Thursday, November 12, 2009

Perils of Privatised Indian Higher Education

I was reading in the newspapers that our honourable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his address at the Punjab University recently raised the issue of higher education in India. Talking about the need to enhance the quality of higher education, the Prime Minister spoke about the government encouraging private participation in higher education to make it available at an "affordable cost".No!!! That's not a typos!! You read it right..-P..r..i..v..a..t..i..z..e..d e..d..u...c...a..t..i..on at "a..f..f..o..r..d..a..b..l..e C..o...S..T" ?!! Only that Mr Prime minister forgot to mention who are the people who can afford it !!!

In India, deregulation and privatisation of higher education has been pursued by successive governments with zeal in the last two decades. “Direct” privatisation of higher education has led to thousands of private colleges mushrooming in the late 1990s that run the risk of disappearing as quickly as they arise. This situation reached its extreme in 2002 in Chattisgarh, where over 150 private universities and colleges came up within a couple of years, till the scam got exposed by a public interest litigation and the courts ordered the State government in 2004 to derecognise and close most of these universities or merge them with the remaining recognised ones.

Education is essentially a public good that has to be served by the government. Recently the Director of National Council of Education Research and Training in an extremely lucid article in the Economic and Political Weekly endorsed this view by saying that inviting private sector participation in education is not the correct solution to the poor quality education. The mistrust is deep rooted that the corporates would soon turn it into a for-profit activity and accentuate social inequality in India.

In 1999, Mukesh Ambani and Kumarmangalam Birla were commissioned by the government under the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry, to suggest needed reforms in the education sector( Mukesh Ambani?!! Education sector?!!) . The committee’s report, submitted in 2001, strongly suggested that government should leave higher education altogether to the private sector and confine itself to elementary and secondary education.( The report coudn't care to provide a rationale behind such a proposal!)

Further, the report urged the passage of the Private University Bill and also suggested that the user-pay principle be strictly enforced in higher education, supplemented by loans and grants to economically and socially backward sections of society.

The recommendations are essentially de-democratising by nature. The core of democracy lies in the elected representatives being accountable to its people. In a scenario of privatised education, who is accountable to whom? and India is still a democracy.. ain't it? (Oh! yes!! the exorbidantly prices election rituals keep happening....testifying that we are democratic!)

Absence of a long-term and coherent policy has made regulating the private sector in education an unmanageable task. Ad hoc policies and lack of a centralised control has led to the emergence of several actors of higher education. Internationalisation of education by allowing foreign universities to open franchisees in India has added to the confusion. There is a culture of “deemed universities” catching up now. A few universities, for example, the Guru Gobindsingh Indraprashta University in Delhi consists only of affiliating private self-financing colleges (Experience of Privatization of Education in India by Naraginti Reddy- .

In addition to this there are States where government-aided private institutions are converted to private self-financing institutions. Entry of private funds into higher education is not a case for the State to withdraw from the education sector. If anything, it is a call for the State to deepen its involvement and give it a different shape.

The State has lessons to learn from what it has done to school education in the past three decades. By encouraging privatisation of elementary schools and forgetting to expand and strengthen its own education infrastructure, the State has ensured that children who can afford only government school education have a defunct system thrown at them.

The Government of India has allocated Rs 850 billion for higher education in the 11th Five Year Plan. However, considering that the Planning Commission has identified a resource gap of Rs. 2.2 trillion, it is unlikely that the Government alone can address infrastructure needs in the higher education sector in the near future. This begs attention to private public partnerships (PPP). PPP’s are very different from “private” ventures, as the government does not lose control in a PPP. Relationship between the private corporate and academia must be developed in tandem with the government.

For Indians, higher education has been, in Stanley Wolpert’s (an American historian who specializes in the history of India and Pakistan) evocative words, “the swiftest elevators to the pinnacles of modern Indian power and opportunity”. These words make a case for the state to stop mindless privatisation and look at more desirable and feasible PPP models for the education sector- unless of course, the country is prepared to see the day when private educational institutions list themselves in the stock market-- all in the name of catering to the insatiable demand for “quality” education.


Divya said...

Dear Ms Nisha
Congratulations on an amazing piece. Looking forward to more such thought provoking posts from you in the future. I am a huge fan of your writing!!!!

Divya said...

Dear I am the fire I am the light!!!
HABBY BURDAY to you!!!! HABBY BURDAY to you!!!! HABBY BURDAY to you!!!! HABBY BURDAY dear one year old blog... HABBY BURDAY to you!!!!