Higher Education In India Is On The Brink Of Collapse

Posted on May 19, 2015 in Campus Watch

By Sunand Singh

Indian higher education is going through a tumultuous period. A series of hastened ‘reforms’ are putting the very foundations of our public higher education at the brink of collapse. Last November, UGC had sent guidelines forcing all universities to implement the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) from the 2015-16 academic session. It has now been followed by a ‘Make in UGC’ approach (very much on the lines of Modi’s ‘Make in India’) of preparing centralized syllabi for undergraduate courses, with universities being given just 20% deviation while preparing the syllabi.

These ‘model syllabi’ have only confirmed the apprehensions of students and teachers that CBCS is nothing but Delhi University’s Four Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP) in a 3 year package, only at an all-India scale. Most of these ‘model syllabi’ are exact copies of the FYUP syllabi, which were diluted and loaded with poor foundation courses.

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CBCS isn’t the only danger lurking around our higher education. The Central Universities Bill (2013) seeks to erode the autonomy of the universities even further. It puts in place a model of ‘corporate university’ with ample room for privatization and commercialization allowed within the Act itself. It leaves no place for stakeholders in decision making bodies and denies even basic democratic rights.

The Piecemeal Approach To Academic Re-(de)-forms

These policy level changes are an integral part of a piecemeal approach to academic reforms that is being pushed over the last decade or so. Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA) was introduced by the previous Congress-led UPA government and has been carried further by the BJP-led NDA government. It replaces the pre-existing multiple funding mechanisms with one centralised mechanism, with set of pre-conditions for the institutions/states.

These conditions include the implementation of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), semesterization, and compulsory accreditation among others. Funding 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. For example, let us consider St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and Rajendra Mishra College in Saharsa, Bihar. If funding is linked to accreditation, then St. Stephen’s college will continue getting more funds every year due to better ‘indicators’, while Rajendra Mishra College will actually keep on getting lesser funds every year. RUSA also has provisions to divert public money to fund private institutions, which are anyways free to charge exorbitant fees.

Semesterization and FYUP were building blocks in this ‘reform’ agenda which ultimately sought to create a homogenised higher education system. Similar exercises were attempted at a smaller scale in Kerala and Tamil Nadu too. The experiences everywhere suggest that these measures are far from achieving the stated goal of ‘removing the deficiencies plaguing the higher education system‘.

Such experiments are not limited just to our country. The entire European higher education system has undergone similar homogenization exercises over the last decade or so under the Bologna reforms. This period has seen a “violent imposition of a neo-liberal model of university education and the restriction of access to a more fortunate class whose membership is shrinking by the day.” The Bologna process has seen a withering of campus democracy, steep fee hike, curriculum changes at the diktats of the big capital and ruthless repression of student movements.

The clamour for vocationalisation and MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) among our policy makers, demonstrates a higher education model which our ruling classes desire. With increasing privatization, the specialised academic training will be possible only for those who will be able to shell out a hefty sum as fees. On the other hand, majority of the students will have to undergo vocational courses and training through MOOC that can only prepare them for the low-paid jobs. It is not incidental that many of the desired skills in the annual reports brought out by FICCI and CII, now find mention in UGC’s list of vocational courses.

The linkages between education and the requirements of the capital is neither new, nor is it bad per se. But, what is being offered today in the name of skill development, is actually preparing students for low-paid jobs without giving them any lifelong skills. The current model of ‘skill development’ is actually a recipe of creating precarious labour force, with minimum social consciousness.

Brewing Protests

Resistance in campuses across the country has started brewing over the hastened implementation of these disastrous reforms. Staff associations of 52 colleges, along with the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), have unanimously decided to oppose CBCS and the Central Universities Bill. Teachers across Kerala, Karnataka, Bihar and many other places have also expressed displeasure over the hastened reforms.

For a year, students in Himachal Pradesh have been waging a brave battle against the disastrous impacts of RUSA, steep fee hike, and ban of students’ union elections. The militant march to Vidhan Sabha on 18th March had seen unprecedented violence from the police.14 student activists were put behind bars under fabricated charges, 5 of whom got bail after spending 52 days in jail.

It is a pity that so called students’ organizations like Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) are maintaining criminal silence on these academic re-(de)-forms. Today students are facing forces which have come to power invoking nationalism, but are denying the opportunities of education to the youth of that very nation. The fight is on!

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