People's Democracy

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


No. 15

April 19, 2009


UPA and Higher Education: Unfulfilled Programme

Vijender Sharma

IN 2004, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) while assuming power at the centre promised to the people of India through its National Common Minimum Programme that it would “raise public spending in education to at least 6 per cent of GDP” in a “phased manner”. It further pledged that nobody would be “denied professional education because he or she is poor”. It committed itself to the cause of social justice. Expansion of access to education, equity, quality of education and regulation of private professional educational institutions were among other promises it made to the people.

It is the time for all stakeholders to take stock of the record of the Congress led UPA government and see whether the programme that UPA promised to the nation about higher education has been fulfilled or not.

As far as the spending on education is concerned, the UPA government has not met its promise of spending 6 per cent of GDP on education at all levels. As of now, it is 3.5 per cent compared with 3.23 per cent in 2000-01. The government spending on higher education as a percentage of the GDP was 0.37 in 2003-04. It remained stagnant during the rule of the UPA at the same level. As against this, the corresponding figures for US, Australia, UK, Brazil, Russia and China are 1.41 per cent, 1.19 per cent, 1.07 per cent, 0.91 per cent, 0.67 per cent and 0.50 per cent respectively.

The public spending on higher education per student in India stands at $400 (Rs 20,000). This is the lowest compared to corresponding figures for developing and developed countries. While these figures for the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan are $9,629, $8502 and $4830 respectively, China, Russia and Brazil spend $2,728, $1,024 and $3,986 respectively on higher education per student.

The report (September 2005) of a CABE committee, constituted by the UPA government, on “Financing of Higher and technical Education” exposed “the miserable condition of higher education system in India where even after 57 years of independence higher education is “not accessible to the poorest groups of the population.” Expressing concern over higher education system which is in a “deep financial crises”, the report called for re-examination of “recent policies and to have a fresh look at the problems of financing higher and technical education in the country.”



The committee took a serious note of the lack of infrastructure in many universities and colleges which suffer from "severe inadequacy of physical resources such as buildings, classrooms, libraries, laboratories, etc., not to speak of high-tech modern equipment." It therefore suggested an operation blackboard-like programme "to ensure that all institutions of higher education have at least basic minimum infrastructure facilities." But the UPA government failed to implement such recommendations.

While women students constitute 40 percent of all students, enrolment of Scheduled Caste students is only 11.3 percent and that of Scheduled Tribe students is 3.6 percent. These ratios are far less than their corresponding ratios in total population. The women belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes living in rural areas are “most disadvantaged” and “on the whole, both in rural and urban areas, scheduled population are much behind the others.”

The Sachar Committee report (November 2006) exposed the backwardness of Muslims in India in every sphere of life including education. Most of its recommendations have not been taken into consideration by the UPA government. The UGC report on “Higher Education in India: Issues Related to Expansion, Inclusiveness, Quality and Finance” made public in November 2008 has established the fact that the largest minority of the country has lagged far behind in higher education. The Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education is the highest for Christians at 19.85 per cent followed by Hindus at 13.13 per cent and Sikhs 12.69 per cent, and Muslims at just 7.7 per cent.

GER in Higher Education (18-23 years) (in %)

Socio-Religious Group




















This report further revealed
that women, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and SC/STs are at an even greater disadvantage. The report goes on to state that there is no “significant difference between the OBCs and non-scheduled, non-OBC other Muslims, as both remained at the bottom of the table, next only to SCs and STs. As a matter of fact, the plight of the Muslims altogether is not very different from that of the SCs and STs in general.”

While the UPA under pressure from the Left parties brought a legislation to ensure reservations for OBCs in institutions of higher education as well as an increase in seats, the funds released by it to central educational institutions for its implementation were far less than required. Instead of taking all necessary steps to ameliorate the miserable educational conditions of minorities, dalits and deprived sections, the UPA resorted to only tokenism. The UPA showed lack of its political will in implementing reservations in private educational institutions. In the fag end of its term, the UPA unsuccessfully tried to undo reservation for SCs and STs, except at the entry level, by bringing a Bill in December 2008. This exposed the so called commitment of the Congress led UPA towards the cause of social justice.

The Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fee) Bill, 2005, though very weak and without teeth, was scuttled by powerful education-mafia that runs private institutions of professional higher education. Despite repeated demands from students and their parents and the Left parties, the UPA government refused to control and regulate admissions, fee, examination and courses, etc. of such institutions which are looting the students and making huge profits.

The UPA’s thinking about the 11th Five Year Plan was reflected in the Approach Paper of the Planning Commission (June 2006), titled “Towards Faster and More Inclusive Growth”. It stated that India “provides a 24 hour working day to American professionals.” Therefore, it recommended to “work through WTO” and full exploitation of private sector initiatives in higher learning. The entire concept towards education in the Approach Paper centred around privatization, and appeasing the US lobby interested in education that could be traded as a commodity for profit.

The Department of Commerce, government of India, in September 2006, circulated a Consultation Paper on trade in education services titled ‘Higher Education in India and GATS: An Opportunity” in preparation for the on-going services negotiations at the WTO. It was argued in the consultation paper that with a multi-billion dollar industry involving foreign education providers, distance learning and franchisees, “GATS could provide an opportunity to put together a mechanism whereby private and foreign investment in higher education can be encouraged.” It recommended striking “a balance” between domestic regulation and providing adequate flexibility to such universities in setting syllabus, hiring teachers, screening students and setting fee levels.” The paper made it clear that the functions of the education ministry were being taken over by the Commerce ministry under the Congress led UPA in its pursuit towards privatisation and commercialisation of higher education.

The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation, Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercialisation) Bill, 2007 was planned to be introduced in the parliament (Rajya Sabha), in the first week of May 2007. At the intervention of the CPI(M) because of its opposition to foreign direct investment in education, finally the Bill was not introduced. The proposed Act was applicable to only those FEIs which would start educational institution independently. The joint arrangements of FEIs with any recognised Indian institution were outside the ambit of this Act. This was the provision which was to be actually used by FEIs to enter India in the field of higher education. There was no provision in the Bill which restricted any repatriation of revenue generated by the FEIs to their countries of origin. This showed that the Congress led UPA was catering to the profit motives of the business lobbies interested in joint arrangements rather that expanding the access to education for all.



In 1950-51, there were three central universities and 24 state universities. In the beginning of this year, there were over 430 university level institutions including 25 central universities and 230 state universities. The number of private universities also rose from seven in April 2005 to 28 during the UPA rule.

The number of deemed to be universities shot up from 29 in 1990-91 and 95 in April 2005 to 125 in February 2009. Of this number, about 40 are aided and rest are unaided deemed to be universities. The UPA government thus continued allowing many sub-standard institutions to become deemed to be universities. They have been allowed to violate the UGC guidelines. Thus the UPA government continued commercialisation of education. The Yashpal Committee (March 2009) has rightly recommended that “Practice of according status of deemed university be stopped forthwith.”

The number of general higher education and professional colleges increased from 568 in 1950-51 to 20,677 in mid-2008. While over 5,000 colleges were started in forty years from 1950-51 to 1990-91, thereafter about 15,000 colleges were started till date. Most of the colleges started since 1990-91, the beginning of the era of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, are private colleges running for profit.

As against the total enrolment of 2,00,000 students in 1950, the present enrolment has risen to 1,16,12,000 out of which 87 per cent are enrolled in colleges for UG, PG, research and diploma courses and the rest 13 per cent are enrolled in universities. About one-third of all students are enrolled in private institutions.

Despite this expansion, the enrolment of students in higher education in the age group of 17-23/18-24 (Gross Enrolment Ratio-GER) is about 8-9 per cent in India. As against this, the GER for Brazil, Russia and China is an average of 31.5 per cent and that for developed countries is 71.6 per cent.

The number of students per teacher has risen from 12.6 in 1965-66 to 21.8 in 2003-04. During the UPA rule this number has risen further to 23 in mid-2008 with 5,05,000 teachers. Compare this with Brazil which has 13.6 students per teacher, Russia has 11 and China has 13.5.

The UPA government has now upgraded three state universities to the status of central universities and created 12 other central universities without infrastructure and own campuses but has appointed their vice chancellors. It has also started some institutes like IITs and IIMs. Most of such institutes are yet to shift to their own campuses. But the most publicised programme of the UPA government for starting a model college in over 350 educationally backward districts all over the country remains non-starter.

It is the responsibility of the State to ensure quality education for all at all levels and in all regions. The Congress led UPA government forgot this responsibility and its own national common minimum programme. Most of the promises that it made at the time of coming into power, as pointed out above, remain unfulfilled.