Even after high GDP growth rates seen in the last 2 decades of the Neo-liberal growth in our country, the state of Education continues to be in a poor state. The unwillingness of successive Central governments to allot more resources in the field of education has been one of the main reasons behind the present status of our Country, which ranks 134th in the Human Development Index (H.D.I). In spite of the recommendations of various expert committees since Independence and continuous demands from various quarters, spending of 6% of G.D.P. and 10 % of the budget on Education remains a distant dream. Small increase due to the left’s pressure during UPA1has now been reversed, and during UPA2 even the small spending has seen continuous cuts.
Particularly since 2009, when Congress lead UPA2 assumed office there has been a rigorous thrust of the neo-liberal agenda in the field of Education. The UPA2 has no commitment whatsoever to the concerns of the aam aadmi which had been congress party’s tag line in 2009 lok sabha elections. Immediately after assuming office in May 2009, the then HRD Minister Kapil Sibal announced a “100-day action plan” for the Education sector, which he argued would ‘reinvigorate and revitalize’ the education system in the country. The attack since then has not only been in the form of budget cuts or increasing the commercialization and privatization of Education- these have always been the feature of the education policy in last 2 decades.
This period has seen concerted attempts to fundamentally change the democratic values in the realm of the Education Policy, and sub serve it to the whims, fancies and the market logic of profit maximization. Bills such as The Higher Education and Research Bill (THER) 2011 seek to snatch away from the legislatives and Parliament the right to form policy, and instead propose a seven member High Powered body, which would have sweeping powers. Now, in spite of all the fallacies of the bourgeois democracy, the legislatures and Parliament is answerable to the People of this Country; while this proposed body would be answerable to none- a clear mechanism of allowing the market to seep in unchecked. Similar trends are being seen in the field of School education, where the autonomy of state boards with regard to syllabi and curriculum, is being severely undermined.
The classic feature of the current policy framework is that market is shown as the solution of all ills. No one would disagree with the fact that Education in our country is in need of a serious overhaul, but contrary to the belief that market would be golden wand, current trajectory would further intensify the crisis. In a Country with as huge diversity as we have, it is necessary to have a participatory and democratic outlook as the defining feature of the policy framework, so that diverse sections are able to relate to and benefit from the process of education. A top-down approach, as seen in the THER bill, where certain ‘enlightened’ individuals sitting in Delhi are expected to formulate policy for the entire country, is only going to increase the difficulties, for pedagogy not only entails some bits of information or instruction, it has a definite cultural context. What is being justified and touted as the ‘radical’ reforms are in reality going to percolate the market logic in the very essence of the Education system.
What is the situation at this juncture? The expenditure on Education is hardly 3% of our GDP. Unlike the 45%-85% Higher Education enrollment in advanced capitalist countries, in Our Country 90 out of every 100 youth in the age group of 17-23 is currently outside the gates of any college or University. Even among those students who are able to take admission in class 1, only 16.6% are able to reach class 12. The brunt of these faulty policies is being faced by the poor and the socio-economically deprived sections such as the females, Dalits, adivasis and minorities. The government expenditure continues to remain abysmally low. In the 2011-12 budget Rs. 21912 crores were allocated to Education, out of which as much as Rs. 2068 crores remained unspent. Thus while the spending remains low, not even the entire allocations are being spent. As a part of the clear cut neo-liberal outlook, public education is being systematically downgraded to create space for the private and foreign players.
The current phase of ‘gen-next’ reforms can’t be simply seen in isolation of the global developments. Global economic crisis that started in 2008 is still making its presence felt and like every other crisis global capitalism is looking for new avenues to get out of this crisis- which can be done only through the search of new means of profit maximization. Particularly Higher Education in the third world countries with large youth populations and high demands for higher education in a scenario where ‘knowledge’ has assumed an important role in the global production systems; presented a big opportunity for profit maximization.
Immediately after assuming the office of the HRD ministry, Kapil Sibal set up a committee under the chairmanship of Professor Yashpal was formed to look into the problems ailing the Indian Higher Education system. Committee in its report pointed to the misbalance between the demand and supply in the Higher Education. Yashpal, apart from his contributions in astronomical physics is also well known for his popular science series on the national television network during the 90s. His voice of scientific rationality was used to construct the urgency of private investment and removing the blockages in the administration of the Higher Educational Institutes. Yashpal’s argument was based on augmenting the public sector spending with private sector investments, and he never advocated debunking public sector spending altogether. But, his report was transformed into a take off point for systematic restructuring of entire system.
Education had originally been in the state list, and it was only during Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian regime that it was transferred to the concurrent list. Thus within the existing federal structure of our constitution, Education was under the jurisdiction of central, as well state governments; and in fact that very federal structure provided opportunity for state governments to pursue alternative policy trajectories, as has been the experience of the left front and left democratic front governments. In order to facilitate the entry of private and foreign capital in education, it was necessary first and foremost to block this possibility of alternative policy framework. Since then there has been concerted attack on the federalism and the way is being paved for centralization of Higher Education.
Through elaborate legislative framework such as the National Council for Higher Education and research bill (NCHER) earlier existing statutory bodies such as UGC, AICTE and Bar Council is sought to be replaced with an overarching body. In December last year the bill was tabled in Rajya Sabha and by now the number of such legislations waiting for discussion or waiting to be tabled has risen to 6. What are the provisions of the bill? The existing regulatory bodies, including the University Grants Commission and the All India Council for Technical Education, would subsequently be scrapped. The Bill supposedly seeks to “promote autonomy of higher education and innovation, and provide for comprehensive and integrated growth of higher education and research keeping in view the global standards”.
The Commission will facilitate determination, coordination, maintenance and continued enhancement of standards of higher education and research other than agricultural education and matters pertaining to minimum standards of medical education as they are the subject of the proposed National Commission for Human Resources for Health (NCHRH). The NCHER will consist of a chairperson and six members, one of whom will be the chairperson of the NCHRC, who will be appointed by the President on the recommendations of a search-cum-selection committee headed by the Prime Minister with the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of Opposition and the Ministers for Medical Education and Higher Education.
Pushed through as the anti-dote to the corrupt practices and inefficiency of the existing regulatory bodies, the bill would actually bring in place an over-arching body, which would be even more prone to nepotism, authoritarianism and corruption. With increasing charges of centralization, the revised bill talked about an extended structure; but it merely increases the size of the body, the bigger concerns about the attack on the federal structure and the erosion of the rights of states remain unanswered. Removing the structural barriers these changes seek an unhindered entry of the private and foreign capital.
Not only this, the period since 2009 has also seen aggressive academic reforms in almost all the universities of the country, with the worst case scenario represented by Delhi University where reckless reforms have been pushed neglecting the concerns of the stakeholders. Even before the semester system could settle down, administration is going ahead with a plan of 4 year graduation from next year; again without any due consideration of the preparedness. These reforms have intensified the infrastructural crisis and jeopardized the futures of thousands of students, especially those from the socio-economically deprived sections who are finding it difficult to adapt to the new academic structure. Similar reforms have been pushed in the name of examination reforms in Maharashtra.
The result of these cosmetic changes has been that instead of increasing efficiency, the crisis of the higher education system has intensified further.
While FDI as a source of financing the expansion of education remains a bone of contention, the historical experience of the FDI in Education in other countries clearly show a negative impact. The neo-liberal logic has historically proved to be inefficient and instead of the claims of building human capital in the developing countries, FDI has been critical to the profit maximization of the advanced capitalist countries, in the form of debt transfers from the poor to the rich countries.
In this phase, the question of ‘social Justice’ has been systematically ignored. The 27% OBC hasn’t been implemented properly in most of the educational institutions, with cut-offs and eligibility criterion been used to manipulate the rules. The constitutionally mandatory seats reserved for the SC/STs continue to remain vacant every year. While a systematic bias in the administration works against the ‘social justice’, the scholarship schemes run by the government have seen continuous ignorance on part of the central governments. The grant in aid to Maulana Azad Education Foundation under the Ministry of minority welfare has been cut bys
The much touted Right to Education Act has failed universalize school education, mainly because of the lack of adequate public funding. In spite of the act being passed by the parliament way back in 2009 only, UPA refused to take any financial responsibility and decided to put the entire burden on states, which in the neo-liberal phase are already facing financial constraints (rough estimates put that out of every 100 rupees spent on government plans more than 60 comes from the state governments, while out of every 100 rupees of tax collection, hardly 34 comes in states’ share). Implementation of RTE Act in letter and spirit would require public expenditure in the form of construction of school buildings and recruitment of up to 14 lakh teachers and other staff. Instead of public expenditure, government is pushing the privatization of school education in the garb of RTE, with the proposal of 6000 schools to be opened under the PPP arrangement. RTE also has a mandatory guideline of reserving 25% of seats in private schools for the students from poor backgrounds, but it has hardly been followed anywhere.
PROFESSIONAL AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION
Professional and technical Education is directly related to bourgeoisie’s need of a technical work force. Thus, while in the post-Independence phase a chain of I.T.I.s, premier institutions such as I.I.T.s and regional engineering colleges were set up by the state; in the past 20 decades this entire sector has witnessed massive privatization and commercialization. Money minting shops have been set up which on one hand charge hefty fees, while on the other fail to give proper training or impart skills. Result is that most of the students who come out of these institutions are underemployed. One particular study said that out of the 7 lakh odd engineering graduates every year, as much as 1 lakh won’t be able to get any proper employability.
PEOPLE VS PROFITS
Today we are seeing a fierce struggle in the field of education where on hand are the profit motives of a handful of corporate and private players; while on the other hand are the needs of the vast majority of this country. More than half of our population is less than 35 years of age, and this demographic dividend can be translated into people’s development, if they get proper education. Not only this, education in our country is essential aspect of the process of nation building; where historically marginalized groups and communities can be brought into the mainstream of our democratic system.