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(Foreign Educational Institutions Bill.)

Shruthi Venukumar:

Move over phony fake foreign universities cashing in on India’s attraction for overseas education. With the clearing of the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, the decks have been cleared for foreign universities to set up campuses on Indian land, complete with their own fee structures and terms. With the Bill treating them as private institutes, the incoming varsities are excused from reserving seats for the backwards classes. After the initial gushing and cheering, the subsequent lull hosted a mixed reaction. Mostly positive, it seems to have found favour with the Indian upper and middle-classes, the major propellers of swift international business in off-shore educational institutions. The same degree at much lower a price and much lower a threat (in other words curry bashing reduced to none)! Irresistible indeed. There are nods all the way at the prospect of indigenous universities buckling down to improve existing standards in the face of stiff competition from foreign counterparts on their own land! But is all the glitter really gold? Or is it a tailor-made alliance to facilitate foreign varsities to cop huge profits while we cough up huge fees? Oh no! The terms against repatriation of funds to the mother country take care of that, do they not? The first query to pop up in the mind of a layman — why invest where there is no profit?

Will these foreign varsities keep good on their promise of unrivalled quality education in their offshore colleges? One might say “why not”! After all they have an international reputation to maintain from getting mired. But with not even a handful of major foreign universities showing thumping interest in setting up business here at the moment, would we be right in smelling their fear about a possible dilution of quality? In the absence of proper regulation and supervision, are we at the risk of minor foreign varsities ending up the way some of our private institutions have, at the brink of losing their deemed status, thus jeopardizing the future of unwitting ambitious students? Can we confidently state that the proposed reform is cent per cent immune to corruption-fuelled malpractices that we are familiar with?

Probing deeper, one might just agree that enrolling at a foreign varsity is not only about bagging that coveted degree. It is about the entire experience of living in, studying in and attuning oneself to an alien culture and country. What fun would it be to be a proud laureate of a Harvard Law School degree without ever having had a sweeping glimpse of the picturesque Austin Hall, let alone a class in it?

In the absence of regulations on fee structures, foreign institutes will be free to keep their worth great notches above the reach of the common man’s pocket, thus making them the forte of the elite. Education, which is already cake and not bread for a majority of Indian masses, will further drift away into an elusive (even illusive) dream for them. With possible defections of faculty from Indian institutes to these high paying alien varsities, the quality of our own establishments may come down till the gaps are filled, holding their students liable to diluted standards. It makes me reminiscent of our indigenous soap industry’s relegation into the background and final vanishing act; the result of free influx of foreign luxury soaps with the ushering in of the era of liberalization.

In the event of only third-rate institutes making an inflow, the benefit of acquiring low cost foreign education on Indian soil will be lost, as moneyed elites will most definitely opt to sail out abroad to the original institutions rather than settle for a cheaper substandard substitute. An overwhelming majority of students shipping offshore for an education have plans to settle abroad. For this class of students, a foreign university on Indian soil will never be the more attractive option, given the alternative.

In a nutshell, the proposed Bill looks all set to spell havoc with our education system. Foreign universities do not make up for the much needed breath of competition to make lax private colleges fall into line. Going half a mile extra to regulate underperforming private colleges can make them race towards milestones without resorting to much gimmickry. And the solution to dwindling number of seats in Indian colleges can very well be mitigated by opening up evening shifts in single shift colleges. Not only will this narrow down the student to vacancy ratio, it will also entail optimum untilisation of available resources and infrastructure.

At the onset and till the end, the basic function of a varsity should be to educate. And education always begins with elementary training. In a developing country like India, where socio-economic conditions forbid a gaping majority from accessing a basic slate and abacus, it is unlikely that introduction of foreign universities with hefty price tags will bring about an educational revolution. The need of the hour is to set up an efficient system of education in the country and erect enough institutes offering affordable schooling to our teeming millions, our most important resource that we seldom invest in, rather than renting surrogacy to inflated futility. Promote inexpensive education rather than use it as a profit-minting enterprise. The “products” will prosper to bring in profits unimaginable in today’s context.

The writer is an editor at Youth Ki Awaaz.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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