JNU protests in Delhi | Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
JNU protests in Delhi | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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Why does subsidised higher education scare Indians so much?

What is happening at Jawaharlal Nehru University is part of a larger trend in India where educational institutions are constantly under attack – from governments, from treasuries and from WhatsApp groups.

There have been constant attempts to destabilise campuses and student movements. The institutional murder of Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad Central University, the suicide of Payal Thadvi in TN Topiwala National Medical College after harassment, the death of Fathima Latheef in IIT Madras, Najeeb going missing in JNU, and finally, the protest against Feroz Khan teaching Sanskrit in Banaras Hindu University, all point to it.

Who would lose the most after the fee hike in JNU? Students from marginalised sections of society.

However, those criticising the hike must not cite the irrationality of public spending on statues or cows. That would convince the already biased Indian public that education and health are comparable to statues and cows.

To solve this crisis in higher education, we must first see students as students and not consumers, and education as a right, not a commodity.


Also read: If you still don’t understand JNU fee hike protest, read this story of Sunita


Rot in public universities

Let us get to the root of the matter.

In 1986, the National Policy on Education emphasised on the need for faculty enhancement and development. It gave a boost to privatisation of higher education in India.

In 2005, India ‘offered’ liberalisation of higher education under the World Trade Organisation-General Agreement on Trade in Services (WTO-GATS). The terms set by WTO-GATS towards achieving this goal included the basic principle of national treatment. It demands the government provide a ‘level playing field’ to corporations – to grant equal opportunity to both public and private institutions in the sector. It comes at the cost of affirmative action policies like reservations and financial support to various categories of students.

This makes the student a consumer, education a commodity and gives corporations the power to decide its price. The University Grants Commission (UGC) doesn’t want to invest in its institutions because the government wants to open higher education to market forces.

The All India Survey of Higher Education reports for 2013-14 and 2017-18 confirm the increasing trend of privatisation in India. The data tells us that the number of colleges in India has peaked from 36,634 to 39,050. While the proportion of privately managed colleges increased from 75 per cent to 78 per cent, the proportion of government colleges fell from 25 per cent to 22 per cent in the same period. However, 32.4 per cent of the students in India depend on these 22 per cent government colleges.

Out of the 903 universities in India, 560 (62 per cent) are publicly funded universities and 343 (38 per cent) are privately managed universities.

In February, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences decided to withdraw financial aid to students from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes eligible for the government’s post-matric scholarship (GoI-PMS). It was an attempt to make quality education inaccessible to students from marginalised sections.

A major share of Adivasi and Dalit students in India depend on the GoI-PMS offered by the Centre and supplemented by the states. The cuts in the budget allocation, inconsistent disbursal of scholarships and the manufactured public sentiment against ‘freeloaders’ put subsidised higher education and social justice schemes in direct line of attack from the government, universities and the public alike.

It also paves the way for private players in the sector. It is a boon for corporate giants waiting to start their own Jio University (with an ‘Institution of Eminence’ tag gratis).


Also read: JNU fee row should make us ask if public and private universities are really any different


Selling education

People globally are losing trust in governments and are swiftly embracing the rule of corporations where charity by corporations is seen as more legitimate than public spending.

Public opinion will not align with students who question the corporations’ ‘intellectual colonisation’ of education. A good share of Indians thinks of education as a commodity that adds value to a human being in the marriage market rather than as a fundamental right. Investing in education is often a pension plan for parents than a basic necessity.

This public-spending antagonism targets social justice schemes whose principal beneficiaries are the poor and marginalised.


Also read: 3 years after Rohith Vemula’s suicide, not much has changed at University of Hyderabad


When the government implements the liberalisation of education with a Brahmanical ideology, it disentitles women, Dalits, Adivasis, religious and sexual minorities. The inability of the government and the universities to provide higher education, of the desired quality, to all who aspire for it and the lack of political commitment of public funds for it affect the economically weaker sections – those who most need education. It gives the ‘trader’ the power to choose their ‘consumers’. A ‘commodity’ cannot be a fundamental right of a ‘consumer’.

This crisis in education is a multi-layered one. And the iron-fist approach by the Modi government will not resolve it. At the same time, there can be no ‘middle’ ground in questions of principle. The government has to clarify its position on the future of subsidised higher education. It should hear the protesting students across India and acknowledge them as students and not consumers.

We cannot lose hope in this path of struggle. If we lose hope, we lose.

The author is an MLA from Vadgam constituency, Gujarat. Views are personal.

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26 Comments Share Your Views

26 COMMENTS

  1. Indians do not hate JNU, but certainly do not have a great opinion about JNU due to the disruptive Activism that JNU students indulge in that is not seen on such scale Nitin in other Universities. Young people certainly should have right to protest and express their opinion but not when they are in University where they are supposed to study at the expense of whoever is funding heir education…. be it the tax payer or the parents.

    • You can only protest when you study about something and University is meant for discussions about something and then express there views. You alone cannot protest alone because, no one is here to listen you but if you protest with the community that belives that it’s wrong then there will be something that makes an effect on the institution or the organization which has made the wrong statement . University gives you the platform for that type of discussions.

  2. Subsidized education must be only for economically weaker family students. And that too, for a fixed term. What I mean is, if a student gets admission in a 4 year degree course, he can get subsidized maximum for 6 years (In case he fails for 2 years). Beyond it, he should not get any subsidy. All other students must pay market rates and this should be applicable to all universities (Govt. as well as Private). This is done in many countries where, economically weaker students get subsidy in fees and economically well-off carry the burden. But a student can not carry on getting subsidy in accommodation for ever even when he is failing every year. Many times, this is misused. And it is exactly happening in JNU. And that is the reason, many of us are in favor of Govt. this time. A student enrolls in a course in JNU, gets subsidy in hostel accommodation and keeps failing to get such cheap accommodation in Delhi at a prime location for many many years. This has to stop. This will facilitate another needy student to get good education.

    • What you said is factually incorrect. You can’t continue to study in JNU if you fail in the year. You have to reappear in the entrance exam just like any fresher seeking an admission in the university.

  3. It is strange you suggest we should treat students as students when acting as agents of Pak sponsored separist and ajadi worriers.

  4. Education should be definitely subsidized, but not only for the 43 percent who are studying in the goverment universities and institutions, but also the disadvantaged and underprivileged students who have to join private institutions as they did not get seat in goverment universities and institutions. Those students should also get subsidized education. If only those small percentage of people in goverment universities and institutions get subsidized education, it means we are denying education to others in those disadvantaged sections who could not make into those goverment universities. Irrespective of government and private universities, all students who are economically and socially backward sections should get their education costs subsidised.

  5. Very nicely argued article. The quality of higher education in India is one of the things that we can be really proud of. Certainly there is room for improvement – it is even now inaccessible to the poorest. I remember vividly that while studying at IIT, we used to go to a nearby construction site to teach the adults who were mostly illiterate. One father asked me if I thought his daughter, then 6, could one day study in IIT – I had to hang my head in shame – to say “yes” would have been to give false hope. Instead of working out means to make such dreams come true, the present government is bent on destroying what we have. because, (1) market – as explained and (2) it is scared of educating the oppressed – lest there is another Ambedkar demanding equal rights.

  6. As a tax payer I have the following suggestions:

    1. Charge market rates for higher education.
    2. Have generous merit cum means scholarships and loans. People from upper castes and those who live in cities can also come from lower economic strata.
    3. Institute and enforce high attendance requirements. This will force students to spend time on which they are supposed to be doing, studying.
    4. Keep a maximum number of years in which a student keep getting scholarships. This will get rid of professional students.
    5. Have rigorous assessment methods for teachers. Weed out non performers.

    • So how was YOUR education funded? If you went to IIT, it was subsidized. If you went to almost any government school, collage or university, it was subsidized. Why should education even HAVE “market rate”? I am happy to pay taxes so that everyone can study.

  7. Firstly; before you ask this question to your readers; please answer does a university as JNU deserve to sustain by taxpayers money. All should come to the university to study and not politicise it. Please disband JNU and send out the students and sack the professors who cannot educate students to tread a path of studies. It is an anti-national university with seditious students and professors who masquerade as intellectuals but actually are parasites on public funds. A person who does not have India in his heart should leave the country and fend for himself in Syria, North Korea, Yemen, Pakistan, Algeria, Mali, Sudan or wherever he wish.

    • JNU has produced a Nobel laureate, a CEO of Niti Ayog, a Finance minister and countless other notable public figures – including bureaucrats. So, according to you, all of them are anti-national ? What exactly have you been smoking?

      • Past is no guarantee of future return. Education must teach patriotism and values not Goonda giri of terrorist. It’s seen from start that this one family named institution teaching socialism and welfare as their rights at the cost of poor and bias for upward class poor. Merit and EBC should only be the criteria not the cast. Even Ambedkar didn’t want reservation beyond 10 years after independence or constitution adopted.

        • How is providing subsidised education to the poor and marginalised a problem? One needs affirmative action to support the weakest sections of the society.

    • It seems that trolls have been instructed to vilify the idea that most of us, Indians, grew up with – that of quality education accessible to many not few.

  8. Liberalisation have made the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged very wide. It is in the interest of advantaged group that education costs should increase which will put an entry barrier to the disadvantaged.

    • Yes, but disadvantaged means economically backward and shouldn’t be of any cast. Many poor of upper class has suffered a lot and creamy layer of backwards living like king. Why daughter of once defense minister shall be eligible for reserved seat and become speaker and upper cast suffer?

      • Not necessarily. The lower caste poor are almost systematically excluded from all welfare including education. This is over and above the economic disadvantage – something the upper caste poor doesn’t have to deal with. So they need additional support. Our focus should have been on reducing the caste-based discriminations in society. Sadly, we have failed miserably in that, as a nation.

      • A civilised society requires to look after its most disadvantaged groups who were deprived of basic human rights and necessities for thousands of years. It is not a level playing field.

  9. A nation for 70 years liked PSU, copies the other nation of shop keepers,the US lap dog, will not be struggling to sell or close PSU and Air India.

  10. 1. It is easy to blame privatization of education. But we must ask simple questions. These questions are: (a) who has prevented teachers in government and aided schools from discharging their basic responsibilities as teachers? Have they done that? (b) Who has created a privileged class of academics at cost of public? (c) Who has failed our government schools, colleges and universities? It is certainly not just NDA govt. 2. Academics, who claim to see the world beyond placement and salary packages, often claim that they are guided by philosophies of Marx and Ambedkar. They may be unhappy with NDA government, which is also understandable. But have they ever demanded implementation of reforms in field of education to ensure that public at large gets benefits of government funded education? Then the question is this: who is preventing them from doing that? 3. As I see it, there is little communication between those who have a Nehruvian dream of a welfare state and those who believe that Nehru forgot the ancient Indian heritage. 4. The University Grants Commission provides grants to colleges, universities and other institutions of post graduate learning. I think we need to do an honest and unbiased cost-benefit study of State and Central governments’ spending on education, whether it is primary secondary or higher education or post-graduate education, if we desire and aim to get better results from such expenditure.

  11. When you are writing for the wider audience, least one expects is that names are spelt correctly. Payal Tadvi she was, NOT Thadvi, Also it was Fatima Latheef NOT Fathima.

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