Last year, while analyzing two years of Modi government, we had underlined the ‘unrelenting authoritarian assaults on the campuses and students in the wake of the imposition of RSS’ agenda of Hindutva’. We had also noted the economic attacks on students and seen how the period had been one of ‘growing struggles and resistance, with student movement emerging as a catalyst in the movement against authoritarianism.’ After one year, all those inferences have only grown further.

Destruction of Public Education

The goal of increasing the public spending in education to 6% of GDP has been repeated numerous times in the last 50 years starting right from the  Indian Education commission (1964-66) headed by Daulat Singh Kothari. Prakash Javadekar claimed in February 2017 that India (centre & states combined) was now spending 4.5% of GDP on education. However, the Economic survey for 2016-17 shows that this figure is only 2.9%. Javadekar further claimed that India is ‘progressing’ towards achieving the 6% target. Far from increasing education spending, Modi Sarkar has ensured a dip in its share:

Javadekar goes on to argue that while calculating the expenditure the private investments should also be considered (thereby negating BJP’s own poll promise in 2014 election manifesto). His assertion is not showing any novelty, rather it smacks of typical neoliberal dogma that seeks to quantitatively under-define the spending goals and hide the failures of the governments.
This approach has directly affected the various centrally sponsored education schemes including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) for universal public elementary education. While the recommendations of Fourteenth Finance Commission (FFC) makes it mandatory for the states to spend 40% on schemes like SSA (up from earlier 25%); centre has successively failed to fulfill its own commitments. In 2017-18 for instance, while MHRD estimated a resource demand of Rs 55,000 crores for SSA, only Rs. 23,500 crore was allocated, that is, 42.7% of the approved outlay.

Meanwhile, forced by the deterioration of learning in govt. schools, more and more parents are being forced to send their children to private schools that extort exorbitant fees and charges. All over the country, parents’ associations have been protesting against this racket but to no avail. Although CBSE issued a circular that schools should not indulge in such malpractices, the managements paid no heed. This is because of the close nexus between politicians of several bourgeois parties and educational institutions. The central and state govts. are silently allowing this to continue because they are committed to privatisation at any cost.

Students from the dalits, Adivasis, backward minorities and women have been hit the most. The fund crunch has led to long delays in the disbursal of fellowships causing immense hardship to students from these sections, majority of whom are first generation learners and are entirely dependent on the fellowship to continue their higher education. The illegal and draconian push towards drastically reducing the research seats in public universities will further impact the marginalized sections the most. JNU (which through its historical admission policy and deprivation point system based on regional & gender deprivation enabled the students from the most deprived sections to reach higher education) has been the first victim of this policy offensive and similar seat cuts are now being witnessed in other universities like Patna, Wardha and Jadavpur.

Escalated Privatization and Commercialization

This period has seen aggressive push from the central government and UGC to arm-twist the colleges to apply for ‘autonomous status’. It needs to be noted that the idea of ‘autonomous colleges’ in its present form was first mooted by Birla-Ambani committee during the NDA-1. The UGC’s 12th plan document on the ‘Guidelines for autonomous colleges’ says that the fund given by commission as autonomous grant cannot be used for creation of posts, payment of salary to any of the college staff, payment of honorarium, or to meet normal college contingency requirement or subsidies. It also adds that the examination fee should be fixed so that income from fee can meet the expenditure on examinations and other staff appointed in examination cell.
UGC already has over 575 autonomous colleges in the country. Of these, 167 are government institutions. Premier institutions such as Loyola College, Chennai, and St Xavier’s Colleges in Mumbai and Kolkata have already been granted autonomy. The erstwhile Presidency College in Kolkata has been granted the status of a deemed university. Most of the government autonomous colleges are struggling with the financial and academic aspects of autonomy. In effect, there is a big mismatch between the stated claims and the actual reality of the entire autonomy process.

‘Autonomy’ is being linked to academic excellence and only those institutions which have been awarded a minimum of B grade 3 times in the last 10 years are eligible to apply for the autonomous status. The ranking of educational institutions hence is directly related to the push towards autonomy agenda. The ‘India Ranking Report 2017’ as per the National Institutions Ranking Framework (NIRF) has been released recently. Both, ‘autonomy’ and ‘ranking’ are vehicles of privatization, which in turn means that education will become costlier, accessible to only the elite. For the vast majority of people, their children will have to go through D-grade institutions, if at all.

On the one hand, there is a tiny minority of “elite” institutions and on the other hand, a vast number of institutions which are struggling with faculty shortage, cramped classrooms and inadequate infrastructure.

Another aspect is that a set of pre-conditions has been laid down to get access to funds: implementation of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), semesterization, and compulsory accreditation among others. Moreover funding for higher education under RUSA will be norm based as well as performance based. This basically means that the state governments or universities won’t have any room to modify the system according to their specific conditions. Funding will be linked to the performance of the institution based on set criteria (which would include student-teacher ratio, infrastructure, examination results etc.). This would effectively spiral into increasing the already existing inequalities.

Gimmicks in the name of Policy revamp

This government is characterized by launching of new schemes and slogans after every few months. The previous UPA regime was characterized by many of the current ministers, who were at that time sitting in opposition, as ‘policy paralysis’. However, the current regime has moved further back. While on one hand public education is being sought to be dismantled; on the other hand there is absolutely no policy direction. Modi government had claimed to put in place new National Education Policy within 100 days of taking power. The report prepared by the TSR Subramaniam Committee has been put in back burner and so has the draft report prepared by the HRD ministry. There is absolutely no clarity on the direction which the NEP will take in the coming days. This is lack of policy direction doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t have a perspective. It is ruthlessly pursuing its two-fold objectives of destroying public education to pave the way for privatization and the saffronisation of all education – from primary school to higher levels. But there is no public policy. 

Hindutva offensive

Education has always been close to the Hindutva agenda of the Sangh Parivaar. The Hindutva offensive is characterized by indoctrination of young children through the network of RSS-run schools, tampering with school syllabus & history text books, sabotage of academic institutions, and so on. Simultaneously, an attempt is being made to detach public institutions from larger society. In fact the neoliberal academic reforms would lead to further detachment of the university from the larger society (since the social consciousness attached with education would get eroded). We can apprehend that the current trajectory will lead to further decimation of the social and political role of the public institution.

However, it is not that all this is going unchallenged. As the offensive from the government and saffron storm troopers intensifies, we are witnessing strong resistance building from within the student community, with new sections getting mobilized and saffron forces getting marginalized with new political articulations.