Higher Education In India: License To Loot


University Grants Commission (UGC) has drafted a new set of regulations/ guidelines and released it inviting feedback from public. (http://www.ugc.ac.in/pdfnews/9837591_Public-Notice-regarding-draft-Regulations-and-Guidelines.pdf ) These regulations/ guidelines are going to have profound impact on the higher education in the country and are in fact an extension of the thrust towards the assault on the public higher education and the attempts towards creating avenues for profit maximization of the private sector.

These include: UGC (Categorization of Universities for Grant of Graded Autonomy) Regulations, 2017; University Grants Commission (Promotion and Maintenance of Standards of Academic Collaboration between Indian and Foreign Educational institutions) Regulations, 2017; UGC [institutions Deemed to be Universities] Regulations, 2017; Guidelines for Grant of Graded Autonomy to Central and State Public Universities and University Grants Commission [Minimum Standards and Procedure for Awards of M.Phil/ PhD Degree ] (1st Amendment) Regulations, 2017.  While the last one pertains to the research admissions and in an extension of the assault on public research (with the result of massive exclusion and seat cuts) through the earlier gazette notification of May 2016; the first four are intrinsically linked to the agenda of privatization.

What are the prime features of these new regulations/ guidelines?

UGC (Categorization of Universities for Grant of Graded Autonomy) Regulations-2017 classifies universities into three categories based on their National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) accreditation and National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF) rankings. The first two categories will be accorded greater autonomy by the UGC.

To be in category I, a university must have NAAC accreditation with a score of 3.5 or above. Otherwise, it should figure in the NIRF’s list of top 50 institutions for two consecutive years. The institutions in category I will be able to open ‘research parks, incubation centres and university society linkage centres in self-financing mode either on its own or in partnership with private partners, without the UGC’s approval’. Such institutions will simply have to send a report of the self-financing courses started by them and there won’t be any monitoring/ inspection by the UGC. The deemed-to institutions figuring in category I can now start unlimited number of off centres without the need of any confirmation from UGC (As per the existing regulations such institutions can start only 2 off centres in a span of 5 years).

These regulations/guidelines need to be seen in the backdrop of aggressive push towards autonomy by UGC at the clear behest of the HRD ministry. In the recent past we have  seen aggressive push from the central government and UGC to arm-twist the colleges to apply for ‘autonomous status’. It needs to be noted that the idea of ‘autonomous colleges’ in its present form was first mooted by Birla-Ambani committee during the NDA-1. The UGC’s 12th plan document on the ‘Guidelines for autonomous colleges’ says that the fund given by commission as autonomous grant cannot be used for creation of posts, payment of salary to any of the college staff, payment of honorarium, or to meet normal college contingency requirement or subsidies. It also adds that the examination fee should be fixed so that income from fee can meet the expenditure on examinations and other staff appointed in examination cell.

UGC already has over 575 autonomous colleges in the country. Of these, 167 are government institutions. Premier institutions such as Loyola College, Chennai, and St Xavier’s Colleges in Mumbai and Kolkata have already been granted autonomy. The erstwhile Presidency College in Kolkata has been granted the status of a deemed university. Most of the government autonomous colleges are struggling with the financial and academic aspects of autonomy. In effect, there is a big mismatch between the stated claims and the actual reality of the entire autonomy process.

‘Autonomy’ is being linked to academic excellence and only those institutions which have been awarded a minimum of B grade 3 times in the last 10 years are eligible to apply for the autonomous status. The ranking of educational institutions hence is directly related to the push towards autonomy agenda. The ‘India Ranking Report 2017’ as per the National Institutions Ranking Framework (NIRF) has been released recently. Both, ‘autonomy’ and ‘ranking’ are vehicles of privatization, which in turn means that education will become costlier, accessible to only the elite. For the vast majority of people, their children will have to go through D-grade institutions, if at all.

On the one hand, there is a tiny minority of “elite” institutions and on the other hand, a vast number of institutions which are struggling with faculty shortage, cramped classrooms and inadequate infrastructure.

Another aspect is that a set of pre-conditions has been laid down to get access to funds: implementation of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), semesterization, and compulsory accreditation among others. Moreover funding for higher education under RUSA will be norm based as well as performance based. This basically means that the state governments or universities won’t have any room to modify the system according to their specific conditions. Funding will be linked to the performance of the institution based on set criteria (which would include student-teacher ratio, infrastructure, examination results etc.). This would effectively spiral into increasing the already existing inequalities.

We have come to a situation where public institutions are being made fund starved with continuous declined in the government spending. Prakash Javadekar claimed in February 2017 that India (centre & states combined) was now spending 4.5% of GDP on education. However, the Economic survey for 2016-17 shows that this figure is only 2.9%. Javadekar further claimed that India is ‘progressing’ towards achieving the 6% target. Far from increasing education spending, Modi Sarkar has ensured a dip in its share. Javadekar goes on to argue that while calculating the expenditure the private investments should also be considered (thereby negating BJP’s own poll promise in 2014 election manifesto). His assertion is not showing any novelty, rather it smacks of typical neoliberal dogma that seeks to quantitatively under-define the spending goals and hide the failures of the governments.

In the nutshell, the present policy level changes seek to further accelerate the process in Indian education sector that is giving the private institutions a ‘license to loot’. What it means for the burgeoning youth population and their aspirations is an easy guess. The UGC has invited feedback from the public till 15th June. This period should be used to build strong opinion against this policy offensive. However, the real test for those who want to defend the public education and the interests of the millions of people of this country will be on the streets. The situation demands strong movement of students, teachers and karmacharis as was witnessed during the NDA-1 regime.

Vicdan Azabi is a former activist in the student movement.



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