Modi government’s actual game plan on higher education

The aim of the Modi government vis-à-vis higher education is two-fold. One is to treat it as a commodity and hand over the reins to corporates. Secondly, to create an atmosphere of a Hindu Rashtra

Modi government’s actual game plan on higher education
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Tathagata Bhattacharya

The aim of the Modi government vis-à-vis higher education is two-fold. One is to treat it as a commodity and hand over the reins to corporates who can then charge a bomb for quality education. Secondly, the RSS-guided state, like every fascist state, wants to control every institution of learning, knowledge production and opinion formation to create an enabling atmosphere of creation of a Hindu Rashtra.

When CPI(M) MP from Kerala, KK Ragesh, said earlier last week that the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre was essentially implementing the suggestions listed by businessmen Mukesh Ambani and Kumarmangalam Birla in their report on education in 2000, he seemed to be totally on the ball. Fee hike in universities, raising funds from internal accruals, depoliticisation of campuses, making education more industry-related and setting up of private and foreign universities were the crucial points of the report.

Just a look at what has been happening in Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Powai, in Mumbai and Ragesh stands vindicated. National Herald spoke to as many as six faculty members and students there, all of whom requested anonymity.

The average cost per student in IIT, Powai, is Rs 10 lakh per annum. This covers his boarding, food, education, cost of laboratory equipment and chemicals. In 2012-2013, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) used to pay Rs 5 lakh per student per annum. The rest was funded by IITs through fees and other incomes like interest on fixed deposits etc. In 2015-2016, this amount from the MHRD came down to Rs 3 lakh per student per year. Leave aside inflation, price rise and the introduction of new courses, the allocation came down in real terms by 40 per cent. This is not just true for all IITs but also all central universities and institutes across the country.

But how was this done? And why was it done? Till 2016, IITs used to follow the old system of central funding. Funding would come in two heads, plan and non-plan. While salaries, fellowships fell under the plan head, infrastructure development and introduction of new courses fell under the non-plan head.

In 2017, the MHRD abolished the old method and created three heads with infrastructure and development forming a separate category. While the MHRD continued to fund staff salaries and fellowships, it completely blocked the tap under the infrastructure and development head. Instead, it told the IITs that if they had to introduce new courses, which involve setting up of new classrooms, new laboratories and construction of new hostels and quarters for the new students and faculty, they would have to take loans from the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), a joint venture between Canara Bank and the MHRD.

An IIT, Powai faculty told National Herald that the institute took a HEFA loan of Rs 400 crore in the last year to meet its expenses and that it has applied for an additional Rs 400 crore in this year. He said the HEFA loan was taken was at an interest rate of 10 per cent per annum and came with a clause that the loan needs to be repaid in 10 years.

Now, IIT, Powai generates revenues worth Rs 80 crore per annum through fees, interests on fixed deposits, etc. So if this additional amount is sanctioned, the loan burden on IIT, Powai in just two years will come to Rs 800 crore plus the 10 per cent annual interest for the next 10 years. Thus, ten per cent of Rs 800 crore exactly stands at IIT’s current annual income.

So the entire annual income will go into servicing the annual interest while the principal amount stays outstanding.

The faculties claimed that this was not all. “The institute will have to take additional loans in the ten- year period. Rs 800 crore is barely enough. So ten years down, IIT, Powai will be looking at a staggering amount of debt which won’t be possible for it to repay. Thus, IIT will become a defaulter and will be put on the selling block just like Air India. This is the game plan. For a throwaway price, corporates will get to own a world-class institute where every thing is readymade. Then, they can charge a bomb from the students,” said a senior faculty.

Another faculty agreed, while adding, “The game plan is exactly similar to what they have planned for JNU and other central universities and institutes. The agenda is to keep the financially weaker sections away from centres of excellence. You will have to then buy excellence at a price dictated by corporates. If your parents have the money, you will be lucky. Otherwise, you will have to take loans. We are going the American way. As of now, nearly half of our students come from economically backward sections. That constituency will cease to exist.”

An economist at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU, while saying that the Modi government’s ultimate aim was to privatise centres of excellence, decried the move. “Only 8 to nine per cent of Indians are graduates. This will bring the figure further down. Also, educational loans of the American kind are not compatible with India. We have much higher interest rates and our wages are not enough to repay such expensive private educational loans,” he said, while refusing to be identified.

“Loan-based education can never be inclusive,” said Professor Ayesha Kidwai of the School of Languages in JNU.

When JNU students clashed with armed policemen on the streets of the national capital on November 19 to demand affordable public-funded higher education, a section of the media painted the protestors as ‘anti-nationals’ who refuse to pay room rents of Rs 300 a month. This has angered the students. Tushar Kumar, a student from the School of Social Sciences, said, “Even now, we end up paying Rs 3000-3500 for food, boarding and tuitions. Then, we buy books and stationeries. There are photocopying charges. The hike proposed would take it northwards of Rs 8000. My family’s total income is less than Rs 14,000 per month. I have a younger brother and a sister who is differently abled. How will they survive if they have to send me Rs 8,000?” Kumar’s father is a marginal farmer from Ara district in Bihar.

More than 42 per cent of students enrolled in JNU in 2017 were found to have monthly family incomes of less than Rs 12,000. None of them can afford the raised fees. JNU students feel their fight is not aimed at just containing fee hikes in the university. “Education is a right, not privilege. We are fighting for that,” said Deepika Saha, another student from the School of International Studies.

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where meritorious students could complete an MBBS course at Rs 6,000 including tuition, boarding and food has also come under the review scanner of the Modi government. According to MHRD sources, the revised fees could be anywhere between Rs 50,000 and 70,000 a year. That means for the four-year course, students will have to cough up between Rs 2,00,000 and Rs 2,80,000. That’s a mammoth 33 times jump one is talking about. AIIMS students and junior residents took part in the November 23 march in solidarity with JNU students.

Just when this edition is going to press, students at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, have started protesting against “unaffordable fee structure”. “Rs 1,68,500 for a ten month course plus hostel and mess charges are unaffordable for a middle-class student, let alone a poor fellow. There are students who would have to leave the course after the first semester,” said Astha Savyasachi, a student of English Journalism at IIMC.

IIMC is an autonomous Society under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Founded in 1965, IIMC is supposedly one of the best media institutes in the country. Societies as such are supposed to run on a “no profit, no loss” basis whereas at IIMC, the fee is sky high and increases at an average rate of 10 per cent every year.

Apart from course fees, hostel and mess charges at around Rs 6500 for girls and Rs 4800 for boys are very high, considering IIMC is a public-funded institute. “For the past one week, we are trying to seek redressal of our issues through dialogue but the administration has turned a blind eye, saying it is beyond their ambit to alter the fee structure. Now, that we have exhausted other means, protest is the only option,” said Hrishikesh, a student of Radio & TV Journalism at IIMC.

While students at institutes like JNU, AIIMS, IIMC have turned up in large numbers, the proposed nine-fold fee hikes in the M.Tech courses have led to sporadic protests from some students of IITs in Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi. One IIT Delhi student who participated in the ‘Solidarity with JNU’ march in Delhi said, “We do not have a political students’ union in IITs like JNU has had right from the beginning. That’s why we marched without any banner. Political culture takes time to develop.

Also, our students are scared of the administration. JNU students have the unequivocal support of their teachers. That is not true for us. Students fear that teachers who strongly support the policies of the present government at the Centre will penalise them during grading.”

A senior faculty from IIT, Delhi, agrees. “Now you know why Ambani and Birla proposed depoliticisation of campuses. It becomes easier for the government to impose its unilateral decision when students are not organised.”

The aim of the Modi government vis-à-vis higher education is two-fold. One is to treat it as a commodity and hand over the reins to corporates who can then charge a bomb for quality education.

Secondly, the RSS-guided state, like every fascist state, wants to control every institution of learning, knowledge production and opinion formation to create an enabling atmosphere of creation of a Hindu Rashtra. Creating an ideology-neutral constituency of students is a must prerequisite if that aim needs to be fulfilled. That is why it has filled up senior administrative positions in many higher education centres with pliant stooges of the government.

Students across India, from technical institutes to medical colleges to central universities, are actually not just protesting fee hikes, they are rising up to foil the government’s ultimate design.

They are fighting for their right when the government of the day is hell bent to turn it into a privilege.

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