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Higher Education In India Is On The Brink Of Collapse

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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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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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