CMP On Education

The NDA Government saffronised education, distorting curricula and textbooks and appointing RSS nominees in key posts – all in a bid to inject poison into young minds. The CMP of UPA government in the education section has identified it as the priority area but has so far been slow and unwilling to save this year’s batch of students from having to study these saffronised textbooks.

The Curriculum review should also not stop at just reversing the hack job done by elements from the Sangh. Curriculum at school levels in the country even prior to NDA, had under-played the struggles of the poor and the toiling, tribal movements, peasant uprisings and armed revolutionaries in the freedom struggle even as it concentrated on the heroes from the Indian National Congress. Role of women and other oppressed communities like tribals and dalits have also been underrepresented. It is also necessary that due importance be given to the development of a scientific and secular temperament so that students would not be vulnerable to the designs of the Sangh Parivar’s false propaganda.

Saffronisation was, however, only part of the damage inflicted by NDA in the area of education. Education both at school and higher levels have been associated with externally funded destructive interventions of private players. Be it the Birla Ambani report or the Model Act for Universities, interference with the autonomy of institutions or privatisation in the area of higher education and elementary education, the entire education system today is standing against the poor of all communities. In fact, saffronisation is not about communalisation alone; it encompasses the project of blunting the social sensitivity of education and the questioning urge of students. And the NDA sought to do this, not just by Hindutva ideology, but by trying to introduce ‘corporate’ and ‘commercial’ culture in educational institutions; such corporatisation weakens the immunity of students to thee deadly viruses of Hindutva. Only an emphasis on scientific, rational education driven by the needs of a progressive society rather than by the market, can create an educational system and a young generation that can resist saffronisation. Will Arjun Singh’s ‘detoxification’ drive make any moves towards ridding education of the twin poisons of communalisation and commercialisation? What do the UPA and CMP have in store for these questions? Radhika Menon discussed these issues with two senior educationists. Below, we reproduce the interview with Prof Anil Sadgopal and Prof JBG Tilak.

"Higher Education Must Be Funded by the State"

--JBG Tilak

RM: What are the challenges facing Higher Education in the country and do you think the CMP of the UPA government holds any promise for tackling these challenges?

JBGT: Except that of restoring autonomy, which was lost under the previous government, the CMP does not refer to the issue of higher education at all, this is quite unfortunate. It was expected of the government to come out clearly about the concerns on privatization of education, and internationalization of education— export and import of education after WTO came into force. The CMP does not refer to anything of this kind. Basically higher education has been neglected for quite sometime. Several programmes were launched for basic education, they are not undue but in case of higher education it is being said that it will be taken care of by the market.

RM: With the privatization/ internationalization of education what do you think can happen to the education system within the country? How do you think it can possibly be stalled?

JBGT: Ideally, both privatization and internationalization of education needs to be stopped. Definitely that would be the best for the development of education and for equity … I am not sure how far it is pragmatically possible after having allowed privatization to take place for the last decade or more. Today, even without a national parliament legislation, (note that the private university bill is still pending in Rajya Sabha), there has emerged a large number of private universities. But what is clearly possible and absolutely essential is that, there has to be a strong regulatory mechanism to check the growth of private universities. Otherwise we would have a large number of fake and cheap universities and that will really push down the quality of education as a whole. It has happened even in countries, which earlier went for large-scale privatisation. In fact, quite interestingly South American countries are trying to go back to a state dominated higher education system.

The question is how to develop a coherent long-term policy for higher education and a clear vision for expanding good quality higher education for the larger population, which we lack. There is no evidence internationally of good quality higher education being developed or spread across the country relying heavily on private sector. It happened to some extent in South American countries but then higher education could not transform the South American countries into economically and socially prosperous societies; it did not help in social and economic development; even for that matter it did not help in creating high quality higher education system as in say European countries.

RM: You mentioned about the chaos that could happen because of privatization of education. Could you elaborate on that?

JBGT: The discussion on private higher education institutes started about 15 years ago, it was argued that we would allow private institutes to come but that it will not be in large scale. Many argued, look at the primary schools, 95% of students use public school systems and only 5 % are in private schools and that the same will be the case with higher education and the private system will be miniscule. Today we find that private education is dominating all across the whole higher education, not only in management and engineering areas, but also in case of Arts and Science colleges. The private institutes outnumber by several times the public institutions. This will have very serious effect on equity of education.

In the last 50 years because of the policies adopted after independence, higher education was democratized but now with increasing privatization people will not be able to even dream of higher education. The government BJP, Congress or UF whichever one came to power in the last 10 years, deliberately allowed and in fact asked the higher education institutions to generate their own money. It reached catastrophic levels in the IIM case and the previous government had to wake up to it. But I was hoping that the efforts to reduce fees would continue and would not confine itself to IIMs but would cover a larger number of higher education institutes.

RM: The fee cut imposed by the NDA government in IIM has been reversed. Do you think autonomy is to do with control over fees charged? Can’t fees be accessible while autonomy is maintained?

JBGT: We have to distinguish between financial autonomy, academic autonomy and administrative autonomy. But unfortunately that was never done. Most higher education institutes in the world are financed by the state and we can’t say that the European universities are not autonomous, even when they receive 80-90% of funds from the state. Look at the judiciary, it is funded completely by the government but no one says that it is not autonomous. We have to distinguish between financial autonomy and other autonomies. If someone says that financial autonomy from the government is the only way to academic autonomy that is wrong.

The government has no choice but to intervene, sooner or later, because the situation is getting uncontrollable. If the government intervenes to have its own people in and to interfere with the functioning of the board or wants to have its own people on the board of directors then we can say autonomy is getting affected. But if it says that high levels of fees can’t be charged then that needs to be said, and I do not think it affects autonomy.

In the IIM case even when government said it would compensate the monetary losses of reduced fees, IIMs opposed. But IIMs are certainly not private institutions; they are getting huge amounts of public subsidy. Autonomy is being wrongly interpreted here. The CMP says that it will restore autonomy, now; if this is interpreted as financial autonomy alone then it means allowing the institutions to raise their own money and use it for whatever purpose they want. This is not what academic institutions should be asking for if equity and quality has to be assured.

RM:There is a discussion on a cess for Basic education in the CMP? Can’t higher education be similarly financed through necessary taxation instead of forcing individual students to cough up money? What mechanism do you think will work?

JBGT: Every one knows that cess is a tax on another tax and no public finance expert will tell you that sufficient finances can be raised for any sector completely from a cess. Cess can generate a small amount of money for a limited specific purpose, and not for the sector as a whole.

In 1993-1994 Swaminathan committee suggested a cess on corporate sector for higher technical education. Now CMP says that cess will be levied on all central taxes for basic education. Currently central tax revenues amount to something like Rs 250,000 crores. A cess of, say 1%, would mean Rs 2500 crores; and a cess of 2% on all taxes will generate Rs 5000 crores. This amount is not sufficient to solve the financial problems of elementary education. The total government budget on elementary education today is more than Rs 40, 000 crores; if Rs 5000 crores is generated by a 2% cess then the remaining 88% of the funds will have to come from common pool. So to expect that cess will solve the problem of financing the education is not a tenable assumption.

Higher education has to be funded substantially by the state. In most countries including the market economies, public universities are funded to a great extent by the government, about 80-90%. So the question is: where will the 10-20% of the funds come from. It can be said cess can finance 10 % of that gap but 80-90% of all higher education budgets has to come from the government.

"Education Policy is Being Dictated by World Bank"

-- Anil Sadgopal

RM: What is your reading of the CMP of the UPA government given the challenge of guaranteeing education as a fundamental right? How far do you think there will be a discontinuity from what was being practised by NDA or the earlier Congress government?

AS: The NDA government’s saffronisation drive generated more concern, but equally dangerous were its moves to dismantle the government structure of schooling. In fact this drive to dismantle India’s Consitutional commitment to providing free and compulsory education to our children, goes back right upto 1986. Ever since then, government policy on education was increasingly dictated by World Bank policies, which undermined the very concept of ‘education’ and ‘knowledge’, rather than our own needs.

As we entered the new century, the government tabled the infamous 86 th Amendment, which claimed to guarantee the fundamental right to education. What it did was exactly the opposite, by snatching away the right granted by the 1993 Unnikrishnan judgment of the Supreme Court. The amendment was to fulfil the dictates of the SAP and not for fulfilling the commitment to India’s children. It excluded 17 crore children upto 6 years of age, from fundamental right to ECCE and pre-primary education. According to the new article 21 A, even on the question of the education of children upto 14 years, education could be provided by the state in a manner in which “state by law may determine”. The constitutional obligation of the state to provide all facilities to children for education was shifted to parents through sub-clause k, relating to fundamental duties, where instead of asking parents to inspire their children to go to school they were ordered to provide opportunities to do so – a task which should have been that of the government. Instead of committing adequate resources available, the Financial Memorandum provided 30% less than was suggested by the Tapas Majumdar committee.

In answer to protests, the then HRD Minister Joshi had said the lacunae in the bill would be taken care of by enacting a free and compulsory education bill at later stage. This bill was ready by January 2004, but it has more lacunae than the 86 th Amendment as it legitimizes low quality education for under privileged children and provides space for extra constitutional bodies to take over elementary education, by ignoring panchyati raj institutions. The law violates the constitution. It has alarming consequence as any part of India could be handed over along with the schools, buildings, thousand of teachers, district education officers to any non-governmental body which could be a corporate house or a religious body with the competent body to make its curriculum. Tomorrow you may have Reliance taking over the entire Alibag district (it already has a few schools there) or it could be a Vidya Bharati running it in an entire cluster of villages. Ironically the CMP makes no reference to being concerned about this dangerous draft bill.

The CMP also makes no reference to low quality parallel streams of education introduced by the WB. It implies that UPA agrees with both the draft bills and the low quality parallel streams. There are reports in the press that new HRD minister is ready to take the same draft bill to the parliament, despite being told of the flaws in the bill. The fact that CMP is silent on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which has already institutionalized alternate schools, EGS and another parallel system called ‘back to school’ camps, means that SSA would also be carried forward by UPA. Surprisingly, Finance Minister Chidambaram on 17 June recommended the shelving of the SSA schemes, not because they seek to pass off inferior quality education to poorer children, but because, in his view, they are ‘overly ambitious’!

CMP makes a disturbing statement, that half of all educational expenditure would be for primary and secondary education. This is a wrong category as far as the union budget is concerned because, till now, the terms used had been elementary education and secondary education. On elementary education, India is already spending half of its expenditure and elementary with secondary together constitutes 78%. Reading CMP in this context would mean spending less on both elementary and secondary education. Is it an inadvertent error? If it was then it would have been corrected, as it was pointed out to the PM, HRD Minister and Chairperson of UPA on 23 May in a memorandum that we submitted. The memorandum was given to leadership of CPI and CPM, yet no action has been taken to rectify. The political implications are for all to see.

The positive feature is levying a cess on all central taxes for funding elementary education. However one should also be aware that there are great limitations to how much can be generated through cess, the real generation of resources requires addressing two challenges yet to be articulated by any government, so far. One, closely scrutinising the educational policies, to identify those programmes, which do not contribute to promoting equitable quality of education and which siphon away resources from such priorities. Such programmes must be closed, for instance, the Navodaya Vidayalaya started from 1986 policy for talented children from rural areas. It was argued then correctly that there was no need to isolate talented children from others and provide them with luxurious facilities, which cannot be provided to any other school or children in India. The Navodaya Vidyalaya spends, almost Rs. 40,000 per year, per child in contrast to Rs. 800 per year per child in average government school. The total expenditure on Navodaya Vidyalaya is more than the total external assistance received by the country. Thus if Navodaya Vidyalay is closed down then you can save enough money to say goodbye to WB and others and still have surplus funds.

Two, it requires reprioritising the economic priorities such that large amounts of money are diverted from less important sectors to more important sectors like elementary education. This requires tremendous amount of political will in favour of the poor, for which there is no evidence either in the previous government or in the present government. RBI has identified a large number of corporate houses which together are responsible for what it calls Non-Performing assets, which are the loans that the corporate houses have not returned to the banks and the government. It is worth more than 75000 crore rupees at a conservative estimate. No action has been taken against them in contrast to all the action that you see against the farmers, when they fail to return loan in time. A country which can afford to lose 75000 crore rupees has no business to say it is short of money to provide elementary education to the poor.