On 10th Aug., in less than half a minute, Maharashtra State Assembly passed ‘Maharashtra Self-Financed Universities (Establishment and Regulation) Act’ and this has now formally opened the doors for Education barons and businessmen. Now in the free market, where educations is traded as commodity, they can run their ‘Education Malls’ and reap huge profits out of it, estimated to be worth USD $68 bn by 2012.
Over past decade there have been systematic advance towards privatization and commercialization of education. Consequently today you can see an array of schools charging Rs. 40-50,000 annually for primary education and fees for professional courses like Engineering, Medical or Management ranges anywhere in between Rs. 5-40 lakhs. The Private University Act gives a further push to this process.
How many new government or aided colleges have been set up in past ten years? Hardly few. No wonder the policy orientation, as vindicated by this law, has been for governments to opt out of higher education and throw the sector open to those already running the business of Education and facilitating the entry of the so called new entrepreneurs i.e., private equity investors desperately waiting to seize the opportunity in the Higher Education market in the country.
For a long they have been lobbying hard for this. Way back in April 2000 Mukesh Ambani and Kumarmangalam Birla submitted a report to prime minister’s council on Trade and Industry. The report titled ‘A policy framework for reforms in Education’ made a strong case for converting entire higher education system in the country into free market where the sole motive would be profit seeking. This is called as ‘enterprenuer’s vision’.
Once ‘Education’ is accepted as a commodity to be traded in the market then whole dimensions of education changes. Rampant profiteering, exorbitant fees along with hefty fees of tution classes and Test preparation institutes becomes norm of educational system.
Humbug of ‘Lack of Funding and Elevated quality of education’
Often cited reason for allowing private investors in higher education is financial constraints on existing publicly funded education. This is an outright fraudulent statement. Last year, for example, the country spent around Rs.90,000 crore for Common Wealth Games or for instance the subsidies granted to big guys of Indian industry amounted to Rs. 5 lakh crore. This is far higher than what is required to provide free and universal education across the country.
Another such well cultivated myth is the higher quality of education imparted by these ‘universities of excellence’. They will have tie up with well known universities in Britain, US (like Oxford, MIT, Harvard) with higher brand value and that students graduating from these campuses would be most valued due to their merit. Excuse us, but what do they mean by merit? Does it mean exercising monopoly over handful of job opportunities created in big corporate houses in the country or does it mean taking up high paid jobs in western nations?
What about social equity?
If education market is supposed to make higher contribution to country’s GDP (as claimed by the industrialists), then what about the millions of young students who would be simply pushed off the periphery of higher education as most of them would be unable to afford the fees? Even today we can see marked division among school going children – those enrolled to upper class, sophisticated (ICSE, CBSE) English medium schools and others enrolled to normal (lower end) private schools or worse Municipal corporation run schools starved off of funds. This stratification and disparity would be further accentuated by entry of Private Universities. In fact higher education would be a luxury affordable to only a tiny minority of students.
In this kind of education system, harbouring inequality and disparity, it would be simply laughable to even think of social justice. No wonder the bill passed in the assembly excludes any provision for the constitutionally mandatory and just reservations for backward class students. It not only shows their contempt for constitution but utter disdain for these deprived sections and their upper caste chauvinism. Millions of Dalit, Adivasi students and other backward classes are still deprived of education and with these private universities many of them would be excluded from higher education all together.
Often governments come up with some bizarre explanations to justify such decisions. They attempt to present the implementation of market agenda as benign and welfare mission. Rajesh Tope, Higher and Technical Education Minster (Maharashtra) stated that only 13% of students passing SSC (Secondary School Certificate) exam in Maharashtra are able to enrol to higher education. He further claimed “Our aim is that by 2020, this number should increase to 20%. But the state has limited funds for investment in higher education. Here, we believe, the private sector can play the crucial role of bringing much-needed investment in higher and technical education.”
It is true that one of the reasons for such low enrolment ratio is unavailability of colleges in the locality especially in non-urban areas. But Mr. Tope should enlighten us as to how private universities are going to help here? Are they going to set-up their plush campuses in villages, tribal areas or the backward regions across the state?
Even though Maharashtra is seen as one of the leading states in the country economically, reality is except few districts like Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Nashik (though distorted), there is hardly any development. Forget colleges, many parts do not even have secondary schools in the locality. And when the situation is so desperate, they want us to believe that private universities would play critical role. It is no secret that they would be simply cherry-picking localities where they could get higher ROI (Return on Investments). Apart from metros they would target tier-2 and tier-3 cities and may be few towns and not beyond that. It is economics, stupid!
Universalization of Education
Soon India is going to be a country with largest youth workforce surpassing China and the Indian ruling classes are quite upbeat about it. Notwithstanding their hype, the stark question staring this generation is what sort of youth workforce it would be. Given the parasitic nature of Indian capitalism, the captains of the industry would prefer to have a huge army of unemployed youths competing against each other in labor market bidding for the lowest wages. Few quality jobs that the system has on offer would be awarded to those passing out from private universities in collaboration with foreign universities.
There is crying need for a free and fair universal education in India today. Private education and its corporate offshoots are the biggest cause of illiteracy in India. This calls for dismantling the current parochial education system and this is not possible under the current system based on looting and profiteering. Only under a system based on democratic Socialism would it be possible to create a sort of educational system, that does not act as a manufacturing factory for producing cheap labour force for industries or based on brahminical or neoliberal values that excludes millions of youths from education system altogether; but truly offering an environment and conditions for achieving total literacy and a sort of quality education system that is a far cry from the present system based on inequality, competition and meritocracy.