The state of higher education in India has witnessed drastic changes in these five years with new ‘reforms’ being introduced by the BJP led NDA government. The regime has faced several charges for systematically attacking the university culture by crippling research grants, curbing the freedom of expression within campus, not spending enough on higher education and most importantly privatizing higher education in India. The HRD minister, however maintains on the issue of reforms that “the whole effort is to improve the quality of higher education.”
With the general elections a few days away, it will be interesting to note the plans different parties have for education. This Lok Sabha elections will become a deciding factor in the future of higher education. The ‘achche din’ (a phrase used by the ruling government to signify the development they plan to bring to the country) have almost passed and before renewing the package of ‘aur achche din,’ it doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a parent, an unemployed MBA graduate (we don’t know how many of these exist considering the discrepancy in the data) or anything but a Bajrang Dal member, the state of higher education should concern you.
“Education must create minds free from superstitions, hatred and violence and become an important vehicle to cement national unity, social cohesion and religious amity. Our endeavor should be to inculcate moral, ethical and humanistic values in the individuals and the society.”
This is how BJP defined its approach towards education in its 2014 manifesto where it highlighted “equality of opportunity in ‘access’ and ‘success’ to all learners,” “public spending on education raised to 6% of GDP,” and its other goals. However, if one were to take a glimpse at the achievements particularly in the field of higher education in the last five years, they fall way behind the radar set by the manifesto.
India’s young population surpasses China making the former the world’s largest population of young people aged between 15-24. The state of education, in general, and higher education, in particular, becomes immensely important considering it forms the pillars of social security for the aspiring youth. One way to gauge the approach of a government towards higher education is to scrutinize the budgetary allocation for education. The 2019 budget introduced by Piyush Goyal vaguely mentions improvement in the education sector as part of the ten dimensions of vision by 2030.
The government has allocated 3.3% of the total budget on the education sector which is far less than the 6% promised in the election manifesto. “Higher education was allocated around ₹35,000 crore in 2018-19 that is a small amount for a country the size of India,” said Amit Kapoor, chair of the Institute for Competitiveness, India, the Indian chapter of the global network of the Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness at Harvard Business School.
In a traditional sense, if one were to trace the advancement of higher education in any country, taking a look at the global rankings (often critiqued for using western standards in a post colonial world) would be the most Indian thing to do considering we love report cards. Unfortunately, the ranking of Indian universities have gone down the graph from 2014-2018 with none of them making it into the top 100 and only 5 finding a place in the top 500. These rankings are based on several parameters which include research, quality of faculty and other factors.
While schemes like the Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship (PMRF) have been introduced, the government has also faced backlash for reducing grants and its tenure, it saw several major protests for the same. Within the higher education budget, the government reduced grants for central universities from ₹7,261.42 crores in 2017-18 to ₹6,445.23 crores in 2018-19. Support for IITs too fell from ₹7,503.5 crores in 2017-18 to ₹5,613 crores. Moreover, India’s expenditure on research was 0.62 of the GDP in 2018 and while India aims to build its quality of research such goals cannot be implemented if the budget allocation continues to dwindle.
Professors play a poignant role in shaping the capabilities of the student and defining the academic standard of the institution. According to a report by India Spend, one third of the posts are vacant in India’s central universities. India is short of professors, with 5,606 posts vacant in central universities, a shortfall of 33%, Satya Pal Singh, minister of state, ministry of human resources development (HRD) told the Lok Sabha on July 23, 2018.
“For the last 15-20 years, universities have been neglected. There have been no teacher recruitments. A majority of the posts are vacant. When there are no teachers in the university, the quality of education will be low,” said K. Laxminarayana, a Professor from the University of Hyderabad.
The government has also indicated a new regulatory authority which will monitor institutes and set academic standards but won’t have grant giving powers. The bill was presented in the Parliament in September, 2018 and is estimated to be implemented by March 2019. The Economic Times reports on the draft legislation for setting up a Higher Education Evaluation and Regulation Authority, 2018 (HEERA) or Higher Education Regulatory Council (HERC) say that once the new regulator is created, existing regulatory authorities such as the University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the National Council for Technical Education (NCTE) will be scrapped. The UGC and AICTE work under their own rules and the sudden change is likely to affect their performance adversely.
The five year time span has seen the awarding of the title of ‘institute of eminence’ (supposedly the new Miss India award for Universities) to Jio Institute (a non-entity as of yet). The defamation of a top ranking University, attack on students and student bodies, protests by students and professors to save universities from the demon of privatization which in the name of ‘graded autonomy’ leads to hike in fees, hiring of professors on contractual basis, all in all is turning university spaces into elite colonies dominated by a certain caste and class of people.
The government has received shade for the death/institutional murder of Rohit Vemula, the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmad, the arrest of professors and several other academics under the tag of ‘urban naxals.’ Even though this quick recap, in its focus on certain issues and its not taking in cognizance of the others, feels like the ‘Supernaturals’ theme song in the beginning of every season and raises a very important question: what is at stake this election? The answer is more than just earning a place in the top 100 in global rankings.