Four years of the Modi government has seen consistent attempts to further commercialise the education sector. This is despite the Prime Minister having claimed that his government would raise the standards of public-funded universities to put them at par with global universities. All his actions since then have been quite contrary.
It has been three days since the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) is on strike, leaving all classes suspended, but there has been complete silence from the government and the University Grants Commission (UGC).
DUTA teachers have been protesting the centre/state's 70:30 formula for funding universities, among other issues. They believe this would lead to privatisation and commercialisation of public-funded education in the country, making it inaccessible to large number of students.
“One of the most draconian recommendations of the seventh pay commission is point 18. It states that central universities will get only 70% of the enhanced amount from the government and they need to generate the remaining 30% on their own. Similarly, central funding towards 7th Pay Revision for state universities has been reduced to 50%, that too for only 39 months. This was earlier 80% for five years,” said Abha Dev Habib, a Delhi University professor.
DUTA is demanding a complete rollback of this 70-30% model of funding as this push towards privatisation will make education out of the reach for economically-deprived and socially underprivileged students, including those belonging to the SC, ST and OBC and women. With over 60% population below the age of 25, this systematic destruction of public-funded colleges is one of the greatest disservice a government can do, said Habib.
“The public spending in Higher Education is being systematically withdrawn, shifting the burden of maintaining central and state universities on parents and students. Grants are being replaced by loans through Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) for any infrastructural needs of universities, and there is a greater push towards self-financing courses and financial autonomy (self-reliance). The scheme of Autonomous Colleges is a way to turn colleges of repute into teaching shops,” emphasised Habib.
“The 7th CPC notification is full of anti-teacher provisions. The withdrawal of advanced M.Phil and Ph.D increments has disappointed and demoralised the teaching cadre. This will go against research and faculty development. There has been downgrading of Assistant Professor at every level. Besides creating disparity between teachers and All India Services, this pay notification delinks our allowances from the Central Government employees,” pointed out Habib.
Says DU professor Abha Dev Habib “The public spending in Higher Education is being systematically withdrawn, shifting the burden of maintaining central and state universities on parents and students. Grants are being replaced by loans through Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) for any infrastructural needs of universities, and there is a greater push towards self-financing courses and financial autonomy (self-reliance). The scheme of Autonomous Colleges is a way to turn colleges of repute into teaching shops”
The UGC draft regulations notified on February 9 makes Ph.D the minimum qualification for entry in a teaching profession. There is also an attempt to increase direct teaching hours of teachers.
DUTA has been demanding the withdrawal of the March 5 circular, which has asked for fresh reservation rosters for SC/ST category to be prepared keeping Department/Subject as a unit instead of the University/College.
“This a U-turn in the reservation policy and as a result, the Constitutional requirement of 15%, 7.5% and 27% reservation for SC, ST and OBC will not be attained for a long time. This will also derail recruitment process in universities. In Delhi University, after a long time over 2,000 posts were advertised last year. Any change in the roster will jeopardise this process. Over 4,500 teachers have been working on ad-hoc basis for several years and are hoping to become permanent.
“So far, the strike has been successful. Even the students understand that the policy changes will result in a fee hike. We are hopeful that UGC will respond favourably to us. They have been saying that they would try to incorporate DUTA’s demands. The last time I spoke to the UGC chairperson was on March 12. There has been silence since then. If we are to look at Tuesday’s release from UGC, it doesn’t appear to be right. The government and the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) have been saying they are making a few changes, but they are mum on the changes,” said Rajib Ray, DUTA president.
However, UGC Chairperson DP Singh chose to not comment on the issue. “Right now, I will not be able to comment on the strike. Their demands are mostly related to the policy decisions of the government. Please ask the government officials about this,” said Singh.
“This five-day strike is a warning to the government and is a way to send a clear signal that teachers will take the struggle forward. We hope that the Government will open a dialogue to resolve issues and restore funding,” added Ray.
Teachers and students from across campuses are creating joint platforms to mobilise public opinion against such policies and to bring issues of affordable quality education and employment to the fore for the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.