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New Educational Policy: Path Towards Erosion of Academic Freedom, Commercialisation of Education & Exacerbating Social Exclusion

Under NEP, the 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 the country which will directly report day to day’s activities of universities to the central government.

Image| The Companion

Government has just approved draft policy of New Education Policy 2020 (NEP) which was in public domain for some time for review. Given the limited information provided by Government on NEP (https://bit.ly/311szCT ), the detrimental implication for this drastic policy change on public funded Higher education is not properly discussed. Let me sum up why the apparent positive changes introduced via NEP will have serious long term negative impact on higher education.

Dismantling of autonomous funding agency UGC by Central Government controlled agency will erode Universities autonomy: 

Under NEP, UGC is getting dismantled and is getting replaced by Higher Education Commission of India. Under  Higher Education Commission of India (HECI Act, 2018) Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) will replace UGC. Both draft HECI act clearly shows path towards greater government intervention in Universities and abandoning of responsibility of financing using grant is on its way. Circle which was drawn by creating HEFA (higher education funding agency) has finally been completed with HECI. Following are the dangerous implications of the replacing autonomous UGC with government controlled HEGC under HECI Act:

As UGC name suggests, it was not only meant for regulation and nurturing of highly education but was also greatly concerned with allocation and disbursal of government fund accordingly to needs of the Universities. UGC also catered to specific funding need of the institution. But now this core function of UGC has been completely abdicated or outsourced to other agency (HEFA) and HEGC under HECI, which implies the core of concern of securing public fund /grant for universities is under serious threat. Under HEFA the government gives loan (which has to be repaid) rather than grant. This will sabotage the public character of our universities, making it exclusive enclave of the rich and the privileged class and caste. Indirect implications will be to force universities to generate the required fund by own. This will open the way for self financing courses, massive fee hike, contractualisation of teaching and non teaching posts, and industry oriented research activities. So in the long run even public university has to be run on corporate logic of cost cutting (contractualisation of teaching not non teaching jobs, withdrawal of certain facilities to students and teachers ) and revenue maximising (fee hike, self financed courses, industry tie ups ).

Also the UGC Act 1956 ensured that in de facto sense it was autonomous funding body from Central government but with replacement of UGC with Central government controlled HEFA and HEGI under HECI will lead to direct interference of the central government in universities. Any university not following government line/position will be at risk of being defunded and will be forced to adhere to government views.

De jure Light touch Regulation leads to de facto Deregulation: Push towards Rapid Privatisation of Higher Education:

Dismantling of many education specialisation specific  sector regulators ( UGC , AICTE ) and replacing them with single regulator i.e. National Higher Educational Authority( NEHRA) in the name of light touch regulation will inevitably lead to removing regulatory hurdles on  private business to engage in most grotesque foam of profiteering in the name of providing education.  Even with multiple regulators, these private business ventures have engaged in most shady activities in name of providing education. Also as stated in statement HECI will “function through faceless intervention through technology” which increases doubts of relaxing onsite strict verification exercise done by the erstwhile UGC and other regulators. Similarly the pdf documents attached on statement released by PIB on 29 July 2020  has clearly stated that On-line Self Disclosure based transparent System for Approvals in place of ‘Inspections’”.

Given the fact that it’s virtually impossible to regulate such large and diverse education sector with single regulator, it will lead to regulatory forbearance which will encourage these business groups to engage in short term profit making activities compromising quality and access to education. Making universities ‘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 malpractice of private educational institutions ( like IIPMs)  will be tolerated under this guise to self regulation. It’s like setting fox to guard hen house. Win win situation for private business.

According to All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19, India has 993 Universities, 39931 Colleges and 10725 Stand Alone Institution in 2018. Out of 39931 colleges in India only 22% are public funded. 78% is already Privatized! Colleges are important as 80% of enrolment in Higher Education is been done under UG level courses (BA, BSc B.Com). Most of these colleges are out of reach of the poor and the socially marginalised communities which comprise 85% of Indian population. Also the extent of rapid pace of privatisation of universities can be comprehended by the fact that out of the 351 universities approved/built in the last eight years,  199 were private universities.

Silent on Social exclusion:

NEP is curiously silent on the issue of social exclusion of historically disadvantaged and socially marginalised communities (ST, SC, OBC, Women, and minorities) from the field of higher education.  Except some token statement, it does not contain concrete proposal to deal with acute lack of access and representation of socially marginalised communities in the field of higher education.  According to All India Survey on Higher Education 2018-19, Gross Enrolment Ratio ( 18-23 year group) in Higher Education for socially forward caste is 26.3 % while for ST  17.2% , SC is 23%  and for Muslims its 5.2 % in 2018. Out of total enrollment in higher education, Forward Caste has 43% share while SC students has 14.9%, Scheduled Tribes students 5.5% and  36.3% students belong to Other Backward Classes. In terms of participation of minorities communities, Muslim minority has only 5.2% students and other minorities has 2.3 % share in total students.

In 30 central Universities, the 95 % of Professor belong to Forward Caste while share of ST is 1 % , OBC 1% and SC 3% only in 2017. Similarly for post of Associate Professor in 30 Central Universities, the share of forward caste is 93% while share of ST is 1.8% , OBC is 0.1%  and SC is 5.2% . For post of Vice Chancellor in 496 universities if India, 91% belong s to forward Caste, ST 1% , OBC 7 % and SC 1%.  NEP is absolutely silent on such tackling such gross inequality in term of access and representation of socially marginalised communities in Higher education.

Increasing Bureaucratic Control and surveillance over Universities

Most universities are already suffering from unwanted interference from government/ruling political parties on various academic and non academic issues of universities.  Most of top post appointments of universities usually tend to be political appointee, who makes sure that the core political interest of government/ruling party is taken care of. Such strangling of minimal freedom of universities via political appointment has led to severe decline of creative freedom and academic excellence of universities in India. Under NEP, the 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 the country which will directly report day to day’s activities of universities to the central government.

Even draft HECI Act 2018 encourages the universities to go for autonomy model (financial autonomy from government) pushing it to follow corporate profit maximising model, it simultaneously gives enormous power in hand of babus to decide fate of public funded ‘non autonomous’ universities (it can even cancel University accreditation or close it). At one shot it serve the objective of privatisation of higher education (for autonomous Universities) and same time makes rest of non autonomous public funded Universities subservient to whim and fancies of government converting them into nothing but mouth piece of government. The proposal of measuring teaching outcomes and continues monitoring and evaluation of colleges/Universities is a misnomer for continued surveillance of academic activities and keeping Universities busy in blind rat race to meet externally imposed ‘academic standards’ created by bunch of Bureaucrats (only two academics are allowed among 12 members in HECI ). Most dangerous clause -15 sub section 3(g) allow HECI to shut down institutes (college, universities) if it does not meet the said criteria of ‘academic standards’.

Such centralisation of power and bureaucratic control will be detrimental to academic freedom of universities and can convert universities into mere ‘caged parrot’ of government.

Model of Autonomy proposed will erode real autonomy of Universities

The model of autonomy (graded autonomy) proposed under NEP is very detrimental for real autonomy of universities. We already have model of Graded autonomy in UGC -Categorisation of Universities (Only) For Grant Of Graded Autonomy] Regulations, 2018. In one go in 22 March, 2018, around 62 institutions have been granted autonomy by MHRD. Five central universities including JNU, 21 state universities, 26 private universities besides 10 other colleges have been granted autonomy today. This means these autonomous institutions CAN DECIDE their OWN ADMISSION PROCEDURE, CURRICULUM and STUDENTS FEES. Also, they can:

1. 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% seats to foreign students.

2. Offer a Self-Financing or Vocational/ Skill Enhancing based course without any Government fund/Grant both within and off campus. So even normal courses fee will increase over time. This will leads privatization of Higher Education. Students coming from socially ( ST. SC, OBC, Pwd, 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 will 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.

3. The salary of Teachers and Staff will be completely variable which will be decided by the management of college/ University. Since Universities will run with the logic of cost-cutting like a Corporate house, they will contractualise/ casualize all permanent Jobs. The Working condition will be harsh and remuneration for Work will be next to nothing.

4. Collective bargaining by any party (Teachers, Staff, Students) with the college management/ administration will not be allowed as the formation of any Union by Teachers, Students, and Staff will be prohibited. This implies the end of students politics(for fighting for the cause of Students ) from the arena of higher education. The Dream of Birla Ambani Report,2000 (https://bit.ly/3fg2GUG)   to end students union and politics(as they are the major hurdle for privatization of Higher education in India ) from higher education will finally be fulfilled.

5. Given caste bias prevaling in Higher education institute against students from socially marginalized communities (ST,SC, OBC, Pwd) and track record of not fulfilling reservation, in name of autonomy in admission process policy of reservation will be most probably violated.

6. Charge separate fee (without upper cap) for foreign students.
This will be used as the precedent later to increase even domestic students fees.

7. No oversite/regulation over them from erstwhile UGC now by HECI. (Complete Deregulation of higher education especially by private institutions/vendors which provides education of dubious quality eg. IIPM etc)

In short, NEP epitomises the spirit of Neo-liberalism at its best, giving free hand business to make more profit with minimal regulations, increasing bureaucratic control and surveillance choking academic freedom, exacerbating social exclusion and at the same time imposing more of draconian restrictions/rules on activities geared towards public welfare and interest.