The Right & Right To Education

The New Education Policy suggests increasing spending on education from 10% of total government expenditure to 20 % by 2030. Howerver, there is no funding available for such an increase in India’s current education budget

BY CHANDRANI BANERJEE

THE rising dissenting voices across the country opposing a higher fee structure for higher education brings in one vital issue to the fore- how feasible it is to follow a higher fee for higher education model?

For almost three weeks, students of JNU have been protesting against a 300 per cent fee hike that will come into effect next January. And JNU is not alone, the protesting voices from other prominent institutes like IITs and IIMs have also surfaced.

For the past several weeks, JNU is making headlines as the protests turned violent turn because police used force and detained over 50 students and later released. Protesting students claim that a sizeable number among them does not have the financial liberty to afford costly education. So there should be a complete rollback of the proposed fee hike.

The university did announce a partial rollback and the matter is still under consideration that there will be complete rollback with the agitating students standing firm on their ground. The HRD ministry has set up a three-member committee to study their demands and come up with a solution. Meanwhile, the protests continue. JNU Student Union president Aishe Ghosh has said the students will not step back until there is a complete rollback.

The Indian Institute of Mass Communication has also decided to hike the fee for various courses for journalism and mass communication. The students are staging a sit-in for the past two weeks.

Speaking to Parliamentarian, Akash Pandey, a student and the one who is spearheading the campaign said, “Students from all walks of life come to the campus. These are not very financially demanding courses yet the government is not considerate towards the students. Students from different strata should get the opportunity to access quality education and we will fight for it.”

The situation in IIT Bombay is no different- the problem here too is -fee hike. Several M.Tech and PhD students at IIT Bombay protesting against a 300 per cent hike in the tuition fee effected in September. The IIT council recently brought in changes in the fee structure that included an end to the monthly stipend provided to M.Tech students.

The council passed a resolution on 26 September increasing the tuition fee from Rs 30,000- Rs 50,000 to Rs 2-Rs 3 lakh. The monthly stipend of Rs 12,400 given to the M.Tech students was also rolled back.

Sample IIT-BHU in Varanasi- Prime Minister Narender Modi’s constituency. As part of a nationwide call for protest at IITs against the HRD ministry’s decision to hike the fees and stop some of the stipends, the students of IIT-BHU joined the agitation last week. On the convocation day on November 7, a group of students protested and refused to receive their degree from Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank.

Ayurvedic Colleges in Uttrakhand are also dissatisfied by the hiked fee structure. It has been over 50 days since thousands of students of Uttarakhand’s private ayurvedic colleges have been protesting in Dehradun against a 170 per cent fee hike.

The Uttarakhand High Court had directed a rollback of then Harish Rawat-led government’s decision to increase the fee in 2015. The order, however, is yet to be implemented. This has forced students to take out rallies, hold hunger strikes and sit-in protests. The tuition fee has been increased from Rs 80,000 to Rs 2,15,000 per annum. In July 2018, the high court had ordered a reversal of the fee hike stating that it was ‘unreasonably high’. The court also asked the private colleges’ management to refund the increased amount, which has still not been initiated.

The colleges not supporting the high court’s orders are allegedly owned by several RSS and BJP members. One of the colleges is run by the Divya Yoga Mandir (Trust) that is headed by Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna. While social media is abuzz with reactions to the protests and police action at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi where students are agitating against the Narendra Modi government’s decision to effect a steep hike in the hostel fees, student protests and demonstrations have hit some of India’s many other prestigious academic institutions too.

Speaking to Parliamentarian, Jyotsna Jha, Director of the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS), Bengaluru, who has actively worked with the educational policy said, “Whatever we have on the plate right now is short term. I mean it cannot be considered for long term gain. India is a country where we need educated people and we need to invest heavily in public education to create good evolving societal environs”.

In India, such an approach will have a limited impact given class, caste and gender barriers to using technology. The use of such technology is biased towards urban, upper-caste males, according to research on open and distance-based schooling in India by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies.

As Jha has mentioned in her exhaustive piece in India Spend Website the government’s Draft New Education Policy that was released in May 2019 suggests increasing spending on education from 10% of total government expenditure to 20% by 2030. However, there is no funding available for such an increase in India’s current education budget.

Further, since 2015, government spending on school education has actually decreased after correcting for inflation, according to an analysis of state and central education finances over the years.

She mentioned, “Good public education is a fundamental right in India, and there is a strong correlation between public investment in education, child development and empowerment. For instance, states that spent more on education, such as Himachal Pradesh and Kerala, scored higher on the empowerment index, which takes into account attendance levels at primary, upper primary, secondary and senior secondary levels, as well as indicators linked with gender equality such as sex ratio at birth and early marriage.

Even as the government promises an increase in spending on education, the share of the union budget allocated to education fell from 4.14% in 2014-15 to 3.4% in 2019-20, the period during which the Bharatiya Janata Party headed the central government, according to budget documents from 2014 to 2020. In the 2019-20 budget, the share of the union budget allocated to education remains at 3.4%, which means that this financial year, the government is not allocating more money to education as the new education policy would require.

In funding higher education, the largest share goes to premier institutions such as Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research and central universities. There is little push to widespread undergraduate education.

If we look at the budget- it has an allocation of Rs 130 crore in 2019-20 for the promotion of technology-based online courses, but research shows on open schools in India and research from across the globe on technology-based education shows that literacy levels, access to and ease with technology, and the presence of a self-learner who decides for herself and acts on her own have an impact on learning digitally. Meanwhile, as the reports surfaced that government may slash the budget for school education. Attacking the ruling government the Congress Party leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, speaking over the reports of a possible significant cut in the school education budget for 2019-20, accused the Modi government of benefiting its “rich friends”.“The BJP government forgives loans of Rs 5.5 lakh crore of its rich friends. Gives away six airports to its rich friends,” the Congress general secretary alleged in a tweet in Hindi.

Priyanka Gandhi’s attack came over a news report that the Modi government is likely to cut the school education budget for 2019-20 by Rs 3,000 crore on account of a “funds crunch”.

Subash Dhuliya, former vice-chancellor Uttrakhand open university said, “ The model for the higher education and higher pay cannot be introduced in India. Education is the only option for many and they somehow reach this level. If this is denied to them than there are very limited options remains for them. Low priced education is the only option in our economy.

Airing similar views Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury. Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Adamas University. Kolkata and Former Dean of Symbiosis and Amity University said, “Higher education higher fee can be introduced in the private sector. And could be justified by high-quality infrastructure and delivery of education. However in the public sector which is taxpayers’ money supported education must be cheap yet with good quality and for the masses. Otherwise, people’s right to be well educated is compromised. National wealth is for nurturing national talent and from all walks of life, especially the financially challenged yet meritorious students. Private-sector education can be market governed”.

Experts students and professors believe that the proposed model will not only push people behind but the contributory community that can actually help the economy grow will also be left behind. The policies should be planned and viewed for a long term gain. Education is a basic need of an evolving society and access has to be free flow for every willing student in the country. 

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