Save Education Protests by Student Bodies
Third year in a row, almost like a tradition, the national capital will witness students hitting the streets in a protest to “Save Education” on 18th and 19th February 2019. In the recent years, elevating the conditions and quality of higher education, on various levels, has been a major concern for students and scholars across the nation, leading to protests and rallies almost every year.
One couldn’t resist but think: Do these student organisations have any substantial agenda or are they just the following suit of workers and farmers protest marches?
To know for sure, we need to delve deeper and understand the underlying problems and the wants of protesters about to march across Delhi, this month.
Over the years, the funds for public institutions have been cut drastically, so much so that premier public funded institutions like JNU have stopped subscribing to academic journals citing scarcity of funds. Another protest arose against the budget allocated for UGC, which almost cut the funds to half as compared to the previous budget, in 2017. In fact, there have been protests even in 2018, to make education tax free as well as to improve the quality of education. India ranked 72nd out of 73 countries, in terms of quality of education provided in the country, in the PISA (Program for International Students Assessment) ranking of 2010 by OECD. The fact of the matter remains that there has been a drastic cut in funds allocated for education from the National GDP, and this is evidently reflected in the de-escalating quality of education. This is especially a case in public funded institutions and is accompanied by a gradual but considerable increase in tuition fees in all sectors of education.
Another development in the scenario is, “The central government has given green signal to start Self-financing courses in public universities and colleges, in the name of autonomy. On the one side seats have been reduced in higher education institutions while on the other there is a complete dismantling of reservation,” according to some student representatives.
And “The federal character of Indian education is under severe attack, with initiating central policies without taking the peculiarities of each state and their representation in decision making into cognizance,” they said in context to 60 universities that were granted graded autonomy.
“There will be an intensive campaign throughout the country highlighting the issues of education as part of this ‘Delhi Chalo’ call by the left student organisations. Conventions and seminars will be held in all states rallying all democratic and secular sections,” the statement released by student organisation said. The student organisations proactively participating include the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO), Progressive Students’ Union (PSU), All India Students Bloc (AISB), and All India Students Federation (AISF).
According to General Secretary of AISF, ”More than nine crore children in this country still do not have access to education. The government is neither able to provide quality education nor provide employment to the youth of the country. This is why we will march to the Parliament.”
The central demands of the march are:
– Establish a nation-wide fully state-funded and free Common Education System from KG to PG.
– Increase government spending to at least 6% of the GDP and 10% of the central budget on education.
– Enact Bhagat Singh National Employment Guarantee Act (BNEGA) to ensure guaranteed employment to all.
– Stop the communalization of education.
– Implement existing reservations properly and ensure social justice in govt as well as private institutions.
– Release the money for all pending scholarships immediately and establish more fellowships for research scholars from deprived backgrounds.
– Protect federal character of education and resist the centralization of education.
However, the prime focus of the protest seems to revolve around making education free and state-funded nationwide as well as the significant “commercialisation” and “blatant privatisation” of public education. This could be due to the increasing reported news and wide-scale spreading awareness of countries like Germany and Finland that endorse free and state-funded education.
Nonetheless, the question remains, can we as a country indiscriminately mimic what seems to be working for these other countries?
Well, the first thing to consider would be how these countries can afford to be state funded and provide free education.
The German Government explains that this policy is intended to hook the best and brightest talent in the world and encourage them to settle in Germany, and evidently, the policy is successful in the vast majority of the time. The country has an abundance of good professional jobs along with being peaceful and abundant in every sense of the word, with every citizen having access to free healthcare, old age care, family leave, decent housing, affordable and comprehensive public transportation to anywhere in the nation and much more. It is safe to say that the citizens enjoy a high standard of living and no one is subject to such desperate poverty that they would have to resort to crime or violence to survive. All-in-all, with the economic condition of the country, Germany can effectively provide free education to students, without incurring any heavy unmanageable losses. Also, more importantly, education in Germany is predominantly publicly funded.
Similarly, the Nordic higher education system is almost entirely publicly funded. According to OECD Education at a Glance 2014, the proportion of public funding varies between just under 90% in Sweden and 96% in Norway and Finland. In addition to these similar constitutions, what encourages free education in Nordic countries is the ethos of education as a civil right and a public service rather than a commodity. They view higher education primarily as an equality issue and thus believe in equal dispersal of education.
Now, coming back to India, where the economic condition of the country is not particularly booming (in spite of over 7% annual GDP growth). India’s education system is often cited as one of the main contributors to its economic development with a large private school system that complements it. Moreover, 22% of the national population is living below the poverty line, 1 out of every 5 Indian is poor and struggling to make ends with major concerns regarding basic necessities. Clearly, marking a prominent demarcation between India and the countries facilitating free education. When the vast majority of the country is facing parity in acquiring healthcare facilities, food, decent shelter, employability, hygiene and sanitary facilities, the economy of the country is clearly not in the state to fund and manage losses incurred by providing free education, especially when this very sector contributes largely to the country’s economy.
Furthermore, the country being as vast, secular and multi-cultural as it is, taking state disparities in consideration in the education system would only paralyse movement and seamless continuity of education for students across states.
The education system of India definitely needs an upgrade and there are various prospects that the government can and needs to facilitate for improving the quality standard and reach of education in India but conforming to extreme measures may not be the right step to take considering the character of Indian economy. The two parties involved are standing at the extreme ends of the spectrum and an optimal solution can only be found at a middle ground. Indian government does not have a great track record when it comes to dealing with student protests and the results of the previous campaigns have been underwhelming, to say the least. Let’s hope this time the government and the students can arrive at a common consensus for the greater good of India.