People's Democracy

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


No. 26

June 28, 2009


Whither Higher Education!


G Selva


AFTER the pre-poll and exit poll surveys, now it’s the time for the media to survey India’s ‘top educational institutions.’ Nowadays one of the main sources of income for the electronic and print media are the advertisements coming from private educational institutions. In the milieu of such a market driven, profit oriented media business, however, can we expect an articulation of the voice and demands of the people who are struggling hard to avail the facilities of education?

As we know, the media’s constant effort is to ‘create’ news --- just like masala movies project certain heroes, villains and comedians. And now the media’s new hero is Mr Kapil Sibal, the new HRD minister, who said that a review will be undertaken of all the institutions that had been granted the ‘Deemed University status’ by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

There is now no doubt that a review of the status of deemed universities is long overdue, as students who want to study and their parents are facing immense hardships, and thus Mr Sibal’s statement is welcome. These hardships emerge because of collection of capitation fees, high tuition fees, lack of quality education and undemocratic attitude of institutions etc. But if we look at the problems in the background of the Congress party’s professed love for the neo-liberal economic policies, it raises genuine doubts whether the ‘new hero’ will be able to identify, leave alone fight, the real villain?

The original concept of a deemed university was to extend recognition to such educational institutions as were able to set up excellent educational standards with remarkable capabilities. Naturally, such institutions were valued. It was the former Indian president and eminent educationist, Dr S Radhakrishnan, who introduced the idea of a deemed university and, accordingly, the first institution to be given the status was the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore in 1958. Later, many other prominent government institutions too were given the deemed university status, like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the National Institutes of Technology (NITs).

Until the 1990s, granting the deemed university status was very rare. Between 1958 and the 1990’s, only 29 institutions were granted this status. In the last 15 years, however, 63 institutions were given this distinction, while in the last five years alone 36 institutions have been notified as deemed universities. Now, in all, there are 125 of them. The most glaring example of the recent proliferation would be found probably in Tamil Nadu where the number of deemed universities has increased from 18 in 2007 to 35 in 2008, with many others in the queue.

The reason for this sharp increase in the number of deemed universities since the 1990’s was the modification of the UGC rules granting ‘deemed to be university’ status by the previous NDA government in order to help the self-financing colleges to come out of the control of the affiliating universities. The conditions regarding fixed endowment, number of years of their functioning and requirement of land were relaxed in case of de novo institutions.

The UPA government, which came to power after the NDA, in spite of strong opposition from the Left parties and the students movement across India, shamelessly implemented the same policies on education. As a result, deemed universities and private institutions mushroomed in the last five years. Thus the UPA government has extended a red carpet welcome to the private players who exploit and make maximum profit from the aspiring parents and students.

These deemed universities have never followed any of the regulations laid down by the UGC, AICTE, MCI and other central regulatory bodies. For example, the chancellor of deemed university should be a doctorate holder. But in most of the existing deemed universities, the chancellors are either diploma holders or post graduates through correspondence education. Also, in most of the cases, the land being used by these deemed universities are encroachment of panchama land, temple land, village pond and cattle grazing fields etc. Legally, except the original beneficiaries of these lands, others are not entitled to use it for any purpose. As per the UGC guidelines, a deemed university is not supposed to run any sub-centres, but in practice many deemed universities violate this rule. For example, Vinayaka Mission University, Salem, Tamilnadu, has more 900 sub-centres all over India.

During its last tenure, instead of controlling the ‘educational dacoity’ by private players, the Congress party, the party to which our new ‘hero’ belongs, has helped them by allowing them to remove the word ‘deemed’ and use in its stead the words “Under Section 3 of the UGC Act.” From the time the state started withdrawing from its responsibility to provide education to its citizens, not only deemed universities, but private institutions from the kindergarten schools to institutions of higher learning have turned into so many centres of unbridled profiteering.

If Mr Kapil Sibal is honest and committed to his words on the deemed universities, the immediate task is to cancel the deemed university status for all institutions, which were given this status on the basis of the NDA government’s modification of rules.

The erstwhile UPA government had promised that nobody will be denied professional education only because he or she is poor. Based on the available data, currently 43 per cent of the institutions private unaided institutions, accounting for 30 per cent of students enrolment. Most of these institutes are blatantly violating all the government regulations and are not under any social control. This ‘educational dacoity’ is being aided by the government’s policies on the one hand, while the judiciary is unfortunately granting it legal approval on the other. To control and save Indian education from private players, there is an immediate need to enact a central legislation to regulate the fees and admissions in these private institutions.

After the Kothari commission, except for the New Education Policy 1986, the central government did not declare any broad policy framework for educational development in the country. Nor has it undertaken any comprehensive review of the education system. So the need of hour is to undertake a comprehensive review of our educational system, to rectify the immediate problems and formulate a broad vision and direction for the future development of education in our country. To do it, the government constitute a national commission on education.

Unless and until the UPA government realises that providing education to people is the prime responsibility of the state, we cannot control privatisation and bring in major positive changes in our educational system. The immediate task is to allocate six per cent of the GDP to education, which was suggested by the Kothari commission four decades ago. The UPA government agreed to it in principle during its last tenure, but never implemented it.

The above issues and demands that are there in front of our new ‘hero’ need immediate attention and action. But we also know how, in order to satisfy the private lobby and maintain the landlord-bourgeoisie character of the state, the UPA government delayed the passage of the Right to Education bill which could have enshrined education as a fundamental right in our constitution. Thus, education is not only an issue for the students movement but a larger social issue involving all sections of the society. The need therefore is of building a common struggle involving all sections of the society.