People's Democracy

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


No. 30

August 03 , 2008


On the Prowl

R Arun Kumar

AFTER poaching for its 'victory' in the trust vote, the government is now on the prowl and the prey is aam aadmi. On choice, the government has snapped its bonds with the Left. It seems the government is now more than eager to please its 'master of choice' after the Left was forced to withdraw its support.

Immediately after the day of vote, the government convened a two-day meeting of the state education ministers and the news emanating from this meeting shows the eagerness of the government to make up for its lost time in the service of the US interests. Answering a query after the meeting, the HRD minister had expressed the intention of the government to allow foreign educational providers in our country. It is an open secret that the US is very much interested in the trade in higher education and wants the large Indian market to be laid open for it. A joint forum of representatives of Indian and US corporates set up to develop a 'strategic economic partnership' between the two countries had made some 30 recommendations that our government is keen to implement. One among them is to allow FDI in education, a proposal that the government is eager to implement as a show of its commitment to the 'strategic alliance'.

Two years back the Commerce ministry had come with a paper suggesting the opening up of this sector to the foreign players. This paper and its suggestions were widely criticised not only by those in the academia and on the other side of the government but even by some within it. Never before in independent India's history has the commerce department shown an interest in higher education. The department was not shy in stating that the potential for trade in this sector is enormous and this has to be tapped. So, naturally it is the monetary aspect that interested it than the ideal of providing access of higher education to the larger population. The HRD ministry at that time took exception to the Commerce ministry's eagerness and cautioned against foreign trade in education. But the involvement of the Planning Commission and the PMO together with the commitment the government had made in the GATS discussions meant that the threat of foreign penetration in our education always existed. The consistent opposition of the Left and the public opinion against it had forced the government to put on hold the suggestions of the Commerce ministry. Now that the Left is out, the government is in a hurry to push through this 'reform' and is planning to bring in a Bill to this affect in the monsoon session of the parliament.

The argument that the government is putting forward is that in order to increase the enrolment ratio in higher education the entry of foreign education players too is a must. At present the enrolment in higher education is between 9-10 per cent among the relevant age group in our country. The XI Five Year Plan sets a target of achieving 15 per cent enrolment. The government is arguing that this target cannot be achieved without the active involvement of the private and foreign education providers. Experience suggests that private and foreign players are not entering the field with a noble intention of spreading the education but to reap super profits. Even our country's experience in the era of liberalisation points to this phenomenon. This target cannot be achieved without the state taking a major responsibility. Table 1 shows the growth of educational institutes post-independence and most of this growth is in the private sector. Table 2 shows the gross enrolment ratios in the same period. Though there is a large scale expansion in the number of colleges and educational institutes started in this period, the same cannot be said about the enrolment ratios.

Table 1 Increase in the number of colleges


General and

Professional Colleges

















Table 2 Average rate of growth of enrolment in higher education


Growth rate %











It is amply clear from a comparison between the two tables that the policies of privatisation and liberalisation did not lead to an increase in the enrolment rates but in fact resulted in their reduction.

It is because of the exorbitant amounts of fee that is collected in these institutes that deter the students, especially from the disadvantaged sections from joining these institutes. Students from these sections will be able to pursue their dreams of higher education only when the government ensures that the fee is affordable to the poor, scholarships to the needy are made available and a strengthening of the public education apart from the implementation of the reservation policy. In order to achieve the enrolment target of the XI Plan, first the fall in the enrolment ratios has to be arrested by making higher education accessible to all and then accordingly plan for the expansion.

It is true that the XI Plan has many proposals for the augmentation of the seats available in higher education together with proposals to start a host of new institutions. The Plan also has increased financial outlays for the purpose. This should however not lead us to the conclusion that the government had at last seen reason and is on course correction because a trend from the IX Plan onwards is that actual expenditure on education is in fact less than the allocated amount. This shows the lack of political will of the successive governments. It also shows their eagerness not just to withdraw from the social sector but also in the process make way for the private and foreign players and enable them to reap super profits.

Another important suggestion made in the meeting was that the state governments should share the responsibility of ensuring that 6 per cent of the GDP is spent on education. Already there are suggestions from the union government that the states should bear most of the expenses of the SSA scheme. It wants to reduce its funding of the scheme from 50 per cent to 35 per cent and to 25 per cent in the future. The government is also suggesting the states to bear a major chunk of the expenses that has to be incurred when the Right to Education Bill is enacted. This literally means that the union government wants to exercise control over the education system without responsibility, i.e., contributing to the expenditure.

Recent studies suggest that the union government's share in total expenditure on higher education declined quite sharply from 26 per cent in 1998-99 to 19 per cent in 2003-04. All the budgets that have been tabled in the parliament by this government failed to increase the allocations to education as per cent of the GDP, in spite of the rhetoric of the Finance minister. This shows the failure of the government in realising its promise made in the NCMP-allocating at least 6 per cent of the GDP to education.

It seems that a section of the government is more than happy that they are out of the 'suffocating atmosphere' where they were forced to cater to the interests of the aam aadmi in all their policies. Now that they have ultimately succeeded in finding support of non-Left parties to run the government, they want to use their last days in office in the service of imperialism and the big business interests. It would not be easy for the government to pass its intended anti-people reforms as they would be met with stiff resistance from the formidable Left in the parliament and people's struggles outside it. Here is what Mahatma Gandhi has said about the rulers who do not care for public opinion. �For me every ruler is alien that defies public opinion�. Unfortunately they are having a very short memory because they are forgetting the fact that whenever the rulers have compromised the common people's interests they were shown the door.