People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 18, 2007
ALTERNATIVE POLICY ON HIGHER EDUCATION
AIFUCTO To Launch Massive Campaign
THE national executive committee of the All India Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisations (AIFUCTO), which met at New Delhi on March 12, has finalised its Policy Paper on Higher Education, which has been in the making for one year. The draft, which was circulated widely for discussion, has undergone several changes before its finalisation. The final document, which will be released from Kolkata on March 24, is prefaced with a critical appraisal of the callousness of the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission on Higher Education. The AIFUCTO paper argues that the neo-liberal policy prescriptions of the Knowledge Commission will have a debilitating impact on the very development of the country. AIFUCTO’s Policy paper offers a comprehensive alternative policy framework for ensuring a truly inclusive development by expanding access, equity and excellence in higher education.
AIFUCTO president Professor Thomas Joseph and general secretary Dr V K Tewari, in a press release issued on March 13, gave broad details of the national campaign that the Federation intended to unleash in the coming months. AIFUCTO has more than a hundred affiliates across the country with a membership of more than 4 lakh teachers in various universities and colleges. These organisations will translate the policy document into regional languages and hold elaborate campaigns to ensure maximum people’s participation in the dissemination of the AIFUCTO policy on higher education. Such an exercise is intended to facilitate an informed national debate on the adverse recommendations of National Knowledge Commission and to press the demand for the appointment of a new National Education Commission on the lines of Kothari Commission.
Following is the executive summary of the 20-page policy paper:
Development in future is linked up with acquisition, production and dissemination of knowledge. Equitable distribution of the benefits of “knowledge revolution” is premised on universalisation of both primary and secondary education and making provision for qualitative higher education to all young men who have the aspiration for higher learning.
The formal acceptance of the ideology and practices of globalisation by the Indian government in the nineties led to the progressive withdrawal of public funds from higher education on the one hand and privatisation and commercialisation of higher education on the other and consequent marginalisation of the masses from the sphere of higher education. The new policy was sought to be justified by pitting primary and secondary education against higher education showing an inadequate understanding of the synergic relationship among various levels of education.
Though the apologists of globalisation have now formally abandoned their earlier thesis that higher education is a non-merit good and acknowledged the concept of inclusive development in principle, they still refuse to accept equity as an integral component of excellence. They concede it only as a concession to excellence in a democratic society. In practice, the new thinking results in the perpetuation of inequities by concealing its grossness through marginal concessions to the poor. The reforms suggested by the National Knowledge Commission in the Note submitted by it to the prime minister is informed by this new strategy of containing the opposition to inequitable development, even while expanding the space for inequities.
The lessons from the global scenario and hard Indian realities dictate that a sustainable agenda for higher education give equal attention to equity and excellence by conceiving them as complementary to each other. For this, reservation is not enough, though it is a must, to begin with. A more comprehensive scheme for equitable sharing of enlarging opportunities in higher education with the SC/ST/OBC/Minorities/Physically Challenged/ Women/the poor and deprived of the rest of the society will have to be worked out. This alone will enable the country to emerge as one of the most developed countries by 2020 by reaping to the full the benefits of its demographic advantage of having the youngest population in the whole world.
The practical implications of the above are (1) greater public investment at all levels of education and (2) greater social control on private initiatives. The neo-liberal mythology of the shortage of resources actually amounts to an unwillingness of the State to ensure that the rich foot their rightful share in taxes and the willingness of the State to come to terms with the neo-liberal practices. A minimum of 6 per cent of the GDP, 10 per cent of the central budget and 30 per cent of the state budget should be set apart for education, of which higher education should receive its due share.
The challenge in privately provided higher education is to harness the benefits of a larger educational system while restraining the profiteering of private players. Regulation in the field of private higher education should include measures to ensure equity and excellence, by regulating admission, fees, content, infrastructure and the salary and service conditions of the staff.
India should refuse to join the GATS regime, which is intended to facilitate commercialisation of education. Instead, there should be greater efforts for bilateral academic exchanges among the universities at the international level.
The funding agencies within the country should show greater sensitivity to federal principles and autonomy of higher education institutions. The drawback of the existing UGC and centrally sponsored funding schemes is that they tend to overlook institutional autonomy in designing and implementing projects. We should be able to devise a system of institutional autonomy that is compatible with social accountability.
The concept of quality in education has to be defined comprehensively by taking into account the individual and social dimensions of education. UNESCO Report “Learning: The Treasure Within” has identified the four pillars of learning namely, learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be, which could form the bedrock of all pedagogic reforms aiming at qualitative improvement of education.
Universities and other institutions of higher learning should perform three key functions; viz, (1) Teaching (2) Research and (3) Extension in a manner that is complementary to one another. While specialisation is inevitable in higher education and everyone cannot be expected to excel in all three fields, the attempt should be to combine all three roles, perhaps at different periods in the career of both students and teachers.
Higher education institutions have a responsibility to create “organic intellectuals” and to enable the learners to earn a decent living, either through wage employment or self-employment. This implies that we have to design a curriculum that will inculcate critical, creative and communicative competencies among our young men and women. This would also imply that we continue to give importance to traditional disciplines in languages, social sciences and general sciences and engage ourselves in interdisciplinary explorations even as we focus on professional disciplines in emerging areas.
While attempts should be made to ensure maximum possible diversification in content, delivery modes and evaluation methods, there should be a certain amount of uniformity in the structure of the courses to ensure comparability of programmes offered in more than 18,000 institutions of higher education across the country
The goal of democratisation of human welfare through democratisation of higher knowledge can be realised by democratising the governance structures of educational institutions and making them internally autonomous and socially accountable.
The democratic transformation of the system of higher education to counter the debilitating impact of globalisation cannot be ensured unless the rights and responsibilities of higher education teaching personnel are properly defined and acted upon. AIFUCTO stands by the resolution of the General Conference of the UNESCO held in Paris in 1997 in this regard.