On March 28th, thousands of teachers and students marched in solidarity across Delhi to protest against the alleged privatization. Organized by the Delhi University Teacher’s Association (DUTA) and the Federation of Centre Universities Teacher’s Association (FEDCUTA)
The day after HRD minister Prakash Javadekar annunciated autonomy for 60 educational institutions including 52 universities, 8 colleges, across the nation. The students and teachers across various colleges of DU called it a “half-baked decision”. Even though no Delhi University college made it to the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) list, they fear that this particular move would lead to ‘privatization’ of higher education across the country.
The march was against the graded autonomy, the policy of loan-based funding through the Higher Education Funding Agency, and negative pay and poor service conditions of teachers
What does ‘autonomy’ entails?
In simple words, ‘autonomy’ would mean that the institutions would have more freedom to start new courses, new departments, open off-campus centers, start research programs, design their own curriculum, hire foreign faculty, enroll international students and collaborate with top global universities without the UGC’s approval, unlike earlier.
While some are lauding the freedom that the institutes would get from UGC’s administrative hassle, like the co-convener of south campus Vishal Upadhyay (ABVP) says “granting autonomous status to colleges is a right decision as it would make the administration process faster and better, if we take the current scenario in colleges be it any work whether it’s about education policies or the appointment of faculties or anything else, it takes a lot of time in making decisions as there is a vast process involved. So we need to upgrade or system with changing times, however, privatization of education should not take place in the name of autonomy.” But many others see it as a crisis within the education sector, “students here are doing courses like journalism at a nominal fee whereas the same course in a private college would cost one around lakhs, now if the fees would increase how would a student coming from an economically backward section be able to afford such courses, this move would make education a commodity,” said Sonal Rajoria, a first-year student at Jesus and Mary College.
Impact on students and teachers
The public funded universities are meant to provide incentives to those strata of the society that cannot seek knowledge from private foundations because of their socio-economic conditions which restrict them. The main purpose of public funded colleges, which is development for all, comes to an end with this move of privatization of the universities, as the aim now turns into development and progress of those who can readily afford to get education from private establishments This sort of neoliberalism is a risk to the advancement and advance as it enhances the state of one area of the general public and prevents others from enhancing their lives. Thus, the autonomous status will lead organizations to self-finance funds for new courses and projects, which will be finished by hiking the college fee for students. Subsequently, economically weaker students and those from marginalized groups would not be able to bear the cost of education, making the academia an exclusive space for the rich. It challenges the core values and thoughts based on which these establishments were set.
The teachers are not only concerned about the prevailing retrograde service conditions but are also worried about the future of the public-funded higher education. “Moves like the 70:30 funding formula (whereby institutions are expected to generate at least 30 per cent of additional expenses on revision of salaries due to the 7th pay revision), the shift from grants to loan-based funding for infrastructure and expansion through the Higher Education Funding Agency and the push to introduce self-financing courses through the Autonomous College Scheme, forcing universities into graded autonomy whereby they will have the freedom to invite foreign faculty and introduce market-friendly courses are bound to have an escalating effect on the cost of education and bring down the quality,” said Rajib Ray, DUTA President. As of the teachers currently, sixty percent of teachers across DU are employed on an ad-hoc basis and no permanent recruitments have taken place, they are worried they will forever remain on a contractual basis if the proposed autonomy policy is implemented.
The current government who talks about “sab ka sath, sab ka viaks”, well this move is clearly not ‘sab ka vikas’.