Being a basic human right, education should be free for all irrespective of gender, race, caste or economic differences. In India, only 10% of students have access to higher education, according to a 2014 report. Only 2.1% of Muslims are educated, while only 1.8% of the Dalits and people from tribal communities find representation in educational institutions. Furthermore, in rural areas, only 2% of the population is educated beyond the higher secondary level, whereas this count is 12% in urban areas.
And with the BJP coming to power, Indian academia has been continuously assaulted through the process of privatisation. Anti-poor policies have also been employed on-ground. The scrapping of non-NET fellowship was one such step. It limited the number of seats in government universities with minimal funding, thereby encouraging students to take loans and making them prisoners of debts. This despite the recommendations of several commissions, committees and policies – the Kher Committee (1948-49), the Kothari Commission (1964-66), the National Educational Policy (1968), the Secondary Education Policy (1986), the National Education Policy(1986), and the CABE Committee (2006) – all of which recommended an increase in expenditure on education.
The attacks on TISS (for instance, through a 55-75% increase in the fees for MPhil and MA courses) (in 2016) clearly demonstrates how the higher education scenario in India is already grappling with issues like unequal access, which result in a lower rate of enrollment and a higher rate of drop-outs. The assault on education gained pace particularly from the 1990s onwards, and is getting worse with the passage of time, as it’s turning into a very profitable market. I believe that the culture of fee hikes or the scrapping of fellowships are just various forms of attack on academic spheres through the weapon of commercialisation – against which the many TISS campuses are resisting through strikes and boycotting classes.
The protests across all the campuses gives a premonition that such kinds of attack may also befall other universities. As it is, there’s already been a 27% hike in the entrance exam fees of JNU, an enormous fee-hike in number of DU colleges, Ambedkar University, while the IITs still charge fees in the lakhs. A similar form of attack that was aimed at the Jamia Milia Islamia in 2016 and the Panjab University last year had been ferociously resisted by the students.
Making education a commodity can only lead to deprivation and yield inequality. Here, only the individuals coming from a significantly rich background can pursue higher studies under the banner of being socially-powerful. The present scenario seems to be succumbing to the direction given by the World bank for the privatisation of education. It projected education as a profitable market over which the industrialists could have complete control. It aimed at portraying students as competitive workers, who could adapt to every situation and acquire new skills and innovate – stressing on making education self-financed and relying on student-loans. TISS, in some way or the other, has been fighting against this sort of predicament on ground.
The ongoing strike by the students of various TISS campuses is suggestive of a struggle against the present attack. If the attack persists, it can make the institution thoroughly inaccessible to all except for a particular section of society – while the rest would be pushed into a den of loans. The present form of assault on education and the ensuing resistance that followed puts forth several questions pertaining to seat-cuts, the significant drop in the percentage of OBC admissions, scrapping of fellowships, reduction of scholarships, abnormal fee-hikes – thus clearly defining the status of education as being under rigorous attack.
A version of this article was first published here.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.