The students in India are on a warpath againstthe continuous onslaught on education by the NDA led central government. While a move to scrap non-NET fellowships for the researchers is being the latest, the welcoming of WTO to the sector of education is standing next in the line of attacks. An #Occupy UGC movement led by a coordination committee of different organizations and individuals is on at the headquarters of UGC in Delhi for last 45 days. The UGC’s decision taken in a full commission meeting to scrap the non-NET fellowships for the M.phil and Phd researchers studying in central universities met with a spontaneous outburst of protest from the students.It should also be noted that such a regressive step was taken at a time when Students have been demanding that the scholarships be increased to Rs.8,000 and Rs.12,000 respectively to provide basic minimum support to the researchers.
The protest spread across the nation immediately and students blockaded the regional centers of UGC in different corners of the country. Both the UGC and MHRD were challenged with a united movement of students which gained immense support from various democratic sections in the society. It was after these pressures built by the vibrant movement thatUGC was forced to hold the decision and agreed for a review in the next meeting. The movement intensified, forcing the HRD minister to come out of her office to answer the protesters. There were incidents of lathi-charging, detaining and manhandling of the protesting students by the police. But nothing could even affect the spirit of the struggle and it goes on with the demands of enhancement and expansion of the scholarship.
These fellowships have played a crucial role in helping the M.Phil. and Ph.D. research scholars of the Central Universities in India to sustain themselves. Researchers from deprived backgrounds will be the most hit by the new decision as should be obvious. Especially in the case of women researchers, the lack of financial independence makes them susceptible to familial pressures to leave research. The overall result would be the weakening of research in the country, undermining its knowledge base and intellectual self-reliance even as it makes research degrees inaccessible to the deprived sections of society. It has to be noted that the neo-liberal regime which complains about the lack of resources have already given a tax exemption of 5.89 lack crores to the corporate sector in the last budget. And there are further plans to reduce corporate taxes even more.
Though there is an immediate economic demand of the student community which triggered this movement, the scope and scale of the movement has become much larger than the immediate concern. The recent move of UGC cannot be seen in isolation with the assault of neo-liberal policies rigorously launched by the Modi led NDA government. This will also be in keeping with the government’s move to open up education as a tradable commodity under WTO-GATS.There are several indications that the government is inclined to sign a treaty at the Ministerial Meet of WTO/GATS scheduled from December 15-18 this year in Nairobi. We do not have even an iota of doubt that such a development will be resulting in the loss of sovereign and independent prerogative of the government to frame national policies and regulate education in the interests of its people and protect the constitutional right to education of every citizen. Recognizing the danger, a huge majority of the members in WTO has declined to include higher education under the WTO/GATS provisions, using their authority for exemption. But the name of India cannot be seen in that long list of around 120 nations. The government of India has already submitted an ‘offer’ to openup higher education to commercial trade in 2005. The last 25 years experience with the neo-liberal policies proves that the market of a capitalist society which functions with the logic of exploitation and unequal development can never be a solution for the educational backwardness of this country. Instead of recognizing the need of more intervention of government to ensure education facility to all,the attempt to surrender before WTO/GATS will pluck out the roots of even whatever less options are left before the students now.
The opening of higher education to trade under WTO/GATS as well as other bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral international trade agreements will oblige the government to follow iniquitous clauses of free trade in goods and services against the interests of citizens, make such commercial obligations irreversible despite public pressure in the future, and compel the government to surrender its right to frame national policy in the interest of citizens. According to the key rules of GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) there should be equal treatment between domestic companies and foreign companies. With the curtain of equal treatment there will be a smooth space built for unequal development which has nothing to do with the development aspirations of the third world countries but limit and disturb its growth and self-sufficiency. Instead of the flow of opportunities as being advertised, this definitely will boost the flow of finance capital aimed at reaping huge profits through the running of ‘degree shops’, which will further damage the public education and will keep a large chunk of the growing generation away from education and in that way the nation in the dark always.
The issues of scraping non-NET fellowships and opening of higher education under WTO/GATS are not some isolated issues. In no doubt, it is the early warning signs of impending attacks on higher education and to bring it to under a highly unjust discriminative system for always with wiping out even the options of protest built by the people’s movement. Not only for guarding our immediate interest but to save our research, achieve a socially just and qualitative academic sphere in higher education and above all for an efficient education sector which contributes to the national development,it is the need of the hour to defeat the regressive agendas behind the above mentioned moves. It is in this context, recognizing the necessity of a larger unity and broader platforms of democratic and progressive forces AIDSO, AISF and SFI has decided to wage struggles together across the nation. There was already a national convention of the five student organizations which gave the call for more intensified struggles. There will be a joint protest in the leadership of these three national student organizations at all the state capitals demanding enhancement and expansion of non-NET fellowships and to keep education out of WTO/GATS on Dec. 02 201. This joint platform appeals to all democratic and progressive sections to rally united in the protests on Dec. 02 across the nation. We request the student community to make the struggle a massive success.
ALL INDIA DEMOCRATIC STUDENTS ORGANISTAION (AIDSO)
Ashok Mishra –General Secretary
ALL INDIA STUDENTS FEDERATION (AISF)
Vishwajeet - General Secretary
STUDENTS’ FEDERATION OF INDIA (SFI)
Dr. V.Sivadasan - National President