Model Act – A Corporate Makeover For Our Universities

T he UGC has proposed a Model Act that will, if passed, apply to all universities of any description in the country. This proposal is in the form of a concept paper and a questionnaire, and on the face of it seems to be quite participative and democratic. But it doesn’t take long for teachers and students to realise that this ‘model’ is not created by the views of academics and students, nor is it based on India’s real educational needs. Instead it is dictated by the WTO as well as industrialists Birla and Ambani. In response to WTO orders that education must be turned into a tradeable commodity under GATS, the Birla-Ambani Report of 2000 had offered a blueprint of commercialisation, Govt. withdrawal from higher education and a ban on all political activities on campuses, presumably to preempt protest. Universities had already begun implementing these recommendations; the Model Act is nothing but an attempt to ‘repackage’ and ‘fast track’ that process.

Teachers were the first to rise up in arms against the Model Act, with an All India Strike on 22 January. AISA took up a sustained campaign nationally on the issue, and held a National Convention on 11 February at Tagore Hall, Delhi University. The Hall was packed to overflowing, with students from BHU, Lucknow and Allahabad Universities, Aligarh Muslim University, as well as JNU, Delhi University and Jamia Millia Islamia. Speaking at the Convention, student activists from BHU, AMU and Jamia pointed out that in their campuses, one could see a preview of the Model Act, in the form of commercialisation and a draconian ban on all political activity.

Prof. JBG Tilak, educationist at the NIEPA, addressed the myths that were the basis for the privatisation logic. He said that developed countries across the world had subsidised education. It was a myth that Indian students paid disproportionately low fees; in the US, for example, 15% of educational costs were recovered through fees, and in India, too, the cost recovery rates were the same. He said educational loans were being peddled as an alternative to low fees and scholarships. The concept of a loan, which demands collateral from the individual student, goes against the nature of education as a social good, and turns it into an individual good. And the Model Act, which wants to introduce ‘corporate’ and ‘commercial’ culture into universities, wants to turn education into a commercial good.

Prof. Dinesh Mohan of the IIT ridiculed the Model Act’s claim that it aimed to make Indian universities relevant to the 21st century. The Model Act, he said equated social relevance with commercial relevance in the market, and therefore proposed that Pro-VCs in model universities must be experts in ‘business and finance’. The function of universities according to this Act is to generate resources, whereas in fact their function is to nourish free questioning and dissent, and act as the conscience keepers of society. He said that in fact in the 21st century, we need more radical universities than ever before. Referring to the lowering of fees in IIMs and IITs as welcome, he said however that this was not a consistent policy of the government but a gimmick. He said it was being projected that students of IITs and IIMs were all opposed to lowered fees, since they could take loans and repay them once they got attractive salaries. This, he said was a myth. In the first place, not many graduates necessarily got such hefty salaries; moreover, such loans were undesirable as they would deter students from going for jobs in teaching or the voluntary sector. Thus, society would be the loser and only MNCs and corporates would be the gainers.

Prof. Vishwanath Tripathi of DU said that the Model Act had the same hegemonic intentions of imposing a fascist uniformity, as the Uniform Civil Code. He pointed out that diverse universities in India had emerged in specific historic contexts and had served specific social functions. To impose the same Act on AMU, Jamia, JNU, BHU and Shantiniketan would be to ignore their specific functions and needs.

Prof. Jayati Ghosh of JNU said that the logic of ‘Fund crunch’ was a lie. The amount of revenue lost by the Govt. in doling out tax breaks to the rich could have funded no less than 390 universities. So, the Government was making a political choice to subsidise the rich and starve higher education. This political choice is the basis of the Model Act.

The Convention concluded by adopting a Student-Youth Charter of Demands presented by AISA General Secretary Sunil Yadav. Through this Charter, students and youth resolved to make their issues, hitherto sidelined, take centrestage in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. Some of the key demands of the Charter were: a functioning National Youth Commission, an end to privatisation and saffronisation of education, punishment to killers of youth role models like Chandrashekhar, Manju, Satyendra Dubey and Sarita, and the inclusion of the ideas of Bhagat Singh in syllabi. q