By Priyanjana R Das:
In India, only 0.37% of GDP is spent on higher education and this has been showing a declining trend in recent years.
The General Agreement On Trade In Services (GATS) is a multilateral agreement under the WTO that came into effect in 1995. Since education is under the service sector (and I am talking particularly about higher education in India), the idea behind signing GATS is to turn education into a market-complementary arrangement, against the existing market-excluding arrangement.
Proponents of the market-complementary model suggest that in market-friendly western economies, high literacy could be realized not only because of active state interaction, but also because of a very significant role played by the private sector. The process of making education market-complementary is nothing but ‘commodification’ of education, in simple terms.
What the GATS necessarily means, is that with the billion dollar flourishing education industry in Asian liberal economies and western market-friendly economies, the process of education will be harmonized throughout the world so that all qualifications become equivalent and can be traded freely across borders, which not only emerges as a success model to trade education but also trade people. In this model, education is seen as a means of generating ‘human capital’.
To make education tradeable, which will in turn allow people to move around, education needs to undergo reformation. To do away with the traditional model of education and bring in reform, implementation must be carried out keeping the interest of students and teachers in mind and not just the commodification of education, else it will turn out to be another infamous overhaul as seen in the case of FYUP in DU.
In my very humble and honest opinion, the process of harmonization here should be renamed ‘polarization’ because the harmonization of education is going to be a harmonization with the system of education in the USA, and not otherwise. In reality, we are all being made equivalent to Americans in education as also in so many other things.
It will, in India, mean various people in colleges changing their college leaving age, or compulsorily having to pursue a masters degree for a year just to make themselves ‘fit’ for a harmonized education, as students do now for pursuing further degrees in the US. In different countries, people start their education in different ages. This will mean a worldwide reform if many countries become signatory to the WTO GATS.
The idea is that if some countries provide education for free, it creates an unfair advantage to the other countries. Why would a person pay for education in one country when they can get it for free in another country! This model advocates for unsubsidized education for all countries so that people can move and transfer education between different countries. The finance for such kind of education in this model is highly privatized as it will be encouraged by the way of loans. If this happens, education will be a luxury of the few and it will be even more inaccessible to the people we must make it most accessible to. The Government of India should instead encourage a right to exercise free and subsidized higher education in a developing young demography as in India.
Once the global market forces enter and once FDI is opened up for education in India, education will be in the hands of few people and the interest of student and teacher will be subdued and exploited in the name and the process of trade of education, leaving the poor even more excluded and distressed.
We must definitely not oppose foreign universities if they come to India and participate on the basis of educational and cultural relations between the two or many countries to exchange and spread knowledge. If we turn our pages, this has been a prominent welcoming feature throughout India’s history and was promoted by leaders of the freedom struggle like Tagore. But, the same is not the case under the WTO agreements. The foreign universities will come to India under the global trade agreement to establish profitable institutions.
Also, under this agreement, it is not mandatory that only well-established, good-quality foreign universities are allowed to India to provide comparable education and research facilities. This will heavily compromise with the quality of education and research in India. Any ‘service provider’ can easily establish a new sub-standard university in the country of origin and then establish an extended branch here. A survey report published by World Bank in 2000 on foreign educational providers states that “well-known universities of developed countries established low-standard branches in backward countries.”
Education must be an initiative of the state. We have fought for our right to education and we have been led into a growing literacy, not by market presence, but by subsidized and quality education which made many realize their dream of pursuing higher education. Education is not a trade. Education must not be put for sale from one university to another. What we must realize is that education is not a means for producing human capital from the investment made and income generated out of it, but it is a force that educates the mind.
Education gives people opportunities instead of making an opportunity out of people. It is not something which is concentrated as a tradable objects in the hands of a very few people but something which is promoted by the government, not as a market-led sector but as a sector that needs nurturing, care, research, development and growth. What we need today is not to orient ourselves with an education system best suited to the western world and overhauling our system to polarize with a system not best suited for our needs and not compatible given our resources at hand, but to develop our own and also respect the need and system of other nations. We are a developing nation and we need literacy of our people and education of our minds in the first place to develop as a nation. What we need is not privatization of education but striving to our best capabilities to make our system of education more and more inclusive and free. What we need is an increased percentage of spending of GDP on education.