Privatization is a process of allowing certain state’s welfare services to be run by non-state or private parties. It is a policy through which governments abdicate their responsibility and allow private individuals and institutions to execute things and do the job for money.
Education is one of the vital services that a modern state is expected to provide to its people. It is a service that every welfare democracy is obliged to give in the most accessible form. In simple terms, privatization of education refers to the state’s policy of allowing educational institutions, both higher and lower, to be run by non-state or private parties for monetary benefits. In contemporary times, many liberal democratic countries across the world are increasingly trying to privatize this basic service.
In this article, I am basically going to provide a critical analysis of privatization of education. I would like to establish a claim that privatization of education in India is a destructive move and it is necessarily anti-poor and anti-people policy. But before giving a critical analysis of this policy or approach, we need to know little bit of history about it in the Indian context.
Education had been recognised as public good in traditional societies for a long period of time. Although the proper infrastructure and policies were unavailable, people saw it as a wealth for the betterment of their lives. They believed it could benefit individuals as well as the larger society. In fact, many third world countries followed the welfare state system where education had been one important sector in which role of the state was widely recognised.
In India, it was Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist policy to ensure that education reaches all sections of people. Influenced by Nehru, the central and state governments took initiative to some government educational institutions such as IITs, JNU, Delhi University, Hyderabad University are the fruits of Nehru’s policy.
But 1980s onward, neo liberal policies had been taken in several developing countries including India. Since then, the idea of welfare state had been replaced by the free market economy. Individual freedom and choices gradually became preferable to social choices. In India, after the economic liberalisation under the leadership of then finance minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, the state policy has also taken a backseat. (Although the private education system existed in India even before the independence in the form of Christian missionary schools and colleges). As a result, most successive governments slowly decided to hand over the school education to private sectors. Gradually, governments have started to reduce funding in higher education as well.
Now the whole education system has been commercialised where the buyers purchase the ‘education’ at prices. Economist Prabhat Patnaik termed the process as ‘commoditisation of education’. According to him, “the privatization of education which means handing the education sector to profit making entities. It is a desire to attract direct foreign investment. Likewise in India, policy makers in education sector often talk about ‘the striving for excellence, which is nothing other than making ‘education’ as a commodity.” In an interview he was asked about the competition that is provided by the private universities. He replied, “The competition presupposes commoditisation. The ‘quality’ that is supposed to improve through ‘competition’ in such a world where education is converted into a commodity.”
For instance, last year UGC granted autonomy to 62 institutions of higher education in the country including JNU, HCU, BHU, AMU etc. These are the institutions which have maintained high academic standards. It creates a huge debate regarding the increasing commercialisation of education sector of the country. Under this order, universities are being asked to generate 30% of the additional costs towards revised salaries for teachers and non-teaching staff on account of the 7th pay revision. But if this formula is implemented, higher education will become inaccessible to thousands of students. It definitely means that the burden of providing affordable education would shift to parents and students.
In my opinion, this autonomy definitely intends to give the financial autonomy to the administrators and management bodies of the educational institutions – through which they can start self-financed courses. It has nothing to do with teaching, learning and engaging with ideas of students. It has some far reaching consequences such as homogenisation of critical thinking, marginalisation of students from backward communities and sections etc. Subjects like gender studies, minority studies and liberal arts are bound to get sidelined too. The rich cultural diversity of campuses like JNU, HCU, DU would cease to exist.
1. Education is not a business
Education cannot be a business product or system. We are not supposed to do business in the name of imparting knowledge. According to Aristotle, knowledge is one of the most important virtues that defines the character of an individual person. If this is correct, then it is the moral duty of every welfare state to give accessible education to the every section of the society. State shouldn’t outsource education to private parties.
But unfortunately, this is what is now happening in India. Prof. Krishna Kumar said, “The policy to gradually let the state withdraw from higher education is based on the broader economic ideology that it is best to leave higher education to private hands. In fact, this had begun in professional education areas even before the liberalization process had started”. The governments are reckless allowing private individuals to run educational institutes. The private individuals are selling education according to the norms of the markets. As a result, we have failed to nurture educational values, critical thinking and path breaking research in our universities and colleges.
2. Education must be available to everyone
Education is a stepping stone towards a better life. It is a process of understanding the world more closely and critically. Without it an individual in today’s world cannot survive. So education needs to be standardised in such a way that it is accessible to everyone. It is thus, the most level making social platform. But if education is left with private sectors for the purpose of business then it is eventually going to go only to a privilege section of people. This means only the rich people will be educated and they will have the opportunity to dominate the rest of the society.
If democracy needs to be promoted, education is the first service that a state should provide to its people. Democratic values and virtues can be acquired only through good education. Privatised education cannot provide us with this because it is entirely dependent on market rules. Nehru had realised the value of university education long back. He said,
“A university stands for humanism. For tolerance, for reason, for adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people”.
3. Education is a basic human right
Education is a basic fundamental right. If we want to see the world as a fair place where everyone is given equal opportunities, education is what we require. Education should be free to all – both in elementary and secondary stages. It is essential for the development of human personality and moral living. If education is restricted to only a privileged section it will be a huge injustice to the rest of the society.
Education needs to be recognised as a basic human right. The constitution of India has enough provisions for this. It is the duty of the state to declare it as a basic human right. The government’s Right to Education Act, 2009 was a right move in that direction. But unfortunately, not much progress has been made till date.
4. The faulty argument of meritocracy
It is often argued that merit must not be compromised at any cost. Since Indian government institutions are bound by the reservation policy, it is believed that the only way to protect meritocracy in education is privatization. But this is not entirely true. Merit is not something that one is always born with. Merit is not hereditary as it is often believed. It is not caste based. It is not that only upper caste people are meritorious. People become meritorious because of certain societal opportunities and privileges.
Thus, those who argue that privatization helps us to protect meritocracy they are, in my understanding, grossly wrong. Merit depends on accessibility and opportunity. Nobody is born meritorious. Everybody becomes meritorious.
5. Affirmative action in education
Affirmative action is required for quality of opportunity. It is an action that helps the underprivileged people to compete with others with respect and dignity. Reservation in educational institutions is an affirmative action. It helps the backward communities and section of people to come to acquire education and compete with the privileged classes.
Competition in education or in job markets is fair only when the competitors are of equal strength. But unlike the western societies, in India there is a huge gap between rich and poor. We have diversities in terms of our caste, creed, religion and language. Thus, if we want to have a democratic society in the truest sense, the state must take some affirmative action in educational sectors.
In my opinion, reservation in educational sector is one of the most important welfare policies. It not only nourishes the under privileged sections but also strengthens the democratic ethos of a society. Any government discourages such policy must be criticised.