People's Democracy

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

Vol. XXX

No. 21

May 21, 2006

UPA Govt Debunks Its Own Recommendations On Higher Education


G Mamta


THE Congress-led UPA government is self contradictory in more than one way. It lacks a comprehensive vision for the development of education in the country. No matter what many eminent educationists say and no matter what the bodies and agencies set up by the government itself say, it is bent upon commercialising higher education.


The planning commission in its concept paper for the Eleventh Plan has advocated for setting up ‘private education companies’, as it calls them, and favoured increased participation of private players in higher education. The commission has suggested that things be made easier for education providers (registered societies and companies) interested in opening institutions of higher education. “Allow free entry of registered societies and education companies subject to their getting graded,” the concept paper says. Given a chance they would even set up ‘private governing companies’ replacing governments!


The National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) that is fully funded and sponsored by the government of India is the 'professional wing of the government of India'. The suggestions of the national seminar held by NIEPA recently in Delhi on 'Privatisation and Commercialisation of Higher Education' are completely negated by the proposals of the planning commission.


NIEPA has recommended that the governments at the centre as well as in the states should establish sufficient number of higher educational institutions at the college and university levels with adequate enrolment capacity, commensurate with the anticipated demand and comparable to the number of private institutions. This responsibility should not be totally abandoned to the private sector. It further said that commercialisation of education, if not arrested, could well become a part of a process of sell-out of the country’s interests, negating the interests of a large segment of our population particularly that segment which has been under-privileged and has had little voice.


This truth has become all the more evident today. We see how the private education mafia are successfully trying to stall and delay the implementation of the 93rd Constitutional Amendment providing reservation and regulation of fees in private educational institutions. With this delay, according to a conservative estimate of the Human Resources Development ministry, private institutions are set to gain Rs 835 crores by squeezing the common students as they are empowered to fill all the seats without any quota for weaker sections or without fee regulation. Commercialisation of education allows the private institutions to make windfall profits at the cost of common students. And the planning commission’s plans of private education ‘companies’ will only boost this further.


NIEPA maintains that the objective of higher education is nation building and therefore, the role of government institutions should be dominant in inculcating the spirit of nation building among the citizens of India and the trends of privatisation in higher education should be restricted to the minimum desirable level only. It is, therefore, imperative that the State should be primarily responsible to ensure quality education at all levels including professional courses.  This obviously calls not only for strengthening of public institutions but also for their quantitative expansion. But this exhortation fell on the deaf ears of the government and the planning commission.


Commodification of education leads to excessive emphasis on skill, employment and corporate-oriented education. In research, applied aspect will acquire importance at the cost of basic sciences and thus a vast pool of traditional knowledge acquired through centuries may suffer. Further, commercialisation even creates imbalance such as excessive importance to education catering to IT-related sector at the cost of education required to meet the needs of vast range of other productive sectors. It would also mean marginalisation of SC, ST, women and vulnerable sections of society. Therefore, commodification of higher education both in terms of principles as well as practices needs to be deplored, says NIEPA. But when the government is hell bent to commercialise and establish ‘education companies’ in higher education, such recommendations will need to be backed up by strong action by students and people for implementation. Only then we can make the deliberately deaf hear.


Public education serves social interests whereas private education mostly serves market interests. When both – public and private education, which are mutually contradictory – co-exist simultaneously with market playing a dominant role, it is difficult to protect the social goals of education. The bar on commercialisation of education should cover all institutions imparting education at various levels, says NIEPA.. Mind you, these suggestions are not made by left but by a government established institute and they get debunked by the government itself in practise. It is time for the government to decide whether it wants policies framed for the poor majority or for the rich minority. Hope the results of the recent polls will be in the back of their mind then!