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What Is The Score For India’s Colleges On The “Achche Din” Report Card?

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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.

Students protesting at TISS, Hyderabad. The premier institute has seen a brutal shortage of funds and scholarship disbursal the last five years. (Photo: TISS For Everyone/Facebook)

“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.

A list of demands by the DUTA and FEDCUTA, who have been protesting the BJP government’s educational policies, most notably the 13-point roster. (Photo: Sanam Khanna/Facebook)

“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.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Virendra Singh Gosain for Hindustan Times via Getty Images; Narendra Modi/Flickr.
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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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