Uphold the right to affordable quality education
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Shri Narendra Modi
Hon. Prime Minister
Republic of India
Dear Prime Minister,
Recent pronouncements by the Government relating to Higher Education reveal the intention to slash public-funding thereby paving the way for privatization and commercialization of education in the country. Moves like the 70:30 funding formula (whereby institutions are expected to generate at least 30% of additional expenses on revision of salaries due to the 7th Pay Revision), the shift from grants to loan-based funding for infrastructure and expansion through the Higher Education Funding Agency and the push to introduce self-financing courses through the Autonomous College Scheme, forcing universities into Graded Autonomy whereby they will have the freedom to invite foreign faculty and introduce market-friendly courses are bound to have an escalating effect on the cost of education and bring down the quality. The slash in public expenditure on higher education is evident across the spectrum of IITs, IIMs, NITs, central and state universities. The CSIR too has already asked research labs to generate their own resources. Undoubtedly, this will not be beneficial for the future of science research in the country. Cuts in research grants and seats have had an adverse impact on the Research and Development initiatives in universities. The Central assistance to State Universities towards implementation of 7 Pay Revision has been drastically reduced from 80% for 5 years to 50% for 39 months.
What is shocking is that the Government has gone ahead with these plans despite opposition expressed by teachers’ associations. The 6 Bills relating to Higher Education which could not be passed through Parliament have now been brought in without discussion or consultation. Similarly, the Government has not felt the need to invite consultations with the cross-section of teachers’ and students’ bodies in universities and citizens about the Draft New Education Policy and is bringing it in through piece-meal regulations. This side lining of the highest executive body does not augur well for the future of the country.
Access to good-quality higher education is a crucial precondition for positive social change and inclusive development in a developing nation like India. If the Government promotes Privatisation and Commercialisation in higher education, it will be turning a blind eye to the enormous aspiration of the common and poor people to access higher education. Rising cost of higher education will endanger the prospects of women, the socially and economically marginalised sections and differently-abled students. These sections constitute a significant portion of India's predominantly young population. If their interests are not secured, the Government's dream of a demographic dividend will remain unrealised.
The 7th Pay Revision for teachers has ended the parity of teachers with All India Services, a demand recognised by several Pay Commissions as a means to attract talent to the teaching profession. Teachers enter the profession with higher qualifications and at a later age and hence, must be given a higher starting pay. The withdrawal of increments for PhD/ MPhil will disincentivise research. Several other conditions relating to the service conditions like the insistence on a minimum number of hours of teaching and presence in the institution without the necessary infrastructure to engage in academic work will only demotivate teachers.
The recent U-turn by the Government on the Reservation Policy asking institutions to implement the roster department/ subject wise instead of taking the University/college as a unit will result in not fulfilling the Constitutional obligation of reservation of 15%, 7.5% and 27% to SCs, STs and OBCs respectively.
Most universities, even prestigious central universities like Delhi University, have failed to fill up the vacancies for permanent faculty. Majority of teachers have been working for long years on guest, temporary or ad-hoc basis despite having all the required qualifications. The best minds are seeking jobs abroad or in private-sector universities. These teachers need to be regularised in permanent jobs so that they are able to contribute to the intellectual and cultural growth of their respective institutions. Similarly, enabling promotion schemes for teachers are necessary to attract talent to the profession and keep the collective morale of teachers high; currently teachers across universities and colleges are stagnating at every level and position.
The UGC and MHRD need to provide assured funds to all institutions while, at the same time, they need to allow universities the freedom to frame their own syllabi and curricula. The Government has an important responsibility in maintaining the standards of education, but it should not trample upon academic freedom and the freedom to discuss and debate diverse ideas. Centralised syllabi and the semester-mode of teaching and examination with a cafeteria approach to courses may look attractive but it is a faulty 'one-size-fits-all' solution that disregards the diversity of learning needs and challenges across universities and colleges. The UGC has currently imposed a Choice-based Undergraduate Curriculum (CBCS) but refuses to sanction adequate teaching positions to allow universities and colleges to offer enough choices. Hence, these choices remain on paper but are never implemented in practice. Students and teachers are currently in a state of tremendous anxiety and unrest as the policy environment in higher education is hostile to in-depth teaching-learning. We urge you to ensure an open-minded, genuinely consultative approach to higher education so that the diverse educational needs of the country are taken care of.
We urge you to address the concerns outlined above so that our educational institutions are able to provide quality education and remain accessible to all the citizens of the country.
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