Unless public attention remains focused, the opportunistic use of reservation policy by the Union Government can do immeasurable harm to standards of education in public funded higher educational institutions.
That electoral calculations and not sincerity towards the poor underlies the 10% EWS reservation is borne out by the unparalleled haste in amending the Constitution and by the criteria adopted for identifying EWS that bring in its ambit practically all those who are not covered by other categories of reservation. The hollowness of the provision is that most of those who may now avail the benefit of reservation would have anyway got the benefit. However, a large number will be forced to make rounds of offices of revenue officials to procure certificates, either imagining that the Government has granted them some benefit or for fear of losing as many others would be procuring such certificates.
The proposal from the “Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment” [sic] approved by the Union Cabinet on 7 January 2019 for 25% expansion of student intake in higher educational institutions to accommodate 10% EWS without reduction in number of unreserved seats would have no financial implications for the Government as those institutions would bear the cost of EWS reservation out of the additional revenue generated by the 25% increased intake. After this cynical ploy to use reservation for the poor to further self-financing/ commercialisation of public funded institutions met with public outcry following the timely exposure on 17 January 2019 by the Indian Express report 10% quota for EWS: Central institutions will have to bear the cost, the Government has been on the back-foot. The Minister of HRD could not deny the report but only stated that no such order had been issued to institutions. He could only refer to the past when Governments had provided funds necessary for expansion in student intake. The above-mentioned Indian Express report has since been updated to include the Minister’s statement and the newspaper’s response.
Though the public outcry has forced the Government to seek information on additional funds requirement for the expansion in intake, it is proceeding in a way that shows complete disregard for education. Its perversity is loud enough to deafen the now-sickeningly shrill sloganeering to put a few Indian institutions somehow among the top in some world rankings. Two communications have been sent out by the UGC/MHRD to universities and colleges.
A UGC letter dated 18 January 2019, which, while communicating MHRD Office Memorandum directing implementation of the 25% expansion in intake from 2019-20 (i.e., in a few months) with a caveat that in case of immediate infeasibility the task must be completed during admissions in 2020-21, cursorily requested institutions to “furnish the seat matrix, programme wise, along with possible financial requirements to UGC before 31st January 2019”.
A second UGC letter dated 23 January 2019 has been dispatched by the MHRD (which has attached formats framed a day later on 24 January 2019!!) for institutions to communicate to the UGC before 5 pm on 31 January 2019 their plans and requirements of funds for possible additional infrastructure, teachers and contract teachers (!) and other employees to effect the expansion in intake!
Even if one overlooks this mix up of dates, the time frame itself is a mockery of any planning required to preserve the quality of education. Such Niti sans Planning contrasts with the manner in which 54% expansion of intake to provide for 27% OBC reservation was introduced in 2006 (not an election year). In May 2006, the Prime Minister constituted an Oversight Committee and several subgroups including one for the Central Universities to plan out the time-frame for expansion and teacher, non-teaching staff and infrastructure requirements so as not to compromise excellence for implementation scheduled a year later for 2007-08. Legal proceedings on petitions against the OBC reservation finally postponed implementation to start from 2008-09.
The callous disregard for education is further demonstrated by the fact that the Union Government is fully conversant with the experiences of and pending problems besetting many institutions on account of that 54% expansion. The proposed 25% further expansion nearly doubles the student intake in every institution from the numbers they admitted in 2007-08. An institution with a sanctioned student strength of 100 in 2007-08 had to admit 154 by 2010-11 and has now been directed to admit 192.5 students by 2020-21.
a) Hardly any institution was allotted more land; many institutions had to manage with temporary constructions for class rooms, laboratories etc. due to inadequacy of funds and inability to get clearances from governmental bodies. In fact several institutions with heritage buildings could hardly make any addition.
b) The number of additional teaching posts sanctioned to institutions on account of 54% expansion was less than proportionate. For most colleges of the University of Delhi, the UGC now refuses permission to them to utilise half of the additional teaching positions (second tranche) which had been sanctioned on account of that expansion. It has been one of the main demands with the MHRD and the UGC made in several representations by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association.
c) In 2015, the MHRD imposed a semester based “Choice Based Credit System” touting it as a magic wand. It claimed that a cafeteria approach / learner-centric system where students would have full freedom to choose the subjects and paper they wish to pursue would magically improve quality. Offering greater choices required additional teachers, support staff and infrastructure. The Government refused to provide for those requirements.
d) The UGC meanwhile in fact tried twice to drastically reduce the number of teachers by redefining work load norms for teachers that sought to stipulate excessive teaching load by any standard knowing full well that it would have a devastating outcome for quality.
e) The Union Government is sufficiently apprised of the view of the teachers that several simultaneous measures currently being pursued all single-mindedly aim to coerce them to reorient their academic and research engagements and activities only to meet market demands. That the common theme is self-financing and internal resource generation. These measures include: (i) Mounting pressure on what the Government considers better colleges to come under the UGC Autonomous College Scheme giving them the autonomy to start new courses and full freedom to determine fees; (ii) The UGC Regulation on Categorisation and Graded Autonomy to Universities which enforces resource generation through greater engagement with the market, (iii) The switch from grant-based funding of infrastructure through loan-based funding through Higher Education Funding Agency requiring institutions to commit to revenue generation, (iv) The MHRD notification that required universities and colleges to meet 30% or more of the additional financial requirement on account of 7th Pay Revision through internal resource generation, and (v) The MoU that universities are being coerced to sign as part of the GFR 2017 requires them to explicitly commit to a roadmap of progressive increase in fees and reorient teaching and research towards the market so as to continuously raise the internal resource to budgeted expenditure ratio.
The above-mentioned MHRD letter dated 23 January 2019, among other things seeks requirement of additional contract teachers and other employees as well as loans from HEFA. Given the state of Government Policy, when Central Universities like the BHU recruit Assistant Professors at fixed monthly rates of 30,000 and 57,700 depending on the subject while the UGC Regulations disallows for more than 10% of the teaching strength on contract and only for the sake of form stipulates fixed emoluments not less than the gross salary drawn by regularly appointed Assistant Professors, the format in which information has been sought does not inspire confidence that necessary funding to maintain, if not, raise the standards is in the pipeline.
Bhupinder Chaudhary on issues and challenges before DU teachers, Rajdhani College, 25.1.2019
Polling on 8 February (Friday), 10.30 am to 4.30 pm