of love for nation and nationalism all sort of discontent are considered as antinational. There is a kind of environment in which either you are on government side or will be declared anti national. Autonomy of all the universities is in danger as autonomous decision taking bodies of the university are under scanner. Vice chancellors who are appointed by their political patrons are undermining the democratic meetings and even by passing the meetings. Typical example is academic council meetings of JNU, where vice chancellor in trying to dictate his opinion and taking decisions unilaterally despite of strong resistance by other faculty members. If this can happen in JNU, situation of other campuses can be imagined. 
Student union elections are not being conducted in most of the campuses. Where elections are conducted, elected unions are not invited in policy making decision process. Administration of the educational institutions does not listen to the issues raised by the unions. Union leaders are met with various false cases and are being victimised. This attack on the democracy in campuses is lead and monitored by the Government Ministers who are preaching students to not involve in students politics in public meetings and through media. 
The incidences of suicides have increased in educational institutions inside the campuses which reflect the anti democratic environment of the campuses. In most of the campuses administration is found directly involved in creating such conditions. In HCU there was a direct involvement of Vice chancellor and other government ministers to create such an environment which forced Rohit Vemula to end his life. In Nehru College of Trishur district of chairperson and vice principal are charged with direct involvement for suicide of Jishnu Pranoy and booked in police charge sheet. Girls are not safe in the education institutions. There are incidences of sexual harassment, rape and murder of girl students in campuses. 
Our central government is trying to convert our education institutions into Gurukuls of their ideology having no space for democracy, where students will be converted into blind followers who will not question the caste or Varna system and will follow the dictates of the ruling class. 
Education is widely recognised as a potent tool for the “socioeconomic mobility” of the vulnerable sections of the economy. But our central governments seems to forget this fact and is implementing the policies which adversely affecting the students coming from socially deprived sections. Prime indication of government priority is allocation in budget. This year (2017-18) the budgetary outlay for SCs and STs are 2.4% and 1.2% of the total outlay respectively, both of which are far less than their share in population. Similarly the gender budget spending is merely 5.3% of the outlay, which again is far less than the prescribed 30%. 
These budget cuts have had direct impact on the students from the marginalized sections. In the last two years, we have seen steep fee hikes in numerous government institutions.  The fees for the B.Tech courses in the IITs have been increased from Rs.90000 per annum to Rs.2 lakh per annum. The application fees for the CSIR-NET examinations saw a massive increase of 250%. It is not possible for the students from the socially deprived sections to pay these huge amounts of fees hence most of them are forced to leave education. 
“I have to get seven months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that”, wrote Rohith Vemula in his suicide note. This is only a reflection of how the delays in government-sponsored scholarships drive the students from Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (SC/ST) communities into desperation. Fellowship schemes like Rajiv Gandhi National fellowship, Maulana Azad National fellowship, CSIR-JRF and UGC-JRF are the only means by which hundreds of students from socio-economically deprived backgrounds are able to continue their higher studies. Many such students have to send a significant portion of their fellowships back home also. But, over the last two years, the budget cut has translated into delays up to eight-nine months in the disbursal of the fellowships. 
The students from socially backward sections are facing hard environment during this regime of BJP government. There are numerous incidents of caste based violence and brutal attacks on dalits and tribals in India during last two years. The incidence of Una, Gujarat is only one of its kinds. Same is the situation of our campuses. 19 students belonging to the dalit, advivasi and minority sections have committed suicides in our higher educational institutions in the last five years. The nationwide protests following Rohith’s death brought to fore this harsh truth that students from the marginalized communities have to face in our campuses. It is in this backdrop that the demand for a comprehensive legislation against the caste based discrimination in educational institutions has been repeatedly made. 
It needs no reiteration that educational institutions today have become sites of neoliberal planning and execution of its business game plan. Privatisation has been on anvil for quite some time now and it is justified by the argument that it improves the quality of education and enhances the efficiency of teachers as well as students. This phenomenon is visible in the way the spread of private educational institutions has been happening. 
The recent notification of UGC on the MPhil/PhD admission which was published in the gazette on 5th May, 2016 shows the direction in which this government is moving. This shows that government is avoiding the debate on education policy but is already implementing its vision in parts. The disastrous impact of this notification on the social justice, autonomy and inclusive nature of the universities is already in front of all of us in case of JNU. This UGC notification far from being a “guideline” is in effect a “straightjacket” with rigid examination criteria, admission rules and the criteria for the eligibility of research supervision. We are opposed to this understanding of privatised and commercialised education. Over the years this vision has failed to fulfil the requirements of the public of India. India needs a strong public sphere of education. Students community is demanding control and check on these private institutions. We were hoping that proposed new education Policy of BJP government will deal with this crucial need of ours. 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.
Much has been written about new education policy. This new education policy is nothing but only a new document advocating the commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation of education. Fully undermining our social needs this NEP is new exclusion policy. 
Students of the country are in struggle for a pro student education policy focussed to address the needs and requirements of the Indian education system. This education policy can only be evolved by the active participation of teachers, academicians and students but not by the dictates of Nagpur. 
Under this scenario students of India are in struggle in different campuses of the nation. For last two years we have seen militant struggle on all these aspects against fee hike, to have state control on private institutions, for social justice, in defence of democracy. Students’ Federation of India is in forefront of all these struggles. On 3rd March thousands of the students will be marching to Delhi against the attacks on education, Democracy and social justice and for a pro-student Education Policy. 
This March is happening not only against the RSS-BJP’s assaults on the autonomy, democracy, education and employment. It is to reassert the alternative vision of education for a better India. At a time when the Hindutva combine is attacking the very foundations of our education system to further its ideological agenda, it becomes very important that we build a movement with a positive agenda. 
This year’s union budget has been presented in the backdrop of intensified economic crisis due to the disastrous demonetization, which was nothing but a ploy to increase the liquidity in the banks that were on the brink of collapse due to the massively piled NPAs by the big businesses. The economic survey as well the budget speech was an exercise in self-deception, which was not ready to come to terms with this concrete reality.
However, if we assess the budget from the perspective of the students and the education, then it becomes clear that it is not a priority area for the government. The superficiality of allocation under various heads gives way to sheer neglect when a closer examination is made. The speech had nothing on funds for schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (for universal elementary education) or the mid-day meal scheme, which despite the problems in their implementation are crucial in our efforts to fully utilize the demographic dividend. There was no word on pre-primary or secondary education or training of teachers either. Neither the UPA, nor the NDA has made any preparations to handle the increase in enrollment in secondary schools due to the growth in the number of students after the Right to Education Act, 2009 was implemented. The neglect is seen in the nominal increase in the allocations made to the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan (RMSA). In fact, SSA, RSMA and Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA) were presented by our policy planners as three interlinked schemes which will work to make our education system more inclusive and help create trained labour force to increase the competiveness in the global knowledge economy. However, the actual outcomes & approach goes completely against the lofty goals.
Institution/HeadAllocation in 2016-17 ( in crores)Allocation in 2017-18 ( in crores)
Central Universities63556485
For New IITs190350
Total Grant of IITs53887856
Total Grant of IIMs8571030
Total Grant of NITs28743440
Total Grant of NIITs228379
Assistance to states for implementation of 7th CPC recommendations1400700
SERB (Scientific and Engineering Research Board)767800
(All figures based on data from indiabudget.nic.in)
Neglect of non-professional courses
As the figures cited above suggests, this year’s budget has been marred by the apathy towards the non-professional courses, which has been a continuing trend by successive governments ever since the market conservatism was pushed in education following the National Policy on Education (NPE) of 1986. Even though the budget speech talks about emphasis on the ‘pure sciences’, the actual figures tell something else. In our country, the allocations for scientific and applied research are made through Department of Science and Technology (DS&T) and Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), apartment from the allocations made under the MHRD.  If we see the allocations figures and take the inflation & the increased burden of 18-20% due to the salary increase (owing to 7th CPC recommendations), then the increases would turn out to be insignificant. Further, there is an extra focus on the ‘centers of excellence’ like IITs, IIMs, NITs and NIITs, which in essence means that the vast majority of institutions even within the professional sector will have to strive for funds.
However, the more problematic aspect is the allocations made to the UGC, central universities and RUSA. The figures point towards stagnation in real terms and will have serious repercussions for our colleges and universities which are already under big shortage of faculty as well as the infrastructure. The centrally sponsored scheme, RUSA, launched in 2013 aims at providing strategic funding to eligible state higher educational institutions. RUSA, which was introduced by the Congress-led UPA-II government and has been carried further by the BJP-led NDA government, replaces the pre-existing multiple funding mechanisms with one centralised mechanism. The funding then is linked to a set of conditions failing which the institutions/states will not be eligible to receive funds. These conditions include implementation of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), semesterization and compulsory accreditation among others. In fact, north eastern states and the hill states like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand were the first ones to agree to these compilations. The impact of these unplanned moves is already being seen in the form of complete withering away of the academic structure. Now, in such a situation the stagnation of funds will lead to more drastic impact on the higher education in these states.
This performance-based approach to funding will actually widen the existing gulf. RUSA has provision to divert funds to even such institutions, which do not fall under section 12B and 2(f) of the UGC Act. This translates into the provision of diverting the public money (tax collected from the working class and other toiling sections) to fund the private institutions, which are anyways free to charge exorbitant fees.
Autonomy leading to widened inequality
Finance minister talks about reforming UGC and then providing financial autonomy to the college and universities based on the ranking as per the mandatory accreditation. In fact, this whole concept of ‘autonomy’ is contradictory in itself, since this very government forced the universities to implement the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) 2 years back. Hence, while the academic autonomy has been snatched away, this whole talk of financial autonomy is nothing but a ploy to push the neoliberal agenda in education. This is in tune with the neoliberal push that we have been witnessing since the period of congress-led UPA-1. It will only lead to increasing the already existing wide gap in the various sectors of education. Finance Minister in his speech also talked about linking funding to ‘output-based accreditation and credit based programmes’, which implies the more state universities are going to be put under the ambit of credit based courses.
Deskilling in the name of ‘Skill Education’
‘Skill Education’ is the only area which got emphasis in the finance minister’s speech.  He proposed to launch a Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion Programme for “market relevant training” to 3.5-crore youth. Rs 4,000 crores have been allocated to it. Another Rs 2,200 crores has been allocated to the Skill Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement for 2017-’18 for improving the quality of vocational training in Industrial Training Institutes and to “strengthen the apprenticeship programmes.”
This thrust towards ‘Skill Education needs to be seen in the historical trajectory of the evolution of the dual education system in our country. The National Policy of Education (NPE 86-92) was instrumental in not only accelerating the privatization of education but also putting in place a dual system of education. It introduced non-formal education (NFE), as a low-cost alternative to be treated as ‘equivalent to schooling’ for the working poor, the marginalised and children in “difficult circumstances”. When the Supreme Court in its 1993 judgement (Unnikrishnan vs the State of Andhra Pradesh) stated that the constitutional Directive Principle 45 should be read in conjunction with Article 21, it established that the right to education flowed from the fundamental right to life thereby converting “the obligation created by the article (45) into an enforceable right”. This required the 86th Constitutional Amendment in 2002, which was tailor-made to coincide with neo-liberal dictates to reduce public spending on education. Two significant limitations to the “enforceable right” restricted it to children between 6 to 14 years of age and provided for education only “as the State may, by law, determine”. The limitations allowed a retreat from the original constitutional responsibility and denied millions of children access to quality education.
The present regime’s proposed National Policy of Education 2016 (NPE 2016) promises to accelerate this process. Amendments to the already flawed RTE 2009 will allow for ‘alternate’ schools which do not ‘require’ the basic infrastructural and pedagogical norms laid down in the Act, limit the no-detention policy to lower primary (class V) and vocationalise the elementary curriculum in targeted areas. Dove-tailed into the Skill Development Programme and the amended child labour law which now permits under14 year-olds to work in ‘family enterprises’, this ‘education’ policy will reinforce caste distinctions and ensure that the majority of India’s children from oppressed and marginalised sections will be condemned to a childhood of labour.
Finance minister also repeated last year’s promise to focus on learning outcomes – class and subject-wise minimum standards of learning children are expected to achieve in school.” However, what is being forgotten is that mere improvement in the ‘devises to measure teaching outcomes’ won’t serve any purpose when the fundamental question of infrastructural crisis in our primary and secondary education is not answered. The moot point remains is the government serious in answering this question? The resolution of this conundrum lies in a massive increase in the public expenditure, while successive governments continue to give the false argument of fund crunch.
Let us give some figures at this juncture. While the fiscal deficit for the financial year 2016-17 was 3.2% of GDP, in the same year the tax forgone was a massive 3.18 lakh crore that is equal to 2.1% of the GDP. The social sector spending including that on education can be increased by reducing the concessions to the corporates and big businesses. The fact that government hasn’t done so is only a pointer of its priorities.
Vikram Singh
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.
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.
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.
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.