Institutions of higher education in Punjab and Chandigarh have been through the situation of unrest when university and college teachers have resorted to a strike and ‘Education Bandh’, a weapon of ‘Conflict resolution’ not usually or willingly adopted by the teachers. The non- implementation of the recommendations of the UGC seventh pay commission and the voice against the regressive decision of the Punjab government to delink teachers’ grades from UGC pay scales are the core issues at the centre of state wide strike of university and college teachers of Punjab and Chandigarh.
The teachers‘ unrest lie in the way the state responds to their issues. Over the last years, the state created tremendous disparities in the service conditions of college and university teachers through numerous cost cutting mechanisms and the delinking of grades from UGC scales is the recent decision in this direction, which is not only undemocratic but also a policy to divide teachers on various lines. The attitude of the state towards long standing demands to implement recommendations of seventh pay commission is the reflection of state’s priority to address its higher education sector .
To understand the present situation one needs to look into the broader issue how the state opted injudicious policies over the past two-three decades. The policies of privatization of higher education led to the iniquitous expansion with a significant increase in the number of universities and colleges since 1992. To further encourage the private sector to invest in higher education, the Government of Punjab notified ‘The Punjab Private Universities Policy’, in June, 2010 which has led to the rapid mushrooming growth of private universities in the state. There were only four universities in the state till 1996, but with the entry of private players in higher education, this number increased from 4 to 29 with a huge number of universities in the private sector. Same trend happened in the case of degree, professional and teacher education colleges where phenomenal growth taken place in self-financed colleges. This iniquitous expansion in state sponsored private sector has not only let the public institutions abandoned but also put the equity and efficiency ideals of higher education on a stake. Under neo liberal agenda the state has withdrawn its role to bear financial costs of the government institutions which is evident from drastic decline in the percentage share of education budget over the last decades. Consequently such policies has played a significant role in pushing the weaker section youth out of the education system, however the middle/richer class is opting for migration to the developed countries.
The reduction of government grants has put the public institutions into financial crunch and other administrative constraints, like the unavailability of teachers, lack of infrastructure and other physical facilities etc. Surprisingly at present the government colleges in the state are running with funds collected from parents through parent teacher associations to pay the guest faculty. Many out of the rural government colleges are at the verge of closure. The State government has neither recruited regular teachers in the government colleges since 1996 nor in government aided colleges since 2004. Majority of the teaching staff in colleges works on adhoc/contractual basis and the similar adhoc arrangements are being made by the universities to cope with the faculty crunch. Now it is important for the government to address the concerns of teachers and larger issues of higher education with empathetic understanding to prevent the further destruction of education sector in the state.
Satvinderpal Kaur teaches Education in Panjab University Chandigarh