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Govt of India "corporatising" education in the name of autonomy, undermining backward students' aspirations

By Our Representative
The People’s Tribunal on Attack on Educational Institutions, held in New Delhi on April 11-13, has taken strong objection to the recent decision by the Union ministry of human resource to grant autonomy to public institutions, calling it "an example of how the state is seeking to ensure that students from poor and backward communities are driven to the periphery and denied access to equal, quality and affordable education."
Organised by the People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Space in India (PCSDS), the jury panel of the tribunal comprised Justice (Retd) Hosbet Suresh, Justice (Retd) BG Kolse Patil, Prof Amit Bhaduri, Dr Uma Chakravarty, Prof TK Oommen, Prof Vasanthi Devi, Prof Ghanshyam Shah, Prof Meher Engineer, Prof. Kalpana Kannabiran and Ms Pamela Philipose. Prof Romila Thapar was the Chair of the plenary session of the tribunal.
Testimonies of 120 students and teachers from close to 50 institutions and universities1 spread across 17 states were considered by the jury panel; 49 testimonies were deposed orally at the tribunal. Along with these testimonies, there were 17 expert submissions before the tribunal.
A statement issued by PCSDS following the tribunal proceedings says, "In the name of autonomy, vocationalised and market friendly courses are now being promoted. Consequently, institutions that once had good representation of SC, ST and OBC students are now in danger of losing their presence, precisely because these institutions have introduced fee structures that are completely unaffordable."
During the hearing it was found, says PCSDS, that "students are in a state of desperation" and the "diversity of representation of students in some of these prestigious institutions are in danger of being undermined by unaffordable fee structures introduced during the recent past. Along with this are certain entrance models imposed by the Centre that have worked against the interests of local students."
According to PCSDS, "Structural adjustments in higher education has had many negative impacts on students and teachers. The rising ad hocism of teaching staff has created uncertainty among the teachers and undermined critical thinking of both staff and students. For example, since the mid 80s there have been very few permanent appointments in the universities in Madhya Pradesh and the University of Delhi is believed to have 5000 vacancies at present."
Pointing out that "this has severely impacted the quality of education and the capacity for questioning", with the government "abdicating its constitutional responsibility in funding education", PCSDS says, "Today we are witnessing not only the privatisation of higher education but also its corporatisation. This has impacted directly on country’s literacy level which is stagnating at 75%. In the process, state universities have been reduced to examination boards."
Raising alarm at saffronisation of education, PCSDS says, "Local cultural resources have been appropriated by the Hindutva forces in order to buttress their own presence in local educational institutions. In Assam, there are 500 RSS controlled schools under the name of Shankar Debo Shishu Niketan - 1.6 lakh students are accessing these institutions. The secular philosophy of Shankar Debo has in this way been taken over to project the Hindutva ideology."
Then, it says, "While essays such as Ramanujan’s 300 Ramayanas have been knocked out of the syllabus, the Sanskrit department of the Delhi University is said to be undertaking a 'thorough' study of history to prove that Aryans were indigenous to India. We were told that RSS’s eight point guide to education is now providing the programmatic framework for these shifts. This is impacting both students and staff."
PCSDS further says, "An example cited from one of the prominent universities of Uttar Pradesh where teachers who had no academic qualification have been appointed to positions of authority on the basis of their affiliations with Hindutva outfits", adding,"The ABVP has been privileged in many ways within the universities. For instance, in one case in Bihar these students were the only ones who have 'acquired' 75% attendance showing how they are privileged in order to disempower other students."

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