What is in store for us if we do not resist

Service and working conditions of teachers are shaped by the structure and character of education as much as they shape it. It is in the interest of teachers and education to forge broader unity and bring to public attention the devastating consequences of the education policy being pursued by the Government. Otherwise, educational institutions and practices would change beyond recognition before we realise it.

The Government has already initiated several action steps to ensure conversion of universities and colleges and schools into commercial business enterprises. Those public funded institutions which cannot make themselves business worthy are to be closed down and privatised.

Steps to restructure education being driven by NITI Aayog’s prescriptions

Rules, regulations and institutions required for transforming education into a commercial service are being put in place at a faster pace than in the recent past. The pace can be judged by the fact that the UGC put out a draft of Regulations on Graded Autonomy of Universities on 2 June 2017, barely a month after the NITI Aayog circulated a Draft Three Year Action Agenda for the period 2017-18 to 2019-20 on 23 April 2017. Time-bound action steps for a complete makeover of educational institutions have been advanced in this Draft Action Agenda. The NITI Aayog has argued that these steps do not require any new law such as a new National Policy on Education or replacing UGC, AICTE etc by the proposed Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA). The Government is clearly in a hurry.

The central policy thrust in the Action Agenda as in all other policy documents of the Government is the shift from inputs (public funding of infrastructure, teachers, etc) to outputs or outcomes (performance of institutions and individual teachers). This is to be operationalised firstly through removing or diluting input norms and secondly by introducing outcomes based rewards / penalty for institutions and individual teachers. The reward for institutions would be the autonomy to engage in commercial service and autonomy from government funding while the punishment is closure and privatisation of public institutions. For individual teachers, see the HRD Minister’s speech below.

The directive to universities and colleges that the Government would only fund 70% of expenditure on the Seventh Pay Revision and that institutions would have to meet the remaining 30% on their own is yet another step toward the same end. Raise revenue from the market and reduce inputs.

HRD Minister’s speech at DU echoes the Action Agenda

Listen to the speech: Part 1 | Part 2

The HRD Minister, Mr. Prakash Javadekar, while addressing teachers affiliated to the ruling party in Deen Dayal Upadhaya College recently, said that he was going to introduce student feedback to evaluate performance of teachers and that “hire and fire” was a good system for keeping teachers on their toes.

Mr. Javadekar announced that the research requirement for CAS of college teachers would be removed. University teachers would have to do research while college teachers would be deployed for Government approved community service and some minimum hours of such community service would replace the research requirements for API. This, he argued, was because college and university teachers belong to different classes.

Requiring every teacher to put in specified hours of community service would reduce time and opportunity for research even further. That such community service would be directly or indirectly government approved will reduce teachers from independent and critical thinkers to becoming a propaganda brigade for the policies of the Government.

Graded Autonomy is the centrepiece of higher education reforms

The Graded Autonomy scheme classifies universities into three tiers. It prescribes that the top rated institutions focus on self-financed research and self-financed courses, hire 20% foreign faculty with negotiable pay out of its earnings, admit 20% foreign students to earn some extra money and introduce variable pay for teachers. In his speech at DU, Mr. Javadekar suggested student feedback as a possible mechanism for making distinctions among teachers. Students would be reduced to customers buying self-financed educational services and teachers to delivery agents with variable incentives offered for their ability to sell such services.

The draft UGC regulation makes the scheme a law along with a set of Guidelines for the top tier. The Guidelines have not yet specified details for the other two tiers. These details can be found in the NITI Aayog Action Agenda which explicitly specifies that the middle tier is to provide employment oriented courses to meet changing market demands and to be judged by success in securing placement for its students. The bottom tier, described as poor in quality and incapable of succeeding in commercially, is to provide education to “all those who want it” for a while. If these institutions fail to improve, they face closure.

The Minister also spoke proudly about the Government decision to introduce project based research funding. Apart from competing for industry funding, institutions would have to also compete for targeted government funding. Both are part of the Action Agenda. The substitution of institutional research funding by project based funding would make all research dependent on the interests of the funding agencies.

HEFA – yet another way to push institutions towards commercialisation

Grants for educational institutions would be replaced by loans to be offered by the newly established Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA). Mr. Javadekar announced proudly that the government will pay the interest on loans availed by educational institutions. He did not mention that the institutions would have to first pledge their revenue generation capacity in writing.

In order to be eligible for loans, Higher Educational Institutions would have to join as members of HEFA. For this, the Institution would have to pledge in writing a specific amount from their internal accruals (earned through fees, research and other means) to HEFA for a period of 10 years. These secured future flows would be used by HEFA to mobilise funds from the market. Each member institution would be eligible for a credit limit based on the amount pledged to HEFA from internal accruals.

Higher educational institutions would be forced into commercial activities in order to even become eligible for loans. (See Cabinet approves establishment of HEFA)

SWAYAM to cut down teacher requirements

The HRD Minister also touted SWAYAM, a portal for massive open online courses, as a great initiative. It will not only provide educational material but also be a portal for examinations with the power to grant academic grades. One of the main objectives of a uniform semester based CBCS across the country is to allow inter-institution credit transfer. The basic purpose of SWAYAM is not to provide online resources to complement teaching but to reduce teacher requirements in colleges and universities. The present Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) is drawn from the CBCS model adopted by Gujarat in 2011. While adopting a ‘cafeteria’ approach, the Gujarat CBCS admitted that colleges need not offer all the choices since they are available as online courses in the State.

Refusal to recognise the worsening conditions of universities and colleges due to lack of inputs

It is, of course, welcome that, following the suo moto order by Hon’ble Justice Mirdha of Delhi High Court to fill up vacant teaching posts and end ad hocism in Delhi University, the Minister disapproved of ad hocism and promised to complete permanent recruitment within a year. However, he remains unperturbed by the fact that in most parts of the country, contractual appointments have become widespread and downsizing has increased the student-teacher ratio to an extent that teaching-learning has been rendered impossible. While most institutions would be denied even the minimal inputs required for education, a select few would be forced to join the rat race of being designated as World Class Universities – initially only 20, 10 public and 10 private.

The most shocking part of the NITI Aayog Action Agenda is the complete silence about the inadequacy of inputs in educational institutions. It argues that Gujarat has done the right thing by moving away from “input regulation” to output measurement with rewards and penalty based on it. Both the NITI Aayog and the HRD Minister conceal how institutions have been wrecked by denying inputs and downsizing teachers. The following example represents a trend:

Gujarat Arts & Commerce College, Ahmedabad, is a day and evening college established in 1860. In 1960, when it celebrated a century, it had 1139 students and 103 teachers. In 2015, the number of students had more than doubled to 2501. But the number of regular teachers had plummettted to 19. They were supported by 7 guest / visiting / temporary teachers. There were no ad hoc teachers for the number of vacancies stood at NIL.

The policy direction is clear

The Action Agenda, the impending publication of the UGC Regulations on Graded Autonomy in the Gazette of India, the Minister’s speech along with setting up of HEFA and SWAYAM constitute a coherent policy framework. The speed and dictatorial manner in which CBCS was imposed is a clear indication of the Government’s haste to carry out drastic commercialisation and privatisation. The Action Agenda should have come after the Vision and Strategy document that is still in the pipeline. But it was finalized in haste so that the yet-to-be spelled-out vision is realized at the earliest. That much is admitted by the NITI Aayog. We have to decipher the vision and policy framework, explicit and implicit, from the Action Agenda and also take note that this policy is already being operationalised.

In the chapter on Education, the Action Agenda claims that school and higher education both suffer from similar ailments and require similar solutions: “In higher education, we face a similar challenge to school education …”

The cure proposed is to completely commercialise and privatise both school and higher education in one stroke. It contends that too many teachers and too much of infrastructure have been provided and the outcome has suffered. It starts by arguing that adequacy of inputs does not ensure desirable outcome. It then argues without any evidence that outcome measurement and outcome based incentives are the most effective way to achieve excellence. Finally, its twisted conclusion: remove or dilute input norms and introduce outcomes measurements and outcome based incentives!

Reduction in the number of teachers, hire and fire, competition to expand commercially viable courses and research in order to earn higher pay and contractualisation of teachers and non-teaching staff are necessary parts of this restructuring.

Extracts from the NITI Aayog’s Draft Three Year Action Agenda

Polling on 31 August (Thursday), Arts Faculty, 10 am to 5 pm

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