People's Democracy

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


No. 13

March 31, 2013






For-Profit Private Investment, High Fees, Contract Faculty


Vijender Sharma


THE Planning Commission’s approach paper to the twelfth five year plan, titled “Faster, Sustainable and More inclusive Growth” and submitted in August 2011, pointed out that private higher education “accounts for about fourfifths of enrolment in professional higher education and onethird overall. This growth trend is likely to continue in the twelfth plan.” For encouraging private investment, it called for “re-examination” of “not-for-profit” tag in the higher education sector. It proposed that higher education institutions (HEIs) should be encouraged to raise their own funds, have reasonable tuition fees and differential salaries to staff, etc. Given the “widespread use of English language and low cost (of) living,” it aimed to make India a “global hub for higher education.” The UGC came out with its 12th plan document around the same time --- almost on the same lines.




The Planning Commission later presented its draft 12th five year plan (2012-17) on December 27, 2012 to the National Development Council which has now adopted it. The draft plan document estimated that “developed economies and even China will face a shortage of about four crore (40 million) highly skilled workers by 2020, while, based on current projections of higher education, India is likely to see some surplus of graduates in 2020. Thus, India could capture a higher share of global knowledge based work, for example by increasing its exports of knowledge-intensive goods and services, if there is focus on higher education and its quality is globally benchmarked.”


It expressed concern over the fact that “less than one-fifth of the estimated 12 crore potential students are enrolled in HEIs in India, well below the world average of 26 per cent.” At the same time, significant problems exist in the quality of education provided. “The sector is plagued by a shortage of well-trained faculty, poor infrastructure and outdated and irrelevant curricula. The use of technology in higher education remains limited and standards of research and teaching at Indian universities are far below international standards with no Indian university featuring in any of the rankings of the top 200 institutions globally” (Vol 3, p 90).    


The document called for careful planning of future expansion so as to correct regional and social imbalances, improve standards and improve employability. The strategic aims of the twelfth plan centre around ‘three Es’ — expansion, equity and excellence. However, the draft plan document proposes “a paradigm change” for achieving these goals — through three new principles. First, emphasis will be on expansion with quality. Second, higher education opportunities will be diversified; world class research universities and sophisticated teaching institutions will be developed to impart key vocational and generic skills as per the needs of the labour market. Third, this excellence in diversity will be implemented through governance reforms.




There was a special thrust on enrolment in private institutions of higher education during the eleventh plan. During this period, the enrolment in private institutions increased more than double than in public institutions. It increased in private institutions by 53.11 lakh, state institutions by 23.72 lakh and central institutions by 2.53 lakh. It amounted to 58.9 per cent of total enrolment in the private institutions, while it was 38.5 per cent in state institutions and 2.6 per cent in central institutions. Incidentally, these figures do not match with those given in the approach paper as mentioned above in the first paragraph.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      


During the eleventh plan, the total number of institutions grew by 58 per cent from 29,384 to 46,430. This growth was 63.47 per cent in case of private institutions, 49.15 per cent in state institutions and 52.41 per cent in central institutions. By the end of the Plan, the country had 645 degree awarding institutions, 33,023 colleges affiliated to 174 universities and over 12,748 diploma granting institutions. Of the 46,430 institutions, 29,662, i.e. 63.88 per cent of the total, were private institutions. Growth in private institutions was significant with 98 private state universities, 17 private deemed universities, 7,818 private colleges, and 3,581 private diploma institutions. A majority of them offer professional or vocational programmes almost exclusively.


According to the draft plan document, additional enrolment capacity of “one crore students including 10 lakh in open and distance learning would be created. This would enable roughly 30 lakh more students in each age cohort to enter higher education and raise the country’s GER from 17.9 per cent (estimated for 2011-12) to 25.2 per cent by 2017-18 and reach the target of 30 per cent GER by 2020-21 which would be broadly in line with world average.”     


By the end of the twelfth plan period, the enrolment capacity of central institutions would be doubled from six lakh to 12 lakh. In the state institutions, it would increase from 84 lakh to one crore 10 lakh. “The bulk of growth would be in the private institutions.” In private institutions, the enrolment capacity would increase from one crore 27 lakh now to one crore 85 lakh (p 96). Thus the thrust would continue to be on private investments. 


The draft plan document asserts that during the eleventh plan, Indian higher education moved from ‘elite’ to ‘mass’ higher education by crossing 15 per cent GER and is now moving towards universal higher education and will cross 50 per cent GER. With about 85 per cent children in the relevant age group of 17–23 years remaining outside the ambit of higher education, how can one call it ‘mass’ higher education?


The draft plan document further says that while expanding capacity, “costs have to be kept low while maintaining high quality.” It suggested that it could be achieved by increasing the capacity of existing institutions through multiple shifts and year-round operations. This takes care of a long-time demand of students to start evening shifts in colleges in order to increase enrolment. To keep the costs low, it further suggested the appointment of faculty on contract basis. It said, “high-cost full-time faculty can be engaged in high-value teaching while specially trained teaching assistants or adjunct faculty could be used for tutorials and online courses that are blended with face-to-face instruction” (p 98).




A major policy shift in the draft plan document is for a re-examination of “not-for-profit” tag in higher education for “pragmatic considerations so as to allow the entry of for-profit institutions” (p 100). It points out that the private sector in higher education accounts for 58.5 per cent enrolment. However, the philanthropic investment in higher education has decreased tremendously over the years. This sector has already become for-profit; in fact it is making huge profits illegally. Since the major responsibility for expansion would be on private sector, therefore to attract large private funds it would only be “pragmatic” to allow the private sector in higher education for earning profits legally. For-profit private investment would also mean that higher education would be sold as a commodity which could be purchased by those who could bear its cost. It must be noted here that several judgements of the Supreme Court held education as a not-for-profit activity but allowed the private institutions to generate some surplus, and not profit, required for their development.


Innovative proposals have been suggested in the draft plan document to encourage the infusion of more private capital in the traditional not-for-profit higher education. These include: (i) enabling liberal financing options for the sector, like allowing private institutions to raise funds through public offerings of bonds or shares; (ii) changing the legal status of the sector to attract more investors, like allowing all types of institutions to be established under section 25 of the Companies Act and allowing existing trusts and societies to convert to institutions under the same section; (iii) giving priority recognition to the sector, like providing it ‘infrastructure’ status with similar, financial and tax treatment. The government would give to non-profit private institutions “on an equal footing with public institutions,” student financial aid, research funds and technology and faculty development support. 




Section 25 of the Companies Act applies only to non-for-profit organisations and prohibits fundraising through bonds and shares. It means that the nature of this section would also be changed. While private institutions would be getting public funds, the draft plan document makes no proposal to have social control over these institutions in relation to fees, admission, service conditions, examination, etc. Rather, the public institutions not meeting standards would be handed over to the private sector.


Special emphasis will be placed on expansion of skill-based programmes in higher education during the twelfth plan by establishing community colleges in accordance with the North American Model (p 101). These colleges will provide modular credit-based courses with entry and exit flexibility. They will offer programmes leading to certificates (after one year), diplomas, advanced diplomas or associate degrees (after two years) with options to transfer to regular degree programmes. Their faculty will typically consist of a permanent core, who will teach fundamentals (language, mathematics, science) and a large pool of adjunct or part-time faculty who will focus on specialisations. Since the emphasis is on the efficient use of the facilities of existing institutions, the existing colleges will be forced to run like community colleges for first two years working with huge contract faculty.




Expressing serious concern, the draft plan document lays emphasis on improving the overall quality of higher education institutions in the country. It points out that general higher education could be an excellent foundation for successful knowledge-based careers; therefore focus should be primarily on improving the quality of general higher education. Graduates should be able to acquire skills beyond the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic (the ‘3Rs’). Critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (the ‘4Cs’) are increasingly important now. Special emphasis on verbal and written communication skills, especially, but not limited to, “English would go a long way in improving the employability of the large and growing mass of disempowered youth.”


The ‘4Cs’ as skills are taken care of by community colleges. However, these are inbuilt in general higher education within ‘3Rs’. Therefore, what is required is more infrastructural development in general higher education and not their forcible conversion into community colleges as is being currently done in Delhi University. This also puts an emphasis on English language for improving employability and undermines the role of Indian languages.


The draft plan document mentions certain steps taken during eleventh plan for improving the quality of general higher education, including financial assistance given to 417 departments of universities and colleges. One of the steps taken was introduction of semester system in a few states and in University of Delhi. With the implementation of semester system in Delhi University, however, the quality of education has in fact gone down tremendously. 


The document calls for reforming the affiliating college system through a five-pronged strategy during the twelfth plan. First, large and reputed colleges will be converted into full-fledged universities. Second, college-cluster universities will be created with each college working as a campus. Third, some of the large and unwieldy affiliating universities will be split into manageable units. Fourth, colleges would be allowed to consolidate through merger under an autonomous framework. Finally, affiliating universities will have to revamp their college development councils and give greater autonomy to their colleges in all academic, administrative and financial matters. However, it has not been explained as to how these reforms are going to improve quality.




Undergraduate programmes should provide, according to the draft plan document, a holistic education and give students opportunities for intellectual exploration, hands-on research, job skilling, experiential learning, creative thinking, leadership, ethics education, community service and more. “In place of three year programs, several institutions have introduced four-year undergraduate programs to achieve these multiple objectives. During the twelfth plan, four year undergraduate programmes would be promoted. UGC currently provides financial support for starting specialised programmes in interdisciplinary and emerging areas, which could be strengthened and could include support for four-year undergraduate programmes.”


There has not been any debate on the desirability of the four year undergraduate programmes instead of three years. No convincing argument is provided in the draft document. The structure which has recently been passed in Delhi University, with eleven compulsory foundation courses common to all students, will, instead of fulfilling these objectives, actually devalue its existing undergraduate programmes and the university is slated to lose its ‘premier’ tag in future.


The draft plan document proposes an enabling policy framework to attract Indians teaching in universities abroad. Senior and tenured overseas faculty could be invited as international visiting professors by offering them attractive remuneration. This could be supplemented by “tapping the growing pool of retired experts.”  It further proposes that “new faculty may be kept under probation for a period of five years and confirmation could then be done on the basis of rigorous performance evaluation including peer review and student feedback” (p 109)


The draft plan document proposes to promote a “meta-university framework as a network of universities” in order to expand student choice and increasing the design of innovative interdisciplinary programmes. This would enable several universities to come together and offer courses across disciplines, treat faculty and students from all institutions alike and always mobile, and provide all network members access to content, teaching, and the research support they need. Accreditation will be mandatory with clear incentives and consequences.


These proposals will create differential pay structure for faculty and a big army of exploited contract teachers working at the mercy of the managements. This will instead of raising quality lead to the degeneration of higher education system.




The plan document notes: “….while, about 60 per cent students are enrolled in private unaided institutions and pay full fees, the remaining 40 per cent are enrolled in public-funded institutions and usually pay very low fees. Central universities, particularly that are Delhi-based, have not raised the fees for decades, while several State universities have raised the fees to reasonable levels” (p 120). It asserts that maintaining low levels of fees is regressive since it often benefits the “better-off students.” The draft plan document has once again opened the debate started by the World Bank in the eighties and nineties. The World Bank had advocated that higher education was not a merit good and subsidising higher education meant subsidising the rich. It said that the process of raising fees, which started with the elite central institutions like the IIMs and IITs raising their fees in recent years, should be continued and brought to reasonable levels. This should eventually cover all central institutions. Similarly, state governments should also be encouraged to raise fees to reasonable and sustainable levels in state universities and colleges. Instead of social control, it seeks to extend some flexibility to private institutions in matters related to fee fixation.


The plan document proposes low costs for expansion of enrolment, contractual faculty, allowing private investors to make profits, making courses suited to the market, restructuring undergraduate courses in accordance with North American model, and charging of high fees from students. All these proposals are for commercialisation of higher education leading to private profits with public funding. The students’ and teachers’ movements have been fighting against these attempts, and have to fight against these draft plan objectives which are anti-student, anti-teacher and anti-people.