Vol. XLII No. 28 July 15, 2018

Assault on Education

THE news about the legislations being brought forth to abolish the University Grants Commission (UGC) and to set-up a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) has brought into sharp focus the assault on education and, in particular, higher education, that is taking place under the Modi government.

The various steps taken in the sphere of education are motivated by a twin motive – neoliberalism and Hindutva ideology. The drive for privatisation of education and corporatisation of higher education is being speeded up, while public funded education is being curtailed and downgraded.

On the other hand, there is a concerted effort to introduce the Hindutva agenda and ideology in higher educational institutions, even if this involves using coercion and repression to bring recalcitrant institutions, teachers and students in line.

As far as the HECI is concerned, it is no one’s argument that the UGC was doing a good job and that it was playing a vital role in developing and nurturing higher education. But the remedy suggested is worse than the disease.

The HECI will be a government nominated body with inconsequential representation of academics. Moreover, there will be an advisory council with the HRD minister as the chairperson which will guide the HECI. This ensures direct control of the government over the new body and through it higher education.

Further, the distribution of funds to universities and colleges which was earlier vested with the UGC, will now be entrusted with the HRD ministry. This will be a direct instrument to control higher education and to police the universities and colleges.  Whatever semblance of autonomy, which was there in the UGC Act, has been done away with.

The restructuring of the regulatory authority in higher education has been accompanied by other measures such as the setting up of a Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA). The aim is to replace grants given by the government with loans given by HEFA. Loans taken for infrastructural development will add to the burden on the institutions and eventually on the students.

The manner in which “Institutions of Eminence” were chosen has glaringly exposed the pro-corporate bias being introduced into higher education. The privilege accorded to the proposed Jio Institute to be set-up by Reliance Foundation is a brazen instance of how big corporates are going to call the shots in the “new educational order”.

Overall, the neo-liberal measures begun by the previous UPA government is being accelerated with centralisation, commercialisation and privatisation as the driving force.

This will result in the decay and destruction of the public funded educational system. This is being accentuated by the targeting and destruction of institutions like the Jawaharlal Nehru University which is anathema for the Sangh Parivar.     

Simultaneously, the Hindutva agenda is being imposed on the educational system. RSS men have been made vice chancellors of universities, with their sole qualification being loyalty to the Sangh. The BJP state governments have taken various steps to communalise the school syllabus and text books.

The HRD ministry has announced that a Vedic Education Board will be set-up on the lines of the CBSE. This will be a parallel schooling system based on Vedic studies and Sanskrit.  Projects and research on `cow-science’ and pseudo-science are being funded by various government bodies and by institutes like the IIT, Delhi.

So what is emerging is a toxic fusion of neoliberalism and Hindutva in education. For the students, the prospects are of escalating fees and inaccessibility of entry into institutions of higher education and a general deterioration in the standards of public school education.

The resistance to the twin onslaught on education is growing. It is necessary to mobilise students, teachers and all concerned citizens to unitedly oppose the Modi government’s retrograde educational policies. The defence of a secular, scientific, mass educational policy must be the centre-piece of this fight back. 

(July 11, 2018)