11 December, 2015 | Countercurrents.org | By Sourina Bej |
On October 7, 2015, the University Grants Commission scrapped the non-NET fellowship of Rs 5,000 and Rs 8,000 to MPhil and PhD scholars respectively. The meagre grant by the Ministry of Human Resource in place since 2006 might affect only 3,500 students, mostly from low-middle income families, undergoing research at the central universities. But the decision was strong enough to compel several students of ‘JNU Students Union’ and Delhi University to launch the Occupy UGC protest on the premise of Shastri Bhavan, from October 21st, a day after the statutory body uploaded the decision on their website. On the same day in a Chennai college, 7 out of 18 students (pursing MA in International Studies) were deeply concerned about the detention of 97 protesting students at the Bhalswa police station in the capital. Among them, a few even considered the option of abandoning their dreams of higher research work.
What baffled the students was the time within which the hurried decision of the UGC was implemented. Was it a coincidence that the decision was just in time before the 10th ministerial meet of WTO-GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Service) in Nairobi from December 15 to 18 when the NDA government will table its New Education Policy (NEP)? Or was it a well-tailored policy decision to tread the first steps towards liberalisation of the higher education sector and thereby gain the confidence of the 160 WTO members into establishing universities and other technical institutions as commercial ventures in the country? The Occupy UGC protest henceforth was no longer about the UGC move but against the NEP that might sell off our education sector to the foreign corporate giants; where education will become a tradable service, and firms (not students or teachers) will determine the price of this commodity. The obvious outcome will be that only money will speak for quality education while the rest would have to avail the low cheap online courses which the ‘Digital India’ initiative will readily make it accessible.
Roots of the NEP
The neoliberal roots of the NEP of 2015 goes back to 1986 education policy which decided that a non-formal education centre will be provided to children belonging to the BPL. “There was a conscious effort to appoint an instructor (in place of a teacher) with no eligibility and paid Rs 200 per month to train (not teach) in literacy and numeracy for 2 hours,” said Dr. Anil Sadgopal, a member of All India Forum for Right to Education and a vocal critic of NEP. Sadgopal was speaking at a talk organised by the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle at the IIT-Madras campus on 30 November, 2015. It should be noted that 1986, (September 26) was also the year when Ministry of Education was renamed as Human Resource Department; the change reflecting the State’s attempts to begin the process of neoliberalisation or neocolonialism.
In the subsequent years several policy changes pertaining to education was viewed. On the basis of performance, certain colleges were declared autonomous. “Autonomous may be a very beautiful word in democracy that fell in line with decentralization i.e the institution could take their own decisions,” said the former dean of the Delhi University. But autonomy in this case was beginning of privatization as the college were asked to shoulder the cost of certain courses. Thus there was a spurt of self-financing courses. “Those courses were converted into self-financing courses which had market value and an individual will get placed easily.” The decision to consider students as users of the ‘education service’ was reiterated by Murli Manohar Joshi in a country paper at a UNESCO Conference. “Higher education benefits only the individual not the society. Therefore it cannot be considered a public good but a merit good. Why shouldn’t an individual pay for it?” The infamous Ambani-Birla education report (2000) submitted to the Prime Minister’s Economic Affairs council (not to the HRD ministry) spoke vehemently of “education as tool for promoting market.” Therefore multiple interdisciplinary subjects like biotechnology, communicative English took precedence over mother disciplines like history, philosophy, political science and linguistic studies. Skilled based training and non-univeralised inclusive education is a resource for corporate jobs. “Education is for knowledge, value and skill” said Mahatma Gandhi. Skill over education would ensure an enslaved workforce trained for certain work culture thereby manufacturing consent and not dissent.
In 1999, as India embarked on the road of LPG it also became increasingly dependent on the loans by the Bretton Woods institutions. The policy stances there upon were in tune with the structural adjustment programmes of the International Monetary Fund World Bank, which imposed drastic cuts in expenditures on education, health and other social welfare sectors as a condition for the grant of additional loans or aid. Hence public expenditure on education declined by 4% in 1990 and 3.5% by 2000.Increasing fee hikes, withdrawal of stipends is the inevitable fallout of the austerity measures of the global capital. The New Education Policy was an offer by UPA at the 2005 WTO Doha round. The revised offer was not finalised because the Doha round of negotiations have been incomplete over the question of agricultural subsidies between the advanced capitalist countries, less developed and least developed countries. The NDA government will be carrying forward the idea at the Nairobi round and J S Rajput, former director of NCERT and one of the committee member, has already inked the outline of NEP.
Bowing down to whims of WTO would mean?
The commercialisation of the higher education would also mean agreeing to the harsh market terms set by the Global North-dominated WTO-GATS. The basic principle of national treatment which states that no government will make any scheme detrimental to the level playing fields for corporates means that equal opportunity should be granted to both public and private. Hence the decision to withdraw the Non-net grants/funding to IITs marks the creation of level playing ground and a compulsion to commercialise the government colleges. Reports suggest that around 120 countries in WTO including European Union and African Union have opposed to the privatisation of their education sector.
The Occupy UGC is not an isolated movement against the commercialisation of higher education. On March 25, 2015, students of the University of Arts London took over their university reception to protest the proposed cuts to some of its course programmes. University of Toronto, Canada students launched movement against the minimum financial package of $15000 which is too less to meet the cost of living. Institutions like York University Canada, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands and even seven medical colleges in Sri Lanka have been protesting against the increasing privatisation of the higher education. The New Education policy will not only be a death knell for India’s sovereignty before the dominating global capitalism but will also prove to be the last nail in the coffin for constitutional right to education of individuals. – Sourina Bej is pursuing MA in International Relations from the Stella Maris College in Chennai. https://twitter.com/SourinaBej / @SourinaBej / Courtesy