Need for a Renewed Focus on Education Issues

Vikram Singh

THERE is a continuous attack on education and educational institutions today under the patronage of the BJP government at the centre. During the last three years, the attacks on democracy in campuses and attempts to crush the democratic cultures in educational institutions are among the most talked about and discussed developments. Attacks on JNU, HCU, FTII, IIT Madras etc, were highlighted throughout the nation, and featured prominently in media debates. These assaults met with popular resistance by students.

Along with these visible attacks, there is a silent conspiracy by which to completely dismantle public education in India. These efforts are being largely ignored by the media houses. Popular movements are also lacking on these issues. While there are protests being organised by student organisations, they are not highlighted by the media and are not getting enough support from the general public either.

There is a need to refocus attention on basic educational issues, and education policies need to be closely scrutinised by the student movement.

Actually there is no policy for education by the central government.

For the last three years, the BJP has been sabotaging democratic bodies by issuing various notifications by MHRD and UGC without having proper discussions with the stake holders.

They are continuing with the RUSA introduced by the former UPA II government which is in itself a vehicle for the commercialisation of education. Under RUSA there is a continuous effort to change the teaching-learning process and evaluation system in the class rooms. Students are overburdened with exams and assignments, and the real teaching-learning hours have been drastically reduced. Continuous reports are there about delays and major discrepancies in the results of semester exams. Most of the evaluation work is outsourced to private companies. Then there is the proposal for objective type questions for semester exams which is against the concept of semester examination. It started with Ram Manohar Lohia Awadh University of Uttar Pradesh and that too, in the middle of the semester. These so-called education reforms are changing the character of education, reducing education merely to a piece of degree certificate.

The teacher-student ratio for technical education has been changed. The AICTE released, in the first week of December, the handbook for the approval process of self-financed institutions for the year 2018-19. The handbook revealed the decision to change the norms for faculty-student ratio from 1:15 to 1:20.

The issue of seat cut in JNU and other universities after the UGC Gazette Notification, 2015 has seriously affected research. Even students studying in MPhil are uncertain about their future research degrees. Students protested against this undemocratic notification but failed to create the requisite pressure to stop its implementation. Judiciary has also worked at the behest of the ruling order. This is a clear ploy to reduce opportunities in research – universities, after all, were capable of engaging students in research with their existing infrastructure. It is a well-established fact that huge numbers of faculty posts are lying vacant in universities, further reducing opportunities for research.

State governments under the diktat of neoliberal policies are attacking the structure of public education system in a planned way. We have witnessed rampant privatisation of higher education, especially technical and professional education. Primary education is also being commercialised to generate profits. The image of public sector primary education is maligned, and private institutions are promoted through concerted, near-conspiratorial efforts. Now our state governments are further destroying public sector primary education. The government of Rajasthan has taken a decision to run 225 schools in Rajasthan on PPP model, which essentially means handing over public schools to the private sector. The Madhya Pradesh government has planned to close down 15,000 government schools because there are supposedly fewer children to study in them. Similarly in Maharashtra, the state government has decided to close down some 13,905 schools which have a student count of less than 20. Similar reports are coming in from many states including Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana etc where the governments have decided to close down huge numbers of government schools.

In the last budget, the central government proposed the setting up of the Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) to fund higher education. HEFA is supposed to finance institutions through a 10-year loan. Already HEFA has approved projects for Rs 2,066.73 crores for six institutions – IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Kanpur and NIT Suratkal. How these institutions will repay their loans is the bigger question. These are education institutions and not industrial units, which after investment could earn extra profits and loans will be repaid. On the one hand, the government is advocating loans for educational institutions and on the other hand there are big corporate houses which even after earning huge profits are not repaying their loans resulting in huge NPAs. According to HEFA, the principal portion of the loan will be repaid through the ‘internal accruals’ earned through fee receipts, research earnings, etc. The central government will service the interest portion through regular plan assistance. This is a clear effort to convert our public education institutions into commercial units, thus converting education into a commodity to earn profits.

There is reduction in funding for research to CSIR labs as well as universities, research fellowships have been reduced, non-NET fellowship is mostly irregular by the UGC, post-metric fellowships are not being distributed to students in the absence of allocations from centre, NET exam schedules have been changed, and education is increasingly being centralised. A number of anti-student policies have been implemented by the central government. Students have tried to resist these policies but the BJP and central government have been more or less successful in diverting the discourse on education and the student movement. The focus of the entire debate is on questions of “nationalism” and “anti-nationalism”. To some extent the students have also been caught in their plan. In addition to these, there are continuous attacks by various organisations which are part of the RSS brigade against minorities, dalits, women, progressive people etc. Students have joined the resistance against these attacks and against the attacks on the Indian constitution and our society by the Hindutva forces, but lagged behind in raising students’ issues, which is equally significant. 

Though it is very important to wage struggle on other political and social issues, the student movement must bring in a renewed focus on the basic issues of education and students. The BJP government is trying to play a game by diverting the student movement’s attention from these basic students’ issues. This is in keeping with the tactic it has adopted on other issues as well – that of orienting all debates around issues of religion, caste and “national pride” thereby evading questions of employment, health services, economic development, agrarian distress and price rise.   

For the student movement it is very important to have a broader outlook and comprehensive understanding of social and economic issues. It is the responsibility of the student movement to raise its voice against any injustice happening in society, to struggle for social justice and against the exploitation of marginalised sections of society. But its prime responsibility is to mobilise students, on issues concerning education, in their own campuses and outside. We have to understand the game plan of the BJP-RSS combine and have to focus on educational issues and against communalisation of education. We cannot imagine being a part of the larger struggle for social justice if we are not waging an uncompromising struggle on the question of social justice in our own campuses.

This is not a question of choosing one issue against the others but is a dialectical question where we have to link our struggle for basic demands of students and education policy with larger struggle. To combat the greater challenges of communalism and authoritarianism we need unity, which can be achieved for students when they are rallied primarily on their demands for better education and better facilities in educational institutions. We have to mobilise students against the attacks of the authoritarian regime, without losing the focus of the student movement’s fight for social justice and against the commercialisation and saffronisation of education.

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