People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 09

February 28, 2010


Commercialisation Galore:

Looting students, exploiting teachers

 

Vijender Sharma

 

THE union ministry for human resource development informed the Supreme Court on 18 January this year that of the 126 deemed universities 44 do not deserve their deemed university status because of their abysmal infrastructural facilities. Many of these deemed universities were created in violation of all norms by the UPA government itself favouring private managements. One of the derecognised deemed university was even allowed to open its offshore campus in Thailand.

While pacifying the panicky students that not a single student would be adversely affected, the HRD minister Kapil Sibal indicated that the provision of granting deemed university status might be done away with. He said that it was a “policy decision that all the deemed universities will finally go”. The PN Tandon Review Committee had stated that these institutions could be re-designated as affiliated colleges of the concerned state universities.

On 10 February, while addressing a programme organised by FICCI Ladies Organisation, Kapil Sibal said that government will never allow profiteering in education that would go as dividends to the share holders. “Let us be clear that Indian businessmen, who probably because of meltdown do not get profit anywhere, want to get profit out of education. I, as a minister, will stand as a rock to ensure it does not happen,” he said.

It appeared that for a change the minister spoke sense. But quite soon on 19 February, he told private school principals in New Delhi that they were free to decide fees and teachers’ salaries. This statement clarified that what the minister told FICCI Ladies Organisation about a week earlier was false. The real agenda of his ministry, as briefed below, is to make education as a profit-making business.

 

PM’S INITIATIVE

FOR PRIVATISATION

Regarding private investment, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Planning Commission on 13 September 2007 to “seriously examine the role of private initiative in supplementing public funding for higher education” and stressed the “role for private initiative in this area.” He further asked it to “seriously look at the proposal for fee increases to reasonable levels in a graduated manner accompanied by a scheme of extensive scholarships and loans which would ensure that no student is denied education because of his or her financial constraints.”

The prime minister himself set the agenda that private investment should be welcome and the fees may be increased. And there could be scholarships and loans for those who could not pay the fees. The adequate number of scholarships are never available but are mentioned in policy documents and speeches to thwart the resistance to fee hike. 

With the increase in the difficulty in finding jobs in the current economy, students have been struggling hard to pay back their loans that they had taken. Even if they get the job, the package offered is so low that the payment of loan seems to be difficult. Now they want the government to take steps so that their loans could be ‘forgiven’.

 

CENTRALISATION OF

HIGHER EDUCATION

Recently, the ministry of human resource development has published the draft National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill, 2010 based on the recommendations of Yashpal Committee and National Knowledge Commission in order to establish an autonomous overarching authority, the NCHER.

This Bill is not to “promote” but undermine “the autonomy of higher educational institutions”. It will restructure higher education system for “competitive global environment”. It will not help state governments to strengthen higher education but snatch away from them even whatever their powers were left after education was included in the concurrent list of the constitution. It is to create an all powerful commission for the centralisation of all aspects of higher education. It will undermine the powers of the parliament, state legislatures and representatives of the people to decide the education policy and administration of institutions of higher education in India.

The NCHER will control the appointments of vice chancellors and the power of the states to appoint vice chancellors of their state universities will be taken away. No person will be appointed as the vice chancellor if his/her name is not included in the national registry. Once the NCHER comes into being, the powers of the state legislatures to start new universities will be seriously eroded. New universities will have to get “authorisation” from the commission to award any degree or diploma.

The proposal to establish a seven-member all powerful NCHER, with life-time members in its collegium, reflects the tendency of the central government towards centralisation of higher education. The understanding of the seven members of the commission will decide what should happen in the field of higher education in India. If it decides to direct the universities to look towards market for its requirements including funds, then what would happen to our higher education system? It will prove to be retrograde for the development of higher education in India and result in its crass commercialisation.

 

NO SOCIAL CONTROL

OVER PVT INSTITUTIONS

Students and their parents and the Left parties have been demanding that self-financing or private unaided institutions should be subjected to strict social control in matters relating to admission, fee structure, content of courses, and salary and service conditions of teaching and non-teaching employees. For this purpose, a central legislation is required empowering the UGC/AICTE/ MCI/ 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 administration of educational institutions.

The MHRD has now proposed draft legislation, “The Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, 2009”. It does not fulfil the objective of social control over self-financing or private unaided institutions. The fees and salaries to teachers will not be regulated as the minister assured private school principals.

The bill has prescribed imprisonment up to three years for guilty administrators or fine up to Rs 50 lakh for the institute for charging capitation fee or failure of educational institutions to keep promises mentioned in their bulletins. This provision is only to show and not to implement. Such provisions are still there in AICTE regulations. So many institutes are running their professional degree programmes without permission of the AICTE which is punishable offence. But so far no action has been taken against even one such institute. The loot of students and exploitation of teaching and non-teaching employees continues in such institutes. Despite this bill, the private or self-financing higher educational institutions will continue to make profits.

 

MANDATORY

ACCREDITATION

The MHRD has proposed mandatory accreditation of all educational institutions and for setting up National Authority for Registration in Accreditation of Higher Education Institutions (NARAHEI). At present National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and National Board of Accreditation (NBA) undertake the accreditation work. These bodies do not have transparency and good track record.

The MHRD proposal points out that it would not be possible for the above two bodies to undertake accreditation of all higher education institutions. Therefore, in the draft NARAHEI Bill, 2009, a provision has been made to register accreditation agencies for this purpose.

There have been examples when public accrediting agencies raised the ratings of higher education institutions not on the basis of objective criteria but on some other considerations. The record of private assessing and accrediting agencies, particularly in financial market, are known to have changed the ratings of companies at their whims and fancies. If private accrediting agencies, which are bound to bring in business norms and practices into the accreditation process, are allowed to assess and accredit educational institutions, the ratings of institutions will remain doubtful. After getting higher ratings through whatever means, private institutions charge higher fees. This will help profit making in private educational institutions.

There should be ameliorative assessment of all educational institutions by public agencies, but it should not be linked up with accreditation or funding. Assessment should be transparent, democratic and participative. There should be no private agency for assessment. In fact, the educational institutions should be made self regulatory.

 

FDI IN

EDUCATION

Kapil Sibal, immediately after assuming office as minister for human resource development, declared that to bring in the pending Foreign Education Institutions (FEI) bill would be his top priority. 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. But due to the opposition of the CPI(M), it was withdrawn at the last moment.

In a market-model university like the Foreign Educational Institutions (FEI), departments that make money, study money or attract money are given priority. Heads of universities assume the role of travelling salesmen to promote their programmes. The thinking and attitudes of students, now called consumers, are manufactured and an education system is created that produces standardised people. As this standardisation is institutionalised through international equivalency, the uniqueness of each educational institution will vanish.

The UPA government is, due to its neo-liberal policies and refusal to learn lessons from the recent economic meltdown, throwing our higher education system to the predatory elements. People should recall that it was the opposition of the Left to raising the cap on FDI in banking and insurance sectors that saved their hard earned money.

In fact, the FDI in any field does not have to implement the social agenda of a welfare state. It is guided by profit and market alone and if these are not fulfilled, the investors look for other destinations for FDI. The FEIs would tend to repatriate as much profit as possible back home.  Therefore, the argument of those welcoming FDI in education that outflow of foreign exchange from the country could be reversed has no sound footing.

 

PRIVATE SCHOOLS FREE

TO DECIDE FEES AND SALARIES

The Right to Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) is going to be effective from 1 April 2010. The HRD minister, while addressing principals of private unaided schools in New Delhi on 19 February, said that the fees of private schools cannot be regulated and that each school had the right to fix the salaries of its teachers. He said that there was no provision in RTE Act to regulate fees and salaries, but the qualification of teachers cannot be lower than that decided by the government.

Sibal's claims contradict provisions in various Acts of states according to which salaries and other facilities of teachers in private schools cannot be less than those of government schools teachers. He said that this conflict would go away once the Right to Education Act was implemented and central Act would override the state laws.

 

WHOM DOES THE

MINISTER REPRESENT?

Kapil Sibal did not criticise Delhi’s private school principals who have not been admitting students belonging to economically weaker and deprived sections for having taken land and other facilities on concessional rates as ruled by Delhi High Court. He did not even tell them that they will have to admit in Class I children belonging to weaker section and disadvantaged group up to at least 25 per cent of the seats under RTE Act. He addressed the principals as if he was their spokesperson giving full freedom to loot students and exploit teachers.

The contradictory statements of Kapil Sibal that deemed universities will finally go, profiteering will not be allowed in educational institutions, fees charged from students and salaries to teachers cannot be regulated, and the RTE Act would override state laws, make it clear that the minister is befooling the people of the country. He wants them to believe that the UPA government is opposed to commercialisation of education and profit making by the educational institutions. But simultaneously he is assuring the private managements that they are free to generate as much profits as they can.

Obviously what the minister said for schools regarding fees and salaries will also apply to private institutions of higher education. Students and their parents at all levels will be looted and teachers exploited. Privatisation and commercialisation of education at all levels is now going to be the main agenda of the UPA government.

Citizens of India, concerned about the future of education of our children and youth, have to come together. We have to discuss all issues related to education and plight of the poor and people at large. We must build a powerful struggle so that the UPA government is forced to abandon its policy of commercialisation of education and ensure real right to education to the children of our country.