THE Students’ Federation of India has organised an all India convention of university students from October 17-19 at Osmania University in Hyderabad.
On the first day, a huge rally of students was organised, which started from Osmania NCC gate to Arts College, where it took the form of a public meeting. Cultural activists of Praja Natya Mandali led the rally in their traditional attire, symbolising the heroic legacy of the Telangana Armed Struggle that continues to inspire people’s struggles even today. Prof. G Haragopal, from the University of Hyderabad addressed the public meeting where he urged that the student movement should resist the communalisation of education and also focus on the implementation of the right to education and take part in the all India campaign on these issues. The meeting was also addressed by renowned teacher Chukka Ramaiah. Despite his ill-health, he came to address the public meeting, saying that his association with the Students’ Federation of India was decades old and couldn’t contain himself when such an important all India university students convention was taking place at a crucial juncture to debate on the communalisation and commercialisation of education. B V Raghavulu, former state secretary of Andhra Pradesh SFI commented that the present Modi government is carrying forward the same policies in higher education, as was done by the UPA-2 led government. He said that Modi came to power promising education and employment opportunities for youth but has not delivered on this front till now. Ritabrata Banerjee, general secretary of SFI, pointed to the urgency of the current situation, which requires carrying forward the legacy of study, struggle and sacrifice. S Veeraiah, editor of Prajasakti, V Sivadasan, SFI president and Madhuja Sen Roy, vice-president also spoke in the public meeting.
On the second day, the convention began with the flag hosting ceremony and paying homage to the martyrs of the organisation. V Sivadasan hoisted the flag. All the delegates paid respects at the martyrs’ column and pledged to carry forward the struggle of martyrs.
After flag hoisting, there was an inaugural session which was presided by Shoban, president of Telangana state committee of SFI. State secretary of Telangana, Sambashiva welcomed the delegates He also explained the importance of organising this convention in Osmania University after formation of the new state of Telangana.
Condolence resolution remembering and paying tributes to the martyrs of the democratic movement and progressive personalities, who left us in the recent past, was placed by Noor Mohammad, all India vice-president. The convention was inaugurated by V Sivadasan. He outlined the background in which this convention was being organised, particularly in a situation where a far right government has been formed at the centre and the RSS machinery is going ahead systematically in its attempts at saffronisation of education. The forces of Hindutva on one hand and the forces of privatisation and commercialisation of education on the other, hence represent the two biggest challenges for the student movement today. But, these challenges also offer opportunities of growth for the movement and the organisation, which can advance only through relentless struggles.
Delegate session started after the inauguration of the convention. For smooth functioning of the convention a seven member presidium was constituted by delegates. Presidium included V Sivadasan, Partho Das (Bardhaman University), Ambedkar (JNU), Suresh Sarwal (HPU), Pratusha (Nagarjun University), Ajesh (Kerala) and Luxmi (Jai Narayan University, Jodhpur).
Vikram Singh, all India joint secretary placed the draft resolution for university organisation. This draft dealt in detail the situation and challenges in universities and the need of building organisation in universities. Higher education in our country continues to be in a poor state due to scarcity of funds on one hand and poor quality on the other hand. In the XI Plan, India claimed to move from an “elite” system of higher education to a “mass” system when the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) crossed the threshold of 15%. However, our GER at 19.4% still remains below the world average of 29% (as of 2010). We have witnessed increase in the number of institutions of higher education. From 26 universities and 695 colleges at the time of independence, we have grown to 700 universities and 53912 colleges today. However, as the low GER very aptly indicates, increase in the number of institutions has still remained inadequate to meet the increased demand for higher education.
The GER amongst SCs and STs is much lower than the national average, and Muslims also have very low GER. Scheduled castes and minorities have lower access mostly due to socio-economic factors while tribal areas have lesser number of institutions serving them. GER for agricultural labour (7%) is the lowest while the self employed in non-agriculture (13.80%) and self-employed in agriculture (15.80%) are comparatively better. The other aspect of equity is women’s access to higher education. In the age group 18- 23 years, women are far behind men. While GER for women and girls is estimated to be 15.8 percent, it is 22.8 for men. Oddly enough, in the urban areas, the difference between GER for men and women is even higher than that in rural areas.
There are many posts of teaching and non-teaching which are vacant affecting the quality of teaching and research in universities. In 42 central universities with sanctioned faculty strength of 16,602, 6,542 posts remain vacant. This results in poor student-teacher ratio. The student teacher ratio in India (24:1) is very low as compared to other countries, 9.5:1 in Sweden; and 13.6:1 in the United States. According to the Dhande Committee report, the faculty strength as of 2008 was 6, 99, 644 with vacancies close to 40%.
There is a rapid privatisation of universities in India. Students studying in public institutions only constitute about 42% of the total enrolments; the remaining 58% are enrolled in private institutions including aided and unaided.
Private universities demand huge fee from the students. Commercialisation entails that quality education becomes synonymous with affordability. The goals of equity and inclusion, the fundamental pillars of policy making in any democracy, might be the first casualties if unbridled profit making is instituted as a norm for the educational institutions in the private sector.
Kothari Commission stated, “It is undesirable to regard fees as a source of revenue. They are the most regressive form of taxation; fall more heavily on the poorer classes of society and act as an anti-egalitarian force.”
India is more privatised compared to other capitalist or market economies, for instance, the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. In the US, one-fifth to one-fourth of the total number of students in higher education, and about 30% of the global enrolment in higher education, are in private institutions; the remaining students go to public universities. In contrast, in India, 66% of students in general education and 75-80% in technical education are enrolled in private, self-financing institutions (Planning Commission document, 2013).
Governments are not ready to allocate funds for higher education including universities. The same trend is followed by the Modi- led BJP government. The UGC has borne the brunt of a serious assault by the government with a drastic 32% cut even in absolute terms.
An alarming trend is the decline in India’s share of world researchers, which stood at 2.2% in 2007, a reduction from 2.3% in 2002. A study on India’s research output by Thomson Reuters in 2010 has estimated India’s global share of scientific publication to be about 3.5% for 2010. On the other hand, China’s share has increased from 14% to 21.1% during the period under study (2002- 2007).
The convention also expressed its concern on the fact that in most of the universities, no students’ union elections are being conducted and in many places, even the basic democratic rights to associate and organise public meetings are being denied to the student community. The attacks on the democratic rights are an integral part of the ongoing neo-liberal assaults on the higher education and hence the struggle for campus democracy also becomes an integral part of the resistance against such policies.
After the placing of resolution, there was a group discussion among the delegates of various states, which lasted for more than 3 hours. 27 delegates presented the points emerging out of these group discussions.
On the third day of the convention, Prof K Nageshwar addressed the delegates, sharing his own experiences of the student movement. K Nageswar is a senior professor of journalism at Osmania University, Hyderabad. He is also a visiting faculty at BITS, Hyderabad campus. He spoke on the topic ‘Higher Education in India and the challenges before student movement.’ He said we are now in an intensely knowledge-driven economy that has gripped the world economy. So the demand should be to expand the opportunity to access quality higher education for all. Prof Nageshwar cited Amartya Sen on inequality and elaborated that one kind of inequality leads to inequality of other. Education inequality leads to wage and work inequality. While concluding he hoped that SFI would also take its activism into private universities and ensure that quality of education is maintained and problems of students are taken up. He identified the challenges facing the university students in the present scenario especially in the situation where there is a concerted campaign to depoliticise the campuses. He also explained the debates with regard the higher education. Earlier the focal points were just primary and secondary education leaving behind higher education. Though we agree to the fact that essential importance has to be given to primary and secondary education sectors, he emphasised the importance of the higher education sector as well.
The draft resolution was adapted, after including the amendments and suggestions, which emerged out of the discussions. It was passed unanimously by the delegates.
The convention also adopted the following demand charter for future struggles:
· Spend 6 % of GDP and 10% of central budget on education
· Restore the federal structure within education
· Scrap the attempts of centralisation through bodies such as NCHER
· Make appropriate budgetary allocations to fill the vacant teaching and non-teaching positions
· Scrap RUSA and the attempts to link public funding with neo-liberal agendas
· Restore democratic rights of students in all campuses of the country. Hold student union elections in all colleges and universities; ensure student representation in the governing bodies (senates and syndicates) of the universities
· Form democratically elected and functional anti-sexual harassment committees in all the colleges and universities
· Ensure scholarships for all research scholars
· Stop privatisation through self finance courses
· Increase allocations for research and development
The convention also gave a call for a nation-wide protest day against the policies of privatisation, commercialisation, centralisation and communalisation of education by the Modi-led government at the centre.
A nineteen member sub-committee for universities was elected by the convention. In this committee three places have been kept vacant. Members of the committee are : Vikram Singh, Prem (Himachal Pradesh), Sangeeta Dass (Assam), Ajesh (Kerala), Mayukh Biswas (West Bengal), Mahipal Singh (Rajasthan), Luxmi (Uttrakhand), Praveen (Haryana), Vikram Patel (Madhya Pradesh), Stalin (Tamil Nadu), Pruthushya (Andra Pradesh), Anjenulu (Telengana), Balaji (Maharastra), Harinder Bajwa (Punjab), Shailender Kumar Yadav (Bihar) and Ambedkar (Delhi). Vikram Singh is the convener of this committee. There are six co-convenors namely Ajesh from Kerala, Mayukh Biswas from West Bengal, Stalin from Tamil Nadu, Pruthushya from Andhra Pradesh, Ambedkar from Delhi and Anjenulu from Telangana.
Ambedkar gave the vote of thanks, appreciating the hard work and efforts of the Telangana state committee in smoothly conducting the convention. He also thanked the Andhra Pradesh committee for its support and help in the conduct of the convention. The convention ended with ‘We shall overcome’, and the delegates pledged to carry forward the slogan of ‘study and struggle’ in universities across the country, with new energy and enthusiasm.