People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 28, 2003


 Desperate ‘Act’ For

Commercialisation of Higher Education --- II


Vijender Sharma


IN view of “the ongoing globalisation in the higher education sector, the steady reduction in government funding of the universities, and the increasing influence of ICT on education,” a generalised university of the 21st century in the country has to “perform multiple functions.” In addition to the already existing traditional functions, the Model Act, applicable to all the types of universities in the country, would include the mobilisation of financial resources to become self-sufficient as one of its objects and would have statutory provisions for raising resources through:



Further, “for financial and physical resources generation/mobilisation from various sources, like central/state governments, non-governmental organisations, international funding agencies, philanthropists and other donors,” the universities would be allowed to set up a “company or registered society,” and associate and collaborate “with the private sector.” Thus the Vision and Strategy of the UGC, in times to come, is not only that the universities should respond to the market needs, but that the universities should become a part of the market and private sector by setting up companies and registered societies for revenue generation. The fundamental task of the universities to assimilate, create and disseminate knowledge is of least priority for the Vision and Strategy of the UGC.


In the wake of “diminishing financial support from the government,” lot of emphasis has been put, in the Concept Paper and the questionnaire, on revenue generation and financial self-sufficiency. Therefore, one of the main functions of the vice chancellor would be “mobilising financial and other resources.” In order to help the vice chancellor, an additional post of pro-vice chancellor, a senior academic with knowledge or experience of business or finance, would be created to take charge of resource generation and related aspects. There would be provisions for constituting various boards for distance education, publication, sponsored research, consultancy, etc, that would help raise funds. In a market-model university, departments that make money, study money or attract money are given priority. Heads of universities and institutions of higher education --- the vice chancellors, directors, principals --- will now be assuming the role of travelling salesmen to promote their programmes.




In the Model Act, common for all the universities, emphasis would be on “distance education for the society at large, which would be provided using audio/video broadcasts and/or ICT and related new technologies as against the earlier correspondence courses, now becoming obsolete.” The main slogan of private and business universities the world over --- “any time, any where, any discipline learning for any one” --- has been made the central slogan for the distance education programmes of the universities in India. Following the practices of business universities, students would be allowed to take courses of their choice from many universities at a time with the facility of inter-institutional students’ mobility by mutual credits transfer, and degree/diploma would be awarded jointly by universities in partnership. For this purpose “statewide/countrywide virtual classrooms would be set up.” The distance education, described by the Concept Paper as a commercial activity, would be one of the sources of revenue generation. However, the marginalised and disadvantaged sections of the society who opt for the correspondence courses would be kept out of this stream as well. Only those sections who can pay the fees for profit making courses and have access to electronic media and the internet would be able to enrol in these courses.




Ambani and Birla had recommended to the prime minister in April 2000 that legislation should be enacted “banning any form of political activity on campuses of universities and educational institutions.” Responding to the requirement of these businessmen and since the universities are proposed to be the part of market and private sector, the new Act would have statutory provision “for maintaining campus peace and harmony” and good public relations with respect to all its constituents, like students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, funding agencies, press/media, government, UGC and the society at large. For peace and harmony, even the normal trade union activities will not be allowed. This is clear from the questionnaire wherein responses have been invited on “depoliticisation of the campus for a healthy academic environment.”




There may be some flexibility “to maintain some variation in the University Acts to facilitate regional emphasis.” The Concept Paper is “against curtailing the power and position of the chancellors (governors of states at present --- Author).” In the new Act, the president of India or the governor of the state would discharge the constitutional responsibilities relating to the central/state university as visitor and they would have “powers of discretion and judgment” in various functions relating to the university, including the appointment of the chancellor and vice chancellor and their duties and responsibilities, and deciding appeals, petitions, representations, etc. In order to facilitate networked learning centres distributed all over the country and even abroad, the jurisdiction of the universities will not be relevant any more. The executive (management) council, the highest authority with powers to frame statutes/ordinances/regulations would have only ex-officio and nominated members, and the provisions of elected representatives on this body would be withdrawn.




There are five points that emerge from the exercise of formulating the Model Act, common for all the universities, which show the intention of the central government and UGC:





In order to create an environment for these purposes, the government and UGC have been working overtime for the last several years by reducing state funding of and limiting access to higher education, heavy cost recovery, loans to students, terming higher education as a non-merit good, assessment and accreditation of institutions, autonomous status to colleges, self-financing courses and institutions, increased workload of teachers and non-teaching employees, contractual appointments and privatisation and commercialisation of higher education, etc. If the Model Act is allowed to be adopted an orderly development of higher education in India in the 21st century shall not take place. No longer will truth be sought through education, except whatever suits the corporate interests.


Therefore, the first need is not to respond to the questionnaire attached to the Concept Paper. Rather a detailed critique of and opposition to the government policy of privatisation and commercialisation of higher education under the dictates of the World Bank, WTO and GATS should be the response of teachers, students, parents and all stakeholders in higher education. As the citizens of India, we have to ensure that the government takes care of public interests and act to protect public services like health and education from the predatory elements that preach the ideology of the marketplace as the solution to every issue. The attempt to introduce a Model Act is a desperate attempt of the BJP-led NDA government towards all round commercialisation of higher education in the country. In order to fail this attempt of the government, no one can afford to be complacent. It is the responsibility of the whole society to rise to the occasion and take measures so that the process of dismantling the higher education system in the country is reversed.