Assault on Higher Education: DUTA’s Struggles
HIGHER education in our country has witnessed a continuous and unprecedented assault in the last decade, since the UPA-2 regime. The same received a vicious momentum since the Modi government took over in May 2014 as evident in the relentless attack on the academic and the financial autonomy of the university system. University of Delhi is no exception to these attacks in the last decade owing to the continuity of policies by the governments led by both Congress and BJP. In the current academic year, the conflicts became more frequent, primarily around the issues of livelihood, namely, permanent appointments with the correct reservation roster, promotions and pensions. Moreover the university has witnessed a rapid erosion of social justice as evident in the government’s direction to change the reservation roster from the college/university as a unit to subject/department-wise: a shift which undermines the very ethos of the constitutionally-mandated reservations for SC/ST/OBC/PwD categories.
The neoliberal economic policy of the current government, especially its agenda on education is not only a continuation of the previous regime, but is characterised by rapid changes, including a well-planned dismantling of public-funded higher education. This has been done by a steady withdrawal of funds from the public-funded universities, forcing them to shift from the grant-funding to the loan-funding systems along with consciously promoting the private universities through rampant nepotism and concessions. The policy of graded autonomy which makes the universities autonomous to charge astronomical fees from students, or the disaster named HEFA (Higher Education Funding Agency) which forces universities to sign memorandum of understanding (MoU) so that they are forced to take loans, are all policies directed to make higher education a profit-making enterprise. Consequently the key stakeholders of the university system, namely, the teachers, the students and the non-teaching employees are forced to confront numerous attacks on their academic and professional life on a daily basis with new policy attacks. The biggest attack on livelihood has been the consistent policy of the government not to make appointments in vacant positions, both in teaching and non-teaching.
The policy of ‘adhocism’ in teaching and contractualisation in non-teaching positions has flourished in the University of Delhi for more than a decade owing to acute administrative apathy along with a conscious government policy. The term ‘adhoc’ is a euphemism for a localised form of contractual appointment in short-term teaching positions in the University of Delhi: a spectre which has taken over the university in a pervasive form owing to no permanent appointments taking place. The adhoc tenure is normally for four months, renewable by a similar period till the time a regular appointment is held against the same vacancy. The teachers working in ‘adhoc’ positions, despite having higher qualifications, are forced to work in exploitative conditions and are denied all benefits. They are given only the fixed amount of the minimum entry pay for any assistant professor and are neither given annual increments nor any other financial benefits despite teaching for many years. Though the University of Delhi has not included contract jobs in teaching positions unlike most other universities in the country, the adhoc positions are no better, forcing teachers to work in conditions which strip them of their dignity and equality of pay. To add insult to injury, the University of Delhi, in the meeting of its Academic Council on January 16, 2019, introduced a clause on ‘contractualisation’ of teaching positions in the ordinances: a step which would put DU at par with all other universities having a captive workforce of adhoc teachers. This last step has been the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the University of Delhi whose academic quality and the livelihood of the teachers will be seriously hampered by this retrogressive step.
The threat to permanent appointments has been further compounded by the sudden change in the reservation roster in teaching positions. On March 5, 2018, the UGC directed the universities of the country to change the reservation roster from college/university as units to department-wise rosters: a shift in accordance with the Allahabad High Court judgement dated April 7, 2017, upheld by the Supreme Court judgement dated July 21, 2017. This seriously jeopardised the livelihoods of at least 4000 adhoc teachers working against substantive positions according to the existing 200 point reservation roster with college/university as a unit. Moreover the shift to a subject/department-wise roster has massively reduced the number of reserved vacancies across categories, especially in smaller departments, thus undermining the constitutionally mandated provisions of granting reservation to the underprivileged sections like SC/ST/OBCs of the society. Owing to repeated pressure from the DUTA and other organisations, the BJP government has half-heartedly filed an SLP which got quashed on January 22, 2019, thus increasing the threats to the affected teachers. What is alarming is the government’s refusal to bring an ordinance on the matter, restoring the 200 point reservation roster with college/university as a unit: a promise made by the present HRD minister, only to remain an empty slogan on paper.
The permanent employees of the University of Delhi, both teaching and non-teaching – who constitute half of the total strength of the university – have to wage other battles of their livelihood, notably of their promotions and pensions. Nearly 3000 teachers have been awaiting promotions in DU owing to the retrospective implementation of the earlier promotion scheme by the previous administration during the Congress regime – a fact compounded by the BJP further making subsequent amendments which were mindless and irrational in nature. Even the latest Regulations of CAS 2018 have given very limited benefits to a small section of teachers seeking promotion whereas a large section of teachers is still left in the lurch. Denial of promotion to teachers is a sure-shot way to drive away talent from the teaching profession: a ploy which gives multiple benefits to the government. It eliminates higher recurrent costs on the promoted teacher, replaces a permanent teacher with an adhoc/contract teacher and thus denies all benefits to the said teacher. Along with promotions, pensions have been denied to teachers from 2014 when this government assumed power and instructed the university to file SLPs against the litigants who have won not one but two judgements on the matter. After serving the university for more than four decades, many teachers were denied their rightful due of pension – the sole livelihood in the twilight of their lives – unprecedented in the history of the university.
Since 2011, the Democratic Teachers’ Front, an organisation of Left and other progressive teachers, has been leading the DUTA for four consecutive terms: an incredible feat especially at a time when the trade unions of teachers have been practically non-existent. Despite mounting neoliberal attacks on higher education and the absence of any credible teachers’ movement across the country, the DTF-led DUTA has been able to lead successfully protracted struggles against both the union government and its trusted agents, the university administration on numerous issues, forcing them to reverse various anti-teacher and anti-education decisions. The rollback of FYUP in 2014 and the withdrawal of the notorious III Amendment to UGC Regulations in May-June 2016 owing to unprecedented mobilisation of teachers and students in the streets of Delhi were the most glorious phases of DUTA’s struggle in recent years. DTF-led DUTA has been able to forge alliances at different levels with different stakeholders: with different student organisations under the banner of Save DU to form a joint front with students against the education policies of the government; with AIFUCTO and FEDCUTA to form a joint platform on teachers’ issues on matters of livelihood and academic reforms; to form national-level platforms like JFME (Joint Forum for Movement in Education) and AIFRTE (All India Forum for Right to Education) to spearhead a nationwide movement on educational policies. DUTA led by DTF organised two historic action programmes recently to press for its demands: the first, a joint march of at least 15,000 teachers, students and non-teaching employees on March 28, 2018, on the issue of only 70 per cent funding by the union government on higher education with the rest 30 per cent to be mobilised by the institutions through its own resources – a policy successfully reversed by the might of teachers and students. The second action programme was recently held on January 17, 2018, where the DUTA organised a Long March of at least 4,000 teachers from Ramlila Grounds to the Parliament Street on the twin demands of an ordinance on the 200 point reservation roster in teaching positions and a one-time regulation from the MHRD/UGC on the regularisation of all temporary/adhoc teachers working against substantive vacancies according to the correct roster. This Long March accompanied a total shut down of the entire university: a strike action which happened sporadically in this semester in DU. Though teachers in the University of Delhi are generally reluctant to go on strike, this time they responded spontaneously to DUTA’s call for numerous strike actions: January 2, 2018 outside the venue of the meeting of the Academic Council; on January 8 and 9 in solidarity of the worker’s strike across the country and the strike actions along with the Long March and a dharna outside the VC office on January 17 and 18 respectively to press for the long-standing demands on the matters of permanent appointments, promotions and pensions. In fact all these action programmes of the DUTA are meant to build a nation-wide movement on education, especially with an immediate goal of maximum mobilisation of the teachers and students for a bigger and historic rally of JFME on February 19, 2019.
The teachers’ movement in the country is at the cross-roads: it needs to plunge into a decisive and far-reaching action programme in the near future to shape the contours of the movement. With the future of education at stake, it is important to build a nation-wide campaign by which education becomes part of a daily discourse and forms part of the agenda of the political class. Only a systematic and sustained movement of teachers and students can possibly make it possible for education to figure prominently as a substantive issue in the manifestoes of the political parties in an election year.