India

Over 10,000 march in Delhi to keep university education affordable

More than 10,000 protestors marched in Delhi on March 28 against HRD Ministry’s decision to grant autonomy to 60 universities, fearing this will take higher education beyond the reach of poor students

NH photo by Vikrant Jha
NH photo by Vikrant Jha

Vikrant Jha

The Federation of Central Universities' Teachers' Associations (FEDCUTA) and Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) on Wednesday protested the HRD Ministry’s decision to grant autonomy to 60 universities, including five central universities. The protest saw over 10,000 students and teachers march from Delhi’s Mandi House to Parliament Street.

This ‘autonomy’ is nothing more than financial autonomy, by which the central government wants universities to arrange for their own funds, said the protesting professors from several universities, including Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Aligarh Muslim University, among others.

“They are essentially granting financial autonomy; that is, they are telling the universities that the grants they were getting will be scrapped and the universities will now have to arrange for their own finances,” Sudhanshu Kumar, vice-president of DUTA, told National Herald. “To generate funds, the universities will have no choice but to charge students, placing humongous financial burden on the students,” said DU faculty member Aditya Narayan Misra, adding that “This pronouncement is a policy hoax.” “The so-called Graded Autonomy is government commandments for privatisation of higher education itself. These regulations seek to implement Government's will to privatise existing public-funded institutions and to encourage de-novo private institutions,” said Misra.

This is a step to make education unaffordable for the poor and the backward class, said several speakers at the protest, including Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s Education Minister and Deputy Chief Minister. “Affordable education is the right of the youth. But the government wants to shy away from investing in education. They want to invest this money somewhere else,” Sisodia told reporters. Talking to the protestors, the Deputy CM said, “this government only wants the richest 5% to have access to education. If this government is successful in its attempt, even my kids may be denied education.”

“This is India, not an RSS shakha,” thundered Brinda Karat, member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Politbureau. “Just like institutions in the US are being maligned in the name of autonomy, the Modi government is taking similar steps in India,” Karat added.

Congress MP Sushmita Dev said, “There is unrest in every section of the society, from farmers to job seekers to students. Still, the Modi government has turned a blind eye towards all the problems.”

“Every year, this government gives a subsidy of ₹14 crore for the food of parliamentarians. But the government does not have the money to keep education affordable. They want the students to pay for teachers’ salary. They are turning education into a business,” said AAP MP Sanjay Singh, asking, “Are these schools and colleges or pakoda stalls?”

The protesters also demanded scrapping of the Higher Education Financing Authority (HEFA). Talking to NH, Sudhanshu Kumar said, “After HEFA has been established, universities will not get grants, but loans.” “This means every university will have to open an escrow account. The principal amount, as per the new rules, will be paid by the institutions while the HEFA will just be paying interest,” added Misra.

The professors are also anguished by the centre’s decision to ‘scrap allowances’ to M.Phil and PhD candidates once the Seventh Pay Commission was set up. Sudhanshu said, “Now they’re not getting allowances, like the House Rent Allowance(HRA) and Travel Allowance (TA). In fact, once the Pay Commission was set up, the allowances have gone down by ₹3,000 to ₹4,000 for professors.”

Misra said, “This is the lowest Pay Commission in the history of independent India. Scrapping off allowances in M.Phil and PhD means you are discouraging students to take up research.”

“If research itself is stopped, why the rhetoric of Make in India?” asked Misra.

The protestors’ demands include

  • No to categorisation of universities and graded autonomy
  • Stop funds cut
  • No to HEFA and Tripartite MoU
  • Fulfill constitutionally-mandated reservations
  • End corruption in academic institutions
  • Exterminate sexual harassment from campuses—follow Vishakha guidelines

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