On the Increasing Attacks on Higher Education in India
THE 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) notes with grave concern the growing threats posed to higher education by the promotion of commercial interests, by the pursuit of an explicit communal agenda, and by means of the centralisation of decision-making powers in higher education.
In the last four years of BJP-rule, democratic bodies in institutes of higher education have been systematically undermined through the use of notifications by the MHRD and the UGC, bypassing consultations with the academic community. The government has continued to promote the Rashtriya Uchcha Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), a vehicle for the commercialisation of education introduced by the former UPA II government.
An attack has been mounted against public-funded education. Activities related to fundamental research in universities have been curtailed by sharp reductions in funds. With the clear intent of reducing opportunities available for research and higher education, the number of MPhil and PhD seats in various universities -- including JNU -- has been slashed by means of a gazette notification of the UGC in 2016. The drastic reduction in seats has especially affected students from the deprived sections. Seats reserved for the underprivileged have been drastically reduced. Cuts in funding for undertaking research in CSIR laboratories and universities have reduced research fellowships. Disbursal of funds for non-NET fellowships by the UGC is irregular and post-matric fellowships are not being distributed.
The government is also pressing for the centralisation of decision-making processes in higher education. The HRD ministry proposes to replace the UGC and the AICTE with a Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA). This proposal too was initiated by the previous government and it is now being aggressively pushed. The corporate sector sees a major opportunity for profit extraction in the higher education sector. The current government is willing to cede administrative control of education to corporate entities.
There is a shift in the funding pattern of public sector education institutions with loans replacing grants. Allocations for the development of the infrastructure of public institutions have been stopped and infrastructural expenses are now to be met from loans from the Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) to be paid back in 10 years. HEFA has already approved projects amounting to Rs 2,066.73 crores for six institutions– IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Kanpur, and NIT Suratkal. According to HEFA, the principal portion of the loan will be repaid through “internal accruals” earned from fees, research earnings, etc and the central government will only be responsible for paying back the interest. This is tantamount to shifting the financial burden of education on to students.
The government’s latest decision to grant autonomy to 60 higher education institutes (five central universities, 21 state universities, 24 deemed universities along with two already private universities and eight autonomous colleges) through a notification issued by the UGC, is another move to promote privatisation in higher education. Autonomous universities can open new centres, new disciplines, new off-campus centers, etc, but no additional funds will be provided by the government for any of these activities which, obviously, will be funded through steep fee-hikes. Premier public funded centres of higher education and research are sought to become part of the “knowledge market”, access to which will be reserved for those who have the ability to pay. Such a shift does not, in any manner, ensure improvement in academic performance and is nothing less than an excuse for self-financing and commodification of higher education.
In the above background, the 22nd Congress demands that:
• the government of India withdraw RUSA;
• the government of India withdraw HEERA and strengthen public sector education institutions;
• all the allocations to higher education institutions be given as grants not as loans;
• all the vacant faculty posts and non-teaching posts be filled;
• the notification giving autonomy to institutions of higher education be withdrawn immediately;
• attacks on the democratic institutions of universities be stopped;
• fellowships be given to all research scholars; and
• more funds be allocated for research.