Reckless Privatisation of Professional Education
THE All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has decided to cut over 6,00,000 seats in engineering colleges across the country from the current 16.7 lakh to around 11 lakh. This move is being supposedly made due to the poor quality of engineering education, low ‘employability’ of the students graduating from these institutions, and the huge increase in the number of vacant seats. All these are objective facts (as we shall see later), but the manner in which AICTE is trying to portray the situation as a result of some sort of demand-supply mismatch is clearly an attempt to obliterate the role of reckless privatisation and expansion over the last decade in bringing the situation to current mess.
Table- 1 (Growth of number of engineering institutes and the sanctioned intakes between 2007-08 and 2012-13
There has been a reckless expansion of the professional education in general, and engineering education in particular, in the last one decade. The number of engineering institutions in the country has more than doubled in just five years, from 1,500 in 2006 to 3,400 in 2011. This unbridled expansion has been mainly a result of privatisation, and quality has been utterly compromised in the process. Ruling class politicians in various states, real estate barons, land sharks and nouveau riche started rushing to start such institutions; while both AICTE and state governments were party to this unrestricted expansion. This period coincides with the overall boom in the economy in general and the service sector including KPO, BPO and ITES in particular and this created a pull factor for engineering as a stream.
Decisions of specific state governments and some of the moves by judiciary also led to the growth. The judgement in the TMA Pai (2002) case was a watershed moment in the privatisation of education in our country. This judgement ruled out state intervention in the admission process, fee structure and the reservation policy in the unaided private colleges. (Now, most of the private colleges come under ‘unaided’ category, even though they get cheap land, electricity etc. from the state). This judgement threw open the field of professional education to the private capital by redefining professional education as a part of the right to practise a profession/trade/business. The “user pay” principle was not only extended to the field of higher education, but it was also given constitutional protection. The Unnikrishnan case (1993) had defined the right to education at all levels as ‘charitable’ and hence, profiteering as ‘unconstitutional’. The TMA Pai (2002) case on the other hand kept a vague distinction between ‘profiteering’ and ‘profit-making’. While the former was unconstitutional, the latter was held to be legal.
The YSR government in the then undivided Andhra Pradesh brought a scheme of fee-reimbursement for the students from backward classes and minority sections. The government reimbursed money directly to private institutions and one estimate puts the amount of public money transferred to private capital through this route at whooping Rs 1,000 crore per annum. The Maharashtra government provided prime MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation) land to hundreds of private institutions. Other state governments also provided cheap doles to these private players, many of whom are directly related to the ruling class politicians.
No: of Faculties per institute
Student: Faculty Ratio
Ratio of students enrolled in private institutes to that in public
Ratio of no: of private and public institutes
Average enrolment per institute
Table-2 (Comparison between various countries on some of the indicators of engineering education)
The results of this unbridled expansion are now in front of us. A comparative study of the engineering sector in major OECD and BRICS countries clearly shows the picture. The number of private engineering institutions in India is 15.23 times more than the number of public institutions and way higher than even Brazil (3.79) which also has seen intensive privatisation. The mushrooming engineering institutions in India have resulted in a low number of students and faculty per institution: 450 and 19, respectively. The corresponding figures for China on the other hand are 7,331 and 496, respectively. The 12th Five Year Plan had rightly envisaged a course correction in this regard by expanding the specific institutions, instead of increase in the number of institutions.
States like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh (Undivided), Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have seen extreme concentration of this expansion, and these are the states, which are now witnessing phenomena of seats going vacant at large scale. Let us take the figures of vacant seats in Tamil Nadu for instance: 45,062 (11-12), 50,000 (12-13), 80,700 (13-14) and 1, 00,819 (14-15). The private players that had been rushing to open new colleges now began sending requests to the regulator to allow courses to be closed down.
Is There Really a Demand-Supply Mismatch?
AICTE is giving an argument that the present crisis is a result of the demand-supply mismatch. Such an argument would be erroneous since the proportion of engineering students in India relative to the total population is still very low (1,290 students per million population). The exponential growth of the coaching industry for the engineering entrance exams or the data on the number of applicants for these entrance exams would only confirm the vacuousness of such a logic. One of the leading national dailies carried a report that mentioned a private deemed university in Tamil Nadu, which brings out e-form for its entrance exam, with fees of Rs 1,000 per form. In the year 2013-14, this university earned a profit of Rs 21 crore (with 21 lakh applicants) without zero investment!
An objective fact that would nail the lie of ‘demand-supply mismatch’ is the exponential increase in the coaching industry for the engineering entrance examinations. The ADB study, ‘Shadow Education: Private Supplementary Tutoring and Its Implications for Policy Makers in Asia’, estimated the sector to be growing at over 15 per cent each year. A 2013 survey by the ASSOCHAM estimates “the current size of the private coaching industry in India to be about $23.7 billion (Rs 1,41,416.33 crore) and it was likely to touch $40 billion (Rs 2,38,677.36 crore) by 2015.” If one adds to this the numerous mom-and-pop coaching centres and home tutors, data on which are not available, the size of the industry would be even bigger. The Indian Market has also attracted Etoos, a South Korean coaching giant, which invested Rs 30 crore to set up shop in Kota in 2011, focusing on video lectures and e-learning. The reality hence remains that the aspiration for engineering education continues to be strong among large sections.
The demand for quality engineers continues to be significant in infrastructure development, in industry and in the developing sectors of the knowledge economy. The reports by various associations and agencies of the bourgeoisie have been pointing to this aspect. National Employability Report, Engineering Graduates - 2014, released by one employability solutions company, revealed that though 18.33 per cent of the engineers are employable, 18.09 per cent actually get a job.
Impact of the global financial crisis on the labour market is certainly a major factor in diminishing the pull factor towards the engineering education, but the impact of high fees and the lack of proper infrastructure in most of these private colleges simply cannot be ignored. What is hence required is an increase in the number of engineering students by fostering better access to engineering education. This will obviously necessitate efforts to make engineering inclusive and to enhance the overall quality of education.
The Failed Logic of Expansion through
Private Route as the Sole Means
Various documents advocating neo-liberal reforms in education, including National Knowledge Commission, Birla-Ambani Report, Yashpal Committee Report and the Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA), have been putting forth this argument that privatisation is the only way through which expansion can be achieved. All the apologists of privatisation use the higher enrolment in private sector as a basis for their argument. The current crisis of the engineering education is a clear pointer to the fallacy of such an argument. Democratic student movement led by SFI has been continuously intervening in the fraud and loot by the private educational players. The current crisis necessitates the following: First, intensifying the campaign for halting the reckless privatisation. Second, pushing for the expansion of the public education and ensuring inclusive, quality education. Third, Most of the private institutions had come out on prime locations with various doles from the state governments. Aggressive campaign should be made demanding that state governments take over these institutions. We should strive to intervene in this moment of crisis to create a rupture in the neo-liberal consensus that allows all means for the finance capital to multiply itself. (END)