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Shopping for education

The haste to implement the 4-year graduation programme will permit the US and the West to control the supply chain of higher education in India. Sitaram Yechury writes

columns Updated: Jun 04, 2013, 02:55 IST
Sitaram Yechury
Sitaram Yechury
Hindustan Times

The confusion over Delhi University’s decision, spearheaded by its vice-chancellor, to replace the existing three-year graduation course with a four-year programme gets compounded as the admissions process for the new academic year begins. Aside from the merits and demerits of such a seminal change, students are being forced to consider the ‘benefits’ of spending an extra year, delaying their entry into employment, for the very same degree that they can get in any other university. Parents, in turn, are forced to consider whether it is well worth it to spend for an extra year for the very same degree.

Many influential people have suggested that this proposal must be properly thought through and not be bulldozed in a hurry. Contrary viewpoints were brushed aside invoking the bogey of the Left, propagating that everyone else is on board and the only opposition is coming from the Left. It is, indeed, flattering to have the likes of Ramachandra Guha, Arundhati Roy, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Shahid Amin, Krishna Kumar, to mention only a few, being condemned with the Left (may their tribe increase!).

The President of India as the visitor of the university, the vice president as its chancellor, the prime minister, the minister for human resources development — have all expressed the need for re-visiting this decision that has been hastily pushed through. Notwithstanding the fact that the Delhi University was established as a central university by an Act of Parliament, the government chose to stand on the sidelines ‘upholding’ the ‘autonomy’ of the university. It is, indeed, ironical that autonomy, so often trampled upon by the government of the day, has today become the cloak to push through a change that will affect the lives of lakhs of students, bringing about a major change in our country’s system of higher education. For over three decades now, the education system was rationalised and made uniform through the implementation of the 10+2+3 system. How can a premier central university change this system unilaterally?

Herein lies a deeper design. The HRD minister of state, spilled the beans by saying, “Indian students with 10+2+3 were made to do an extra year in the US. It was frustrating for many.” Catering to at best, 1% who find admission in the US, such a change spells the beginning of dovetailing our higher education to the system of 12+4 followed by the US. This has grave consequences for our county’s future.

The Left has constantly argued for vastly expanding the access to higher education from the present woefully small numbers who manage to benefit from the demographic advantage that India currently enjoys. Instead, what we see is a comprehensive effort to change the system to dovetail India’s system with the US system. This opens up floodgates for foreign education providers to set-up ‘shops’ in India and make big money. The University Grants Commission has recently constituted a committee to prepare a single Bill for administration of all central universities in the country. There are 43 central universities in the country today. Except for 12 new central universities established by an Act of Parliament in 2009, all others have been established under separate Acts and have their own character and different statutes. There are at least four Bills on higher education pending before Parliament. Education is currently in the Concurrent List. The state governments have their rights over the establishment and administration of the universities. Four former chief justices of India have gone on record to say that these Bills take away the rights of the state governments and, if enacted as law, will be ultra-virus of the Constitution.

Yet, the government is hurriedly pushing ahead with these measures. Such changes will permit the US and the West to control the supply chain of higher education in India. Such control becomes important in a situation when the second language in the Silicon Valley is classified as Indian. The NASA would be crippled if scientists of Indian origin were to be removed. There is growing apprehension in the West that India, even with the limited access it provides for higher education, produces more intellectually trained and skilled manpower every year than all the universities of the European Union put together. This supply chain in India needs to be controlled in order to prevent India from becoming an important component of the emerging global knowledge society. Once the Indian system is dovetailed, the access for Indians to higher education in the US and the West can be controlled by various measures like visa restrictions etc. Further, this intellectual resource can be utilised to further their objectives.

We are today nullifying the seminal conclusions of the Dr S Radhakrishnan Commission for University Education, which restructured the system of higher education soon after Independence, to face the ‘great problem, national and social, the acquisition of economic independence, the increase of general prosperity, the attainment of an effective democracy overriding the distinctions of caste and creed, rich and poor, and a rise in the level of culture. For a quick and effective realization of these aims, education is a powerful weapon if it is organised efficiently and in public interest. As we claim to be a civilized people, we must regard the higher education of the rising generation as one of our principal concerns’.

It is high time that we realise that we are ‘a civilized people’ and stop this sycophantic submission to dovetail our system of higher education and thus abdicate our responsibility to ensure the re-emergence of India as a pre-eminent global player.

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP

The views expressed by the author are personal

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