People's Democracy

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


No. 37

September 13, 2009

The CABE And The Resistance To

Neoliberal Agenda In Education


M A Baby


A MEETING of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) was held at New Delhi on August 31. The CABE, which is a forum for federal consultation and consensus, had become defunct in the nineties.  No meeting of the CABE was held during the NDA regime. It was revived after a lapse of ten years by the previous UPA government, at the insistence of the Left parties. But the new UPA government at the centre is not very enthusiastic about involving the CABE in national policy making. It exhibited its indifference by announcing policy initiatives in education without even observing the formality of consulting the CABE. The unilateral announcement by Kapil Sibal, the union minister for Human Resources Development, of the 100 day action plan involving far reaching policy changes like dispensing with the examinations in the 10th standard, is a clear indication of federal deficit in policy making.  Despite widespread opposition to the policies, the government convened a meeting of the state education secretaries to push forward the reforms. Several states including Kerala used the platform to highlight the need for vetting the new policies by the CABE and the parliament. It was to ward off further criticism that the union government finally decided to call a meeting of the CABE.


The manner in which the meeting was organised was symptomatic of the perfunctory attitude of the central government towards CABE.  The agenda notice included items, most of them involving fresh policy initiatives, were circulated only a week before the meeting, giving little time for the states to discuss and finalise their responses.  Education is included in the concurrent list. Major responsibilities at all levels of education are borne by the state governments. Federal and democratic principles need to be given due consideration in policy formulation and implementation, more so in a vast country like India with great diversities in language, culture and political affiliations. Perfunctory consultation is not adequate for the realisation of the above ideals. What is required is effective consultation and consensus, both in policy formulation and implementation.




The HRD minister Kapil Sibal is reported to have stated that he would do for the education sector in 2009 what Manmohan Singh had done to the economy in 1991. He has made it clear that implementation of reforms, which have been delayed for two decades, cannot wait any longer. The character of the new UPA government is substantially different from that of the first UPA government. The first UPA government was both supported and regulated by the Left parties. The Left could rein in the neo-liberal adventurism of the first UPA government to some extent. It could also force the government to implement a number of pro-people programmes like national rural employment scheme and waiver of agricultural debt, which have brought big electoral dividends for the Congress party. But the new government has misunderstood the mandate of the people. It tends to interpret the mandate as a mandate for reforms. It seems to think that a few popular programmes and inclusive slogans could cover up the grossness of the neo liberal reforms sought to be implemented with out consultation and consensus. The agenda notes circulated for the CABE meeting clearly reflected this misguided self-assurance on the advisability of neo-liberal reforms.


The CABE discussed  issues like the legislation on free and compulsory education , constitution of an autonomous and overarching authority for higher education and research , bill on prevention ,prohibition and punishment for educational malpractices , mandatory assessment and accreditation of higher education institutions, constitution of educational tribunals for adjudication of disputes in higher education, a national policy to attract talent to teaching and research, academic reforms in state universities and colleges, development of languages , central Madrassa Board etc.




Though the Bill on Right to Education had already been passed, several members of the CABE drew attention to the need to make the law more wholesome and purposeful. While complementing the progressive legislation which reflects the democratic, secular and equitable ethos enshrined in the constitution, it was pointed out that pious statements of intentions were not enough to fulfill the objectives of the law.  Financial resource is a critical component to realise children�s right to free and compulsory education.  It is unlikely that state governments would get adequate funds from the centre for the implementation of the right, as per existing provisions of the law. Unless the centre provides the entire funds for the implementation of the bill, it would be extremely difficult to translate the object of the Act into a reality.


The Right to Education Bill illustrates how even well meaning central legislations could be counter productive, if it fails to take note of federal realities. Diversity is characteristic of Indian federal reality.  The bill has not taken into account special problems faced by different states with vastly different levels of achievements in education.   The problems of Kerala are only illustrative.  The state has actually achieved most of the objectives sought to be accomplished through the bill. The enrolment of children in the age group of 6-15 in Kerala is around 100 per cent. The dropout rates at primary (0.59), upper primary (0.52) and secondary (1.38), and that of SC (1.04) and ST (4.18) are rather negligible. About 96 per cent of students who enroll in class I reach class X after ten years. Performance level of students at secondary stage indicates a shift that reflects an upward climb in academic achievement. Pass percentage at class X in 2006 was 68. It increased to 82.29 per cent in 2007 and 92.08 per cent in 2008. These achievements place the state on a different pedestal as compared with other states.


In the context of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, Kerala�s basic concern focuses on strengthening the quality of government and aided schools (common schools). Quality concerns cover teacher-pupil ratio, infrastructure, curricular material support, learning process employed, teacher learning and development, resource support for nurturing learners� talents, data based planning and related aspects. The provision in the bill for admission of 25 per cent of children in class I belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups inadvertently provides unaided schools greater advantage over government schools.  This could accelerate the gravitation towards private schools at the cost of division fall in government schools, which are starved of funds and development.   This can be arrested only by improving the quality of education imparted through government schools.  In this context, central government should financially support the schemes for the improvement of quality in government schools at least for the next 10 years. This is necessary for strengthening the common school system, which is the larger objective of the Right to Education Bill.   


While welcoming the proposals for examination reforms in principle, it is important to implement them step by step, taking into consideration the differential achievements in education in different parts of the country. It may be noted that most of the states are still only struggling with the target of eliminating dropouts at the primary and secondary levels.  Uniform and simultaneous implementation of reforms across the country is not advisable.  The proposed reforms could be treated as guidelines which may be implemented by different states at their own pace, taking into consideration local requirements and the prospects of successful implementation.   Hasty and thoughtless implementation of a straitjacket package of reforms will not only be unsuccessful, but would also erode people�s faith in the reform process itself. 




The reforms proposed in higher and technical education are more controversial than those mooted at the level of primary and secondary education.  The central government is eager to constitute a National Commission for Higher Education and Research, an   overarching body that will subsume all regulatory agencies in higher education, including UGC and AICTE.   The plea is   that both National Knowledge Commission (NKC) and Yashpal Committee have recommended the constitution of the body. As a matter of fact, the recommendations of Yash Pal committee on the constitution of NCHER not only conflicts with the recommendations of NKC, but with the very spirit of the academic changes it advocates.   The recommendations of Yaspal Committee on academic reforms are premised on decentralization of the decision making process, on the autonomy of universities, colleges and of the individual teacher and the student. The structural changes envisaged through the constitution of an NCHER with overarching powers and responsibilities, on the other hand, tend towards centralization.  Moreover, the proposed NCHER, entrusted with responsibilities such as national level policy formulation, academic innovation and regulation, coordination and financing of higher education institutions is likely to be overburdened with responsibilities .It could easily become another white elephant.  It would stifle the possibility of diversity and innovation, which are cardinal for ensuring quality in higher education. This apprehension becomes more serious as the entire responsibility of NCHER is entrusted with a small committee of seven people, endowed with   constitutional powers and privileges. There is no provision for mandatory consultation, which could ensure a consensual process in decision making and implementation. In view of the above, the government of Kerala demanded that the recommendations on NCHER be modified as follows:


1.     Restrict the responsibilities of the proposed NCHER to policy advice , academic innovation and coordination of apex level regulatory agencies ,leaving the rest of the responsibilities like financing and coordination of universities and colleges  to the existing regulatory agencies

2.     Create a three-tier mandatory consultative mechanism ,involving the following , for the formulation of policies:

(a) Representatives of the State

(b) Representatives of the Universities

(c)  A cross section of the National leadership from various walks of life


It was also demanded that policy decisions are taken by the government on the advice of NCHER only in consultation with CABE and with the concurrence of the Parliament.


The real purpose of a Central legislation on prohibition of unfair practices should be to empower the UGC / State governments to regulate universities and colleges set up through UGC Act/Acts of State Legislatures. The objective should be to promote inclusive higher education by ensuring fair, transparent and non-exploitative admission procedure and fee structure. The draft legislation put up for the consideration of the CABE does not fulfill the above objectives. What is more, it could even nullify the operation of admission and fee regulatory committees set up by various State governments in accordance with the judgments of the Supreme Court.


The draft legislation takes into account only one aspect of regulation ---- that of ensuring transparency in the functioning of educational institutions, in regard to admission and fee structure. There  are no provisions for Common Entrance Test (CET) conducted by the agency of the State or equitable allotment of seats among various categories of students such as SC/ST/OBC/Minorities or differential fee structure, which would take into account the socio-economic needs of  backward classes ,minorities and the poor.  It is not clear as to why the present draft has been introduced, replacing the draft UGC (Admission and Fee Structure in Private Aided and Unaided Professional Educational Institutions) Regulations, and 2007. The UGC draft has provisions which empower the State/Union Territory governments to regulate universities set up within the state /UT. The provisions in the UGC draft regulations provide for allotment of seats under government General Quota, government Reserved Quota, and Institutional Quota and Management quota. Such quotas would be variable for minority and non-minority institutions. There are also provisions for regulating admission through CET and centralized counselling conducted by agencies appointed by the State. There could be variable fee structure determined by fee regulatory committees appointed by the State, by taking into account �such social aspects as SCs, STs, OBCs, rural, economically weaker sections, the population of minorities in the area and their educational needs and all other relevant factors, including the suggestions of managements�. In addition to the above, there are also adequate provisions for ensuring transparency in the functioning of educational institutions and for imposing exemplary penalties on those institutions which fail to comply with the regulations.


The proposal for mandatory accreditation and for setting up National Authority for Registration and Regulation of Accrediting Agencies placed for the consideration of the CABE is premature.  The real problem with a vast number of institutions is not that they are not accredited.  It is that they do not have proper infrastructure, either physical or human.  About 75% of Higher Education Institutions including universities and colleges do not enjoy even 2 (f) or 12 (b) status of the UGC.  The quality of a good number of institutions already accredited by NAAC leaves much to be desired. Compulsory accreditation will not bring about positive changes over night.  The immediate need is to improve the infrastructure of the institutions through greater public support.  The question of accreditation can be taken up after ensuring that there is a level playing field among institutions spread across the country with vast differences in the resources at their disposal.  To begin with, we may start with enforcement of disclosure norms.  Mandatory accreditation can wait till minimum infrastructure requirements can be assured in a vast majority of the institutions.


Moreover, accreditation of educational institutions should not be entrusted with private agencies, which are bound to bring in business norms and practices into the accreditation process. There is considerable difference of opinion regarding the practices and procedures adopted even by NAAC for accrediting institutions, despite the fact that NAAC is an agency of the UGC.    Compulsory accreditation will only accentuate existing inequalities and create further opportunities for fleecing of students by private accredited institutions.  The responsibility for accreditation of higher education institutions like the responsibility for regulation should only be entrusted with public agencies.  Public universities could be entrusted with the task of accrediting affiliated colleges and the affiliation of universities could be undertaken by agencies of the State government like State Councils of Higher Education in the case of State Universities and by the University Grants Commission/similar agency in the case of Central Institutions. 


Discussing the proposal for a special scheme for recruitment and retention of talented teachers in National Universities, it was pointed out that while steps have to be taken to ensure academic autonomy in the functioning of the universities, there should be adequate provision for ensuring social and financial accountability.  Academic administration should be thoroughly democratized and decentralized and its functioning made completely transparent.  The culture of consultation and decision making through consensus in the relevant committees should become the norm.  Such steps are necessary to ensure institutional accountability in an autonomous atmosphere.  The proposal to exempt the accounts of National Universities from the purview of audit scrutiny by the Controller and Auditor General should not be implemented. 


Another issue that came up for discussion at the CABE was the provisions in respect of minorities. While supporting every step to protect and strengthen the constitutional rights of the minorities and to enhance the power and prestige of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, the CABE also wanted to ensure that the rights are not misused. Unfortunately minority rights are often paraded by unscrupulous persons/groups as an alibi for commercialization of education.   This should be resisted. For this we need to have a proper definition of minorities and minority rights incorporated in the NCMEI Act in accordance with the Supreme Court judgments in TMA Pai Foundation case (2002) and BAL Patil and another Vs Union of India and Others (2005).  As the determination of minorities has to be done state-wise, taking into account numerical and socio-economic status of the communities in question, a provision for mandatory consultation with the State government for granting minority status should also be incorporated in the NCMEI Act.