People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 14

April 04, 2010

FOREIGN EDUCATION PROVIDERS BILL

 

UPA Intensifies Attacks on Education

 

                                                                                                             G Selva

 

HAVING tasted electoral victory for once, the Congress party, the leader of the coalition ruling the centre, has stepped up its neo-liberal onslaughts on the people with a vengeance. The sector of education is no exception to the virulent policy regime the UPA 2 is seeking to foist upon the country since the last Lok Sabha elections. The lawyer turned HRD minister Kapil Sibal is now in charge of implementation of the UPA government’s evil neo-liberal designs in the field of education. With the Foreign Education Providers Bill, all set to be introduced in the parliament in the coming days, higher education in this country is going to be further entrapped in the web of money minting institutions with the backing of indulgent governments.

 

GOVERNMENT’S

THINKING

As the cabinet has already given its nod to this bill, the government may introduce it in the ongoing session itself. It needs to be kept in mind that this is not the first attempt to introduce this bill. During the UPA 1 regime, its ministers had already burnt much of their midnight oil to get it introduced in the last Lok Sabha. Their planning was to introduce the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation, Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercialisation) Bill 2007 in Rajya Sabha in the first week of May 2007. But strong opposition from the Left parties and the democratic movement stalled any such move.

However, now that the strength of the Left has come down in parliament, the Congress-led UPA appears to think that now it has a golden opportunity to pass this bill and thus open the gates of Indian education wide for the plunderers.

Corporate media and the chest-thumping neo-liberal ‘think-tanks’ have once again openly come out in support of the government’s move, propagating that it would be in everyone’s interest if the bill gets passed. One would really like to know from these people whether those 77 per cent of the people of this great country, who can earn a measly 20 rupees a day on all their needs, would be counted in that ‘everyone’ or not.

 

THEIR

ARGUMENTS

Among other things, the following have been the arguments of the bill’s supporters.

1) Foreign institutes would invest in the country’s education sector and thus the higher education sector would get expanded in India.

2) Indian students will be able to get quality education at cheaper rates, and that too in their own country.

3) With competition increasing, the overall level and quality of education would improve.

4) Teachers in countries like the USA, Canada and Saudi Arabia get as salary up to four times what the teachers in India get. With the foreign institutes coming to India, there are prospects of much better salaries accruing to Indian teachers as well.

5) A considerable section of Indian students go abroad to get foreign degrees. Now, as they would have comparable institutes in India itself, their emigration would stop and the outflow of foreign exchange will stop or at lest come down.

As this is an issue which is going to affect each of us, we must carefully examine each of these arguments.

 

SPURIOUS

ARGUMENTS

The first argument of the preachers of neo-liberal dogma is that the education sector would expand with the entry of foreign institutes, followed by improvements in its quality as well. Such an argument is infantile for the simple reason that today private institutes account for one thirds of the higher education sector of our country, and yet there seems to be not much increase in enrolment and not much improvement in quality. Apart from that, we must not forget the counter-argument which institutes like the IIPM have advanced to the government’s move towards rejecting their sub-standard MBA courses. They have claimed that they are outside the university system of the country and hence it is not necessary for them to follow the UGC guidelines. If the private institutes of our own country show such arrogance, one can well imagine what extent their foreign counterparts are likely to go to, in order to pursue their more aggressive agenda. We all know how private institutions in the US violate the laws of the land with impunity. According to the Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2009, “some for-profit schools are already bypassing the bureaucratic roadblocks,” “given the US economy and shrinking endowments, (US) colleges may need incentives from the government of India to be able to afford to open.” In this situation, can we expect from these ‘foreign guests’ anything else?

Education has a definite role in nation-building. Especially in countries like ours, which has a colonial past, this role assumes even more critical importance. People of different nationalities and identities fought together in the liberation struggle and it was while keeping this legacy in view that the independent India’s constitution makers set out the goals of education. Apart from working towards skill development, this education system also struck to an extent against the divisive ideologies of caste, regionalism and communalism and against gender discrimination. It is needless to say that the process of nation building is still far from over. Can this social and welfare agenda as well as nation building be the agenda of these ‘foreign guests’? one can only reply in an emphatic No! For them, it is profit which is the core of their agenda. 

Today Australia is one of the major providers of educational services in the world, but it is still engulfed by ‘racism.’ Several thousands of students from our country go every year to study there but, instead of a quality education, what awaits them is humiliation. The message on the wall is clear. Every country has its own cultural characteristics and education reflects them. Hence our education system cannot be a clone of the western ones. How effective are these ‘foreign guests’ then going to be? 

 

FAUDULENT

CLAIM & REALITY

The government has been arguing that the proposed bill would bring foreign education providers of quality to India. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Earlier they tried under the GATS and failed. After they faced the resistance put up by people’s movements, now they pursuing the same goal outside the GATS. As a matter of fact, most of the foreign education providers which are seeking entry in India are substandard institutions in their own countries and will only cater to the professional or vocational courses. We can judge the kind of fraudulent claims in regard to higher education from the fact that of the 144 foreign providers advertising tertiary education in the newspapers, 44 were neither recognised nor accredited in their countries of origin. As many as 110 foreign education providers are already operating in this country without the government’s permission, violating the UGC’s and the AICTE’s guidelines. But no action has so far been taken against them.  

Another argument that has been doing the rounds is that every year up to 1,50,000 students go abroad for higher education and this leads to a huge loss of foreign exchange to the country. The claim is thus that with foreign institutes coming to India, a huge sum of money would remain within the country.

Here, one can’t help ask the UPA 2: Is the passage of the bill going to stop the students from going abroad? Certainly not! Those who want to go abroad, will go in any case. The government cannot solve the problems facing our education sector by giving the private Indian and foreign players a free run. What is, instead, required is a significant increase in the government’s spending on education. It is a different matter though that the government has been comfortably neglecting this aspect time and again.

 

MERRY GAME OF

THE POWERFUL

We must understand that these policy changes are a part of the much bigger shift in the power game in the country over the last one year. In fact, the big business houses of the country and imperialists could not have even imagined a merrier time than this one, nor could they have a better ally than the Congress-led UPA 2. Just to exemplify the situation, the hurry to push the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill is nothing but a hidden subsidy to the US equipment suppliers and their hangers-on in India. On the other hand, what did we see in the general budget last month? Food subsidy has been cut off by Rs 424 crore and fertiliser subsidy by Rs 3000 crore. Indirect taxes have been increased, burdening the common man still more, while the land mafia, traders and corporate sector have been given tax concessions worth Rs 26000 crore. Allocation for a crucial social welfare programme such as the NREGA saw only a meagre increase and the universalisation of mid-day meal still remains a distant dream! It appears that in order to promote the private nuclear power plants and favour the US companies, the UPA is ready to sacrifice the interests of the same ‘aam aadmi’ who continues to be in the centre of its electoral slogans.

Whether it is a blackboard or the nuclear plant, the UPA’s priorities are crystal clear. Education has not been exempted from the government’s withdrawal from the social sector. The state has is gradually giving up whatever little welfare role it has been playing and is now nakedly facilitating private interests. When India became independent with 35 crore souls, around 500 private colleges were made government aided institutions and made to contribute to the task of nation building. The role has reversed now. The primary aim now, as Professor Prabhat Patnaik notes, is to deliver, “organic intellectuals for the global job market.” The idea of education with a social purpose has been cremated with all the state honours, literally.

Can the students community allow the commoditisation of their knowledge and consequently of themselves? The role the student movement played before 1947 in cooperation with other classes and sections against British imperialism, needs a revival on a higher level --- so as to take on the dastardly ways of imperialism. It is high time to rise up, for nothing less than our hard won freedom is at stake.