Vol. XLIII No. 14 April 07, 2019
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Student Unity against Commercialisation, Centralisation & Communalisation of Education

Vikram Singh, Sunand

A NATIONAL Convention against centralisation, commercialisation and communalisation was held on July 28, in New Delhi. Five student organisations namely All India Democratic Students' Organisation, All  India Students Bloc, All India Students’ Federation, Progressive Democratic Students Union and Students’ Federation of India were part of the convention. This convention was organised to form a common understanding on the challenges facing higher education and to wage common struggles against the policies of centralisation, commercialisation and communalisation of Modi led NDA government. The convention was a huge success as hundreds of students participated in this along with active participation of activists, teachers and academicians.

A five-member presidium including Dr V Sivadasan, national president of SFI, Amit Kumar, national secretary of AISF, Shashi Bhushan, convener, Delhi AISB and Bhaskaranand Delhi state president of AIDSO was formed. The convention began with a condolence resolution and paying homage to former president of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.

Renowned educationist Prof Anil Sadgopal inaugurated the convention. He outlined how various governments have been using public-private-partnership route to accelerate privatisation in various spheres of education. He categorically mentioned that without the PPP, no private institution can exist, as every private institution requires government support. PPP in practical terms is nothing but a process of surrendering public assets to private players. This model started with the school sector in which private schools were opened with government support in the form of cheap land and other subsidies. Today successive central and state governments are openly handing over public property to private players and hence providing them many opportunities of profit maximisation. All this is happening at a time when only 6 percent of adivasi children, 7 percent of dalits and 8 percent of Muslims, entering Class 1 are able to pass Class 12. He pointed how this whole approach to education is going to sharpen these inequalities further. The current neo-liberal academic reforms are directly related to the exercise of providing ‘level playing field’ for the foreign educational providers, following the WTO diktats. Our Country had seen the first neo-liberal push in education during the 1986 New Education Policy, which was resisted by a strong students’ movement in the country. He said the current phase of reforms require efforts at a much larger scale to rebuff them.

Nandita Narain, president DUTA and FEDCUTA, spoke about how the academic reforms in higher education seek to destroy whatever good that is left in our public institutions. She used the analogy of ‘2 minutes noodles’ to explain the disastrous consequences of the cafeteria approach in the choice based credit System. She spoke about experiences of struggles against FYUP and spelled out the politics working behind these reforms in higher education. In a very planned manner all these reforms in higher education are being implemented by central governments under the pressure of WTO. The present government is pushing these reforms recklessly without any due discussions and debates – even bypassing the parliament. All the democratic institutions in education sector are being paralysed. She compared the present struggle for education to the second freedom struggle and ensured teachers’ commitment to carry forward this struggle.

A written message from renowned historian Professor Irfan Habib was read in the convention. He hoped that the unity of the students’ organisations will not only be able to resist the designs of the government, but will also be able to fight for the real reforms, which our education system requires urgently.

National leadership of various organisations spoke on the occasion – Ashok Mishra (AIDSO), Amaresh Kumar (AISB), Vishwajeet Kumar (AISF) and Vikram Singh (SFI). All the speakers highlighted the fact that a historic unity has been achieved among the students’ organisations at a time when the impact of the adverse policies of an outright anti-people government can be clearly seen in all spheres of life. The attacks at all levels and in different spheres of education have intensified further in the one year of Modi regime. The policy thrust of centralisation, commercialisation, and privatisation of education, however, is not party-specific, but one that is supported by the entire ruling class to serve its interests. The Modi government’s sinister agenda of saffronisation makes this toxic combination more lethal. Neo-liberal assaults over education on the one hand and aggressive communalisation on the other are today the greatest threat to our education system. RSS-BJP is intervening in a host of educational and cultural institutions to further its Hindutva agenda and in the process, they are ready to trample upon even the basic freedom of expression.

Elected students’ representatives from Allahabad University, Aligarh Muslim University and Himachal Pradesh University also shared their experiences of the student unions in the phase of severe neo-liberal offensives. They spoke how there is continuous attack on democracy in campuses. Most of the colleges and universities are not holding student union elections. Where elections are taking place, authorities are seeing these elections as a hurdle in the way of their agenda of pushing reforms in higher education. Elected student leaders are victimised, framed with false cases and even expelled from the institutions. Presently 14 student leaders of Himachal Pradesh University are expelled from the campus for their struggle against RUSA and fee hike. Authorities are using Lyngdoh Committee recommendations to impact the elections for reducing the fighting capacity of the unions.

The convention gave a clarion call to translate this unity of thought into unity of action. It passed three resolutions – against centralisation, commercialisation and communalisation of education; for nationwide students’ strike on September 2 and on future tasks. The future tasks include state level conventions, followed by rallies in state headquarters and university centres. The onvention ended with a strong resolve of building an effective all India resistance against the offensives in education and creating way for pro-people education reforms.

 

Message from Prof. Irfan Habib

 

MEMBERS of the student organisations gathered here, friends and comrades.

I am most gratified that a number of student organisations have come together on a common platform to oppose the measures, actual as well as intended, of the present regime to commercialise and communalise education, particularly higher education.

I am sure it is no one’s case that higher education in India does not need reform. I remember form my days of work in the Students’ Federation some sixty-five years ago that we were then demanding the establishment of more State-financed colleges and universities, and lower fees and more scholarships, and more and more of what we called ‘scientific education’, all in the interest of extending higher education to lower-income groups and stressing the rational element in the process of learning. Free India’s resources were, then, limited; and, perhaps, our expectations were excessive. Yet the Kerala Education Act, 1958, legislated by the first Communist state government, became a model for State-financed education all over the country. In time our country invested more in education, and there were certainly elements of enlightenment in the creation of IITs, institutes for scientific research, medical institutions and multiplication in the number of universities. It was accepted on all hands that provision of education up to the highest level is the primary duty of the State.

12211After 1991, however, the picture has steadily changed. The corporate sector has become more and more dominant over our educational policy. The widespread demand for compulsory school education has been vitiated by abolishing all examinations before the High School examination, which too one need not pass. Thus the newly assumed Constitutional obligation to provide school education has been neatly subverted; and in many states if one really wishes to get one’s child educated one has to go to a private school and pay exorbitant fees.

By allowing ‘self-financing’ courses in the universities and colleges, the principle has been established that it is not the obligation of the State to support all higher education. This doctrine has led to the creation of private universities. The net result has been to raise the costs of education and to put money override merit altogether. With the opening of ‘self-financing’ courses and privatisation, the doors have been opened to a shift of education from the main areas of knowledge to professional or commercialised courses for managers and salesmen that businesses need. This would ultimately greatly harm the country, for there is widespread agreement that without fundamental research no country can innovate: it can only imitate. We see this in economics, where in most Indian universities courses on classical economic theory and history of economic thought have simply been abandoned.

What the present BJP regime is clearly bent on doing is to pursue this course further. As the joint statement of the student organisation stresses, commercialisation and communalisation are its two particular objectives. By privatising education further, it wishes to reduce expenditure on education, as on social services, choosing these areas for cutting its budget deficits. On the other hand, by increasing government control over universities it seeks to open the doors for a ‘spoils system’, whereby key posts would be filled by its sycophants who will thereupon implant religious chauvinism and communalism in all areas of learning.

I may here mention that from the purely educational point of view, there can be no objection to the semester system per se. It evens out the period of teaching, and makes possible a more flexible combination of courses; and for this reason, progressive educators in India in the 1960s and 1970s had called for its adoption. But they also insisted that its adoption required a better teacher: pupil ratio and it was far from their mind that it could be used to mix up private and public education or to combine totally incompatible spheres of learning, as seems now to be the intention.

I should like to end this rather long message by supporting your joint endeavour and hoping that your laudable effort would help to generate further public support for a rejection of this government’s plans, and also initiate an effective campaign for a substantive reform and rejuvenation of our educational system.