Skip to main content

The bleak new academic scenario (hindu )

Liberalisation has eroded the institutional capacity to train young people who might pursue liberal values

The other day, a student asked me what exactly the word ‘liberal’ mean. She wanted to know whether ‘liberalisation’ promotes ‘liberal’ values. She had noticed that institutions of higher education, which are supposed to promote liberal values, were finding it difficult to resist ideological and commercial pressures triggered by the process of economic liberalisation. So, was economic liberalism different from political liberalism? And what do people mean when they refer to neo-liberal policies? The questions she was asking could hardly be addressed without invoking the political economy that has emerged over the last three decades.

When liberalisation of the economy started to receive common consent in the mid-1980s, few people thought of examining what it would mean for education. Then, in 1991 came the dramatic announcement of a new economic policy, accompanied by a package of steps to be taken for ‘structural adjustment’ of the Indian economy. The purpose of ‘adjustment’ was to facilitate India’s integration into the global economy. Even then, education didn’t receive specific attention. Some critics of the new economic policy expressed anxiety about the consequences of state withdrawal from its prime role and responsibility in sectors like education and health. The national policy on education drafted in 1986 had mostly adhered to the established state-centric view. A major review in the early 1990s vaguely resonated the new discourse of liberalisation, but offered little evidence of change in the basic perspective. The Programme of Action, announced in 1992, stopped short of admitting that the state’s role in education was about to change. Nobody could imagine at that point that over the following decades, the state’s role in education would change so much that the Constitution would begin to sound like rhetoric.

School education
In order to examine what happened, we must make a distinction between school and higher education. When Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao spoke about liberalisation as the central theme of the new economic policy, he also referred to the ‘structural adjustment programme’. Under this programme, the World Bank offered a ‘safety net’ for primary education. It meant additional resources and policy guidance to enable the system to expand its capacity for enrolling children. The District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), which later mutated into Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), symbolised the ‘safety net’ approach. It was designed to cushion the harsh effects that ‘structural adjustment’ under liberalisation was expected to cause in welfare sectors like children’s education and health. The DPEP and SSA efficiently served this role, creating an ethos in which children’s education seemed to have become a major priority of the state. The success of these programmes emboldened the government to push the Right to Education (RTE) law through Parliament. Governments of many States registered their anxiety over their capacity to fund the implementation of RTE after the Central assistance provided under SSA runs dry.

How valid that anxiety was is now amply clear. All across northern India, the DPEP and SSA have left a radically expanded system that no one wishes to own. The contractual teachers appointed on a massive scale to fulfil the ambitious goals of DPEP and SSA are crying aloud for dignity and stability. Post-RTE, many State governments have drawn on the services of mega-NGOs and private companies to look after schools. As one might guess, it is children of the poor who attend these schools. Under the policy of liberalisation, the state has outsourced these children to non-state players. Those belonging to the better-off sections of society have moved to private schools.

Higher education
In higher education, the new economic policy designed on the principles of liberalisation offered no safety net. From the beginning, the assumption was that higher education ought to generate its own resources. An accompanying idea was that higher education should respond to market demands in terms of knowledge and skills. Over the last three decades, these two guiding ideas have dented the established system of higher education in all parts of the country. Both Central and State universities have been starved of financial resources. Cutting down on permanent staff, both teaching and non-teaching, has emerged as the best strategy to cope with financial crunch. A complex set of outcomes, specific to different universities, makes any general analysis difficult. In some, self-financed courses, mostly vocational in nature, have provided a means of income. In others, such courses have been resisted by teacher unions. However, these unions have gradually lost their power and say because they are broken from within.

A shrinking elite of senior, permanent teachers is struggling to represent a vast underclass of frustrated and vulnerable ad hoc teachers. The old idea that an academic career should attract the best among the young holds no meaning now. Research fellowships have been used as a cushion to absorb the growing army of unemployed, highly qualified young men and women. They have no organised voice, and each one of them is individually too vulnerable to protest against continuous exploitation.

This is the bleak new academic scenario. In India, the term ‘liberal’ essentially meant a voice representing courage and wider awareness. Training of such a voice was the main job of colleges and universities. This function grew under severe constraints in colonial times. The constraints were both social and cultural, but as electoral democracy advanced, political constraints gained ground. Politicians of every ideological persuasion resented the role of colleges and universities in maintaining the supply of critical voices. These institutions have now been forced to compromise their role in training the young to speak out. The compromise has taken over three decades to occur. It is hardly surprising that no political party shed a tear. So, if we now return to the question my young student had asked: ‘Does liberalisation promote liberal values?’ The answer is, ‘It hasn’t.’ Rather, it has eroded our society’s institutional capacity to train young people who might pursue liberal values by exercising an independent voice.


Popular posts from this blog

SC asks Centre to strike a balance on Rohingya issue (.hindu)

Supreme Court orally indicates that the government should not deport Rohingya “now” as the Centre prevails over it to not record any such views in its formal order, citing “international ramifications”.

The Supreme Court on Friday came close to ordering the government not to deport the Rohingya.

It finally settled on merely observing that a balance should be struck between humanitarian concern for the community and the country's national security and economic interests.

The court was hearing a bunch of petitions, one filed by persons within the Rohingya community, against a proposed move to deport over 40,000 Rohingya refugees. A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, began by orally indicating that the government should not deport Rohingya “now”, but the government prevailed on the court to not pass any formal order, citing “international ramifications”. With this, the status quo continues even though the court gave the community liberty to approach it in …

Khar’s experimentation with Himalayan nettle brings recognition (downtoearth)

Nature never fails to surprise us. In many parts of the world, natural resources are the only source of livelihood opportunities available to people. They can be in the form of wild shrubs like Daphne papyracea and Daphne bholua (paper plant) that are used to make paper or Gossypium spp (cotton) that forms the backbone of the textile industry.

Nothing can compete with the dynamism of biological resources. Recently, Girardinia diversifolia (Himalayan nettle), a fibre-yielding plant, has become an important livelihood option for people living in the remote mountainous villages of the Hindu Kush Himalaya.

There is a community in Khar, a hamlet in Darchula district in far-western Nepal, which produces fabrics from Himalayan nettle. The fabric and the things made from it are sold in local as well as national and international markets as high-end products.

A Himalayan nettle value chain development initiative implemented by the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiati…

India’s criminal wastage: over 10 million works under MGNREGA incomplete or abandoned (hindu)

In the last three and half years, the rate of work completion under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has drastically declined, leading to wastage of public money and leaving villages more prone to drought. This could also be a reason for people moving out of the programme.

At a time when more than one-third of India’s districts are reeling under a drought-like situation due to deficit rainfall, here comes another bad news. The works started under the MGNREGA—close to 80 per cent related to water conservation, irrigation and land development—are increasingly not being completed or in practice, abandoned.

Going by the data (as on October 12) in the Ministry of Rural Development’s website, which tracks progress of MGNREGA through a comprehensive MIS, 10.4 million works have not been completed since April 2014. In the last three and half years, 39.7 million works were started under the programme. Going by the stipulation under the programme, close to 7…