By Roger Alexander
The front-page headline in the Times of India today (May 30) caught my attention since the admission season is upon us and friends and family are running around like headless chicken trying to get their kids into a “good” college.
There is not a single Indian university or educational institution (including the IITs and IIMs) in the Top 10. In fact only seven Indian institutions are listed in the Top 100.
The report goes on to say that China and Hong Kong have beaten India hollow in higher education. South Korea with 46 and China with 39 institutions make up nearly half the list.
“Forget the global education sweepstakes - no Indian institution features even in the Top 10 power list of the Asian University Rankings. That includes the blue-chip IITs and the state universities that hold Presidency status,” says the report.
The University of Delhi at No 60 and the University of Mumbai at a lower grade of 130 in 200 institutions on the list is what we offer our kids by way of “quality” education.
Another report in the same paper today says that on his first day in office the first file new HRD minister Kapil Sibal called for was on the Foreign Education Providers Bill making it clear where his priorities lie. India's education portals will now open up to foreign universities providing “world class learning”.
World Class Learning? Surely, you must be joking, Mr Sibal. Consider this: Just days before the election process began in April, the previous government announced the formation of 15 new Central Universities.
Shockingly, 12 of these do not have any land, building, faculty or any other infrastructure. But they do have Vice-Chancellors who were appointed by one selection committee in record time. This tells its own story!
I hope Kapil Sibal is aware that expenditure per student in higher education is probably the lowest in India among the emerging economies. Spending per student in higher education was only 400 dollars per student in 2007 in India – when Sibal was Science and Technology minister - way below developed countries like USA ($ 9,629), UK ($ 8,502), Japan ($ 4,830) or even developing countries like China ($ 2,728), Russia ($ 1,024) or Brazil ($ 3,986).
The Central Universities Bill that Kapil Sibal will now pilot, rather than place emphasis to autonomy and academic freedom, gives sweeping powers to the Visitor. Besides, the government has so far refused to take any measures to regulate private players who are making huge profits by charging exorbitant fees without subscribing to any standards of quality.
The Congress party has continuously attempted to open the higher education sector to foreign investment, which has not only accelerated the pace of commercialization in education, but also poses a serious threat to the intellectual self-reliance of the country.
On the other hand, while the government has actively promoted the commercialization of education, it has refused failed to bring any social control legislations to tame the profiteering of private institutions.
Indeed, the most striking feature of the education sector in this country in the last five years has been the hugely escalating cost of education, from the primary level to the institutions of higher education.
A legislation to this effect was sabotaged by the government. Now that the same set are back, don't expect change. Manmohan Singh loves the status quo. And why not. Many important political leaders in government are associated with the Congress and its allies and run such institutions to make mega bucks through exorbitantly high capitation fees, up to Rs 30 lakh a student for a medical seat. How can we expect regulations or control to be put on them?
Not only that, even government institutes have seen huge fee hikes. For example, IIM Kolkata doubled its fees to Rs 9 lakh last year. Kapil Sibal has on more than one occasion proclaimed that quality comes at a price, or something to that effect.
But while education barons are minting money, the plight of the teachers has been totally ignored. Under the specious plea of “there is no money”, a large number of teaching positions have not been filled up on a regular basis. Instead, lakhs of casual teachers work on a “clock-hour basis” and get a pittance as wages.
For example, in Maharashtra, these new recruits, with post-graduate qualifications, teach @ Rs 200 per hour for a maximum of 8 hours a week and get paid a maximum of Rs 6400 per month compared to more than Rs 25,000 that a regular teacher gets paid.
In the last five years every effort was made by the Planning Commission and the Commerce Ministry to push for a legislation to allow FDI in education. This was to honour the commitments made by Manmohan Singh and his selected (not elected) clique to the WTO and Indo-US Joint CEO Forum.
What kind of fraud FDI in higher education involves can be estimated from the fact that of the 144 foreign providers advertising tertiary education in Indian newspapers, 44 are neither recognized nor accredited in their countries of origin. 110 foreign providers are already operating in this country without government permission, violating UGC guidelines, but no action has been taken against them.
As a result, today while the Congress makes tall claims about making India a superpower, we continue to be one of the most backward countries in the field of human development. The Human Development Report for 2007-08 ranks India at 128th position in its Human Development Index.
In fact one “achievement” the Congress should take credit for is that things have gone from bad to worse in the last 5 years as India was ranked at least one place higher (127) in the UNDP’s HDI ratings in 2004. India (HDI rank 128, adult literacy 61%) is ranked below countries like Sri Lanka (HDI rank 99, Adult Literacy 90.7), Occupied Palestinian Territories (HDI rank 106, Adult Literacy 92.4) and Botswana (HDI rank 124, Adult Literacy 81.2).
And the likes of Kapil Sibal boast they will make India a Knowledge Superpower. This must surely rank as a sick joke, if not a cruel one.
Roger And Out