NEP: Attrition of Academic Freedom, Commercialization of Education and Exacerbating Social Exclusion
Author: Aman Prasad, III year of B.A.,LL.B. from Lloyd Law College, Greater Noida (U.P.)
Government of India has approved the draft of New Education Policy (NEP) which was for quite some time in public domain. Given the limited information provided by Government on NEP, the detrimental implication for public funded Higher education is not properly discussed. However, the changes that appear to be positive and have been introduced through NEP shall have following far-reaching impact on higher education:-
1. Dismantling of autonomous funding agency UGC by Central Government controlled agency will erode the autonomy that the universities enjoy in the present regime of system and rules
Under NEP, UGC is getting dismantled and replaced by the new body called Higher Education Grant Commission (HEGC). There is already in place the Higher Education Commission of India Act, 2018 (HECI Act, 2018) supposedly to provide the legal framework for to pull down the UGS and make ground for the new entity. Both the HEGC and HECI Act clearly show the path towards a greater government intervention in Universities and abandoning of responsibility to finance by using grant. Thecircle being drawn by the HEFA (Higher Education Funding Agency) has finally been completed with the HECI Act.
Following are the dangerous implications of replacing the autonomous UGC with government controlled HEGC:-
As its name suggests, the UGC was not only meant for regulation and nurture of higher education, it was also greatly concerned with allocation and disbursal of government funds according to needs of the Universities. UGC also catered to the specific funding needs of the institution. But now this core function of UGC has been completely taken away and outsourced to other agencies (HEFA) and HEGC, implying thereby the core of concern that securing public fund/grant for universities is under serious threat. Under HEFA the government is not to give any grant but shall give loan necessarily required to be repaid on the terms tagged therewith. This brought-in change in the funding shall sabotage the very public character of our universities which will become the exclusive enclaves of the rich and the privileged class and caste. Another implication with no less seriousness in impact will be that the universities shall be forced to generate the required fund on their own, opening the way for self-financing courses, massive fee hikes, throwing to market operators the teaching and non-teaching activities as well as industry-oriented research activities. Corporate logic of cost cutting will make the universities run on contracts for everything and force them to withdraw the facilities without which the students from the deprived class would find it too tedious to continue the study as the revenue-maximisation in the form of fee hike, self-financed courses and industry tie-ups shall be the order of the day.
While the UGC Act 1956 ensured that a university was de facto an autonomous body with finance from Central government, the replacement of UGC with Central government controlled HEGC, HEFA and HECI will lead to direct interference of Central government in universities. Any University not falling in line with the government diktats will risk of being defunded and left with no other option than succumbing to the government’s wishes.
2. De jure
Light touch Regulation leads to de facto Deregulation: Rapid Privatisation of Higher Education:
Dismantling of many education sector regulators and replacing them with one regulator i.e. National Higher Educational Authority (NEHRA) in name of light touch regulation will lead to free hands for private business to engage in most grotesque form of profiteering in name of providing education. Even with multiple regulators, these private business ventures have engaged in most shady activities in name of providing education. Given the fact that it is virtually impossible to regulate such large and diverse education sector with one regulator, it will lead to active encouragement on part of these business groups to engage in short-term profit-making activities compromising quality of and access to education. Turning the universities into 'Self-Regulatory bodies' will encourage private universities and colleges, giving them unprecedented freedom to pursue their objective of making maximum money out of their customers aka students. All the malpractices of private educational institutions (like IIPMs) will be tolerated under this guise to self-regulation. It is like setting fox to guard hen house - a win-win proposition for private business.
According to all India survey on higher education 2018-19, India has 993 universities, 39931 colleges and 10725 stand-alone institutions in 2018. Out of 39931 colleges in India only 22% are public funded meaning that 78% of them are already privatized! Colleges are important as 80% of enrolment in Higher Education is being done under UG level courses (B.A., B.sc, B.com). Most of these colleges are out of reach for the poor and socially marginalised communities which consist of 85% of Indian population. Out of the 351 universities added in the last eight years, 199 were private universities.
3. Silent on social exclusion of the socially marginalized communities
NEP is curiously silent on issue of social exclusion of historically disadvantaged and socially marginalised communities (ST, SC, OBC, women and minorities) from the field of higher education. Except token statement, it does not contain concrete proposal to deal with acute lack of access of socially marginalised communities in field of higher education. While the Gross Enrolment ratio in Higher Education in 2018 for socially forward casteswas 26.3%, the ST, SC and Muslims were left to be content with 17.2%, 23% and 5.2% respectively. Out of total enrolment in higher education, forward castes had 43% share while the students from SC, ST and OBC categories recorded their share as 14.9%, 5.5% and 36.3% respectively. Out of the total minority share of 7.5%, the Muslims could have 7.5% only.
From the UGC Annual Report 2017-18 (page number 246), it is observed that in the 30 central Universities, 95 % of Professors belonged to forward castes while the shares of ST was 1%, OBC 1% and SC 3% only. Similarly, for post of Associate Professors in 30 Central Universities, the share of forward caste was 93% while that of ST was 1.8%, OBC was 0.1% and SC 5.2%. For the post of Vice Chancellor in 496 universities if India, 91% belonged to forward Caste, ST 1%, OBC 7 % and SC 1%. NEP is absolutely silent on such gross inequality in terms of access and representation of socially marginalised communities in Higher education.
4. Increasing Bureaucratic Control and surveillance over Universities
Most of the universities are suffering from undue interference from government on various academic and non-academic issues of universities. As all the top most appointmentsin universities are political in nature, such appointments only ensure that the political interest of government is well taken care of. Such strangling of minimal freedom of universities via political appointment has led to decline in creative freedom and academic excellence of universities in India. Under NEP, government will institute Indian Educational Services and cadres will be selected by government. These IES babus will be appointed as Registrar in every university of country which will directly report even its day-to-day activities to the government in centre.
The HECI encourages the Universities to go for autonomy model (Financial autonomy from the government) pushing it to follow the corporate-profit-maximising model and simultaneously gives enormous power in the hands of these babus to decide the fate of public funded 'non-autonomous' universities (It can even cancel accreditation of the university or close it). At one shot it serves the objective of privatization of higher education (for autonomous universities) and at the same time makes rest of non-autonomous public funded Universities subservient to whim and fancies of government converting them into nothing but the mouth piece of the political masters ruling the country. The proposal of measuring teaching outcomes and continuous monitoring and evaluation of colleges/universities is a misnomer for continued surveillance of academic activities and for keeping them busy in blind rat race to meet externally imposed 'academic standards' created by the bunch of bureaucrats (Only two academics are allowed among 12 members in HECI). Its most dangerous clause 3(g) allows HECI to shut down institutes (college, universities) if it does not meet the said criteria of 'academic standards'.
Such centralisation of power and increase in the bureaucratic control will be detrimental to the academic freedom of universities and can convert them into the proverbial ‘caged parrots’ of the government.
5. Model of Autonomy proposed will erode real autonomy of Universities
The model of autonomy proposed under NEP is very detrimental for real autonomy of universities. In one go, around 62 institutions have been granted autonomy by MHRD. Five central universities, 21 state universities, 26 private universities besides 10 other colleges have been granted autonomy today and the JNU is the most glittering on the list.
It means that these autonomous institutions can decide their own admission procedure, curriculum and students fees. Also, they can,
a. Hire 20% of foreign faculty on a contractual/ tenure basis, (Beginning of the end of permanent jobs and 20% reduction in the reservation), similarly give 20% of the seats to foreignstudents.
b. Offer a Self-Financing or Vocational/ Skill Enhancing based course without any Government fund/grant both onn and off the campus. So, even normal course fees will increase over time. This will lead privatization of higher education. Students coming from socially (ST, SC, OBC, Women) and the economically marginalized (Poor) section of society will not be able to afford this education. The extent of exclusion of students from these communities will be historically unprecedented. Also, courses which will be offered shall be designed to suit the interest of market/industry rather than the need of society. Both the composition of students in Higher Education and course content will change in a regressive manner.
c. The salary of teachers and staff will be completely variable which will be decided by the management of college/ university. Since the universities will run with the logic of cost-cutting like a corporate house, they will contractualise/casualize all the permanent jobs. The working condition will be harsh and remuneration for work will be next to nothing.
d. Collective bargaining by any party (Teachers, staff andstudents) with the college management/ administration will not be allowed as the trade union activities will be prohibited. This implies the end of student’s politics (Fighting for the cause of students) from the arena of higher education. The dream of Birla-Ambani Report2000 to end student’s union and politics (as they are the major hurdle in the way to privatization of higher education in India) from higher education will finally be fulfilled.s
e. Given the caste bias prevailing in higher education institutes against students from socially marginalized communities (ST, SC, OBC) and track record of not fulfilling reservation commitments, reservation policy will be most probably violated in name of autonomy in admission process.
f. Provision for a separate fee structure for (Without the upper cap) for foreign students will be a precedent to be used later for the increase in the fees for domestic students.
g. No oversight/regulation over these autonomous institutions from UGC will end in a complete deregulation of higher education and pave way for mushroom growth of the private institutions/vendors engaged in milking the students and their parents with no compulsion of providing education of quality e.g. IIPM etc.
In short, NEP epitomises the spirit of Neo-liberalism at its worst, giving a free hand to businessmen to make more profit, exacerbates social exclusion and at the same time imposes more of draconian restrictions/rules on functioning of the Universities which are geared towards maximising the public welfare and interest.
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