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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 32, August 5, 2023

The Crisis of Higher Education in India - Press Release and the Resolution adopted at the FEDCUTA (24 July 2023)

Saturday 5 August 2023


Press Release and the Resolution adopted at the FEDCUTA’s National Convention on “The Crisis of Higher Education in India”

The National Convention on The Crisis of Higher Education in India, organised by the FEDCUTA on 24 July 2023 at JNU was attended by a large number of Teachers’ Associations from across the country including Nagaland University Teachers’ Association, Assam University Teachers’ Association, Jamia Teachers’ Association, Delhi University Teachers’ Association, Aligarh Muslim University Teachers’ Association, IGNOU Teachers’ Association, Punjab and Chandigarh College Teachers’ Union, All India Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisations, Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association and a large number of teachers and students.

The Keynote speaker at the Convention, Prof. S K Thorat, Former Chairperson, UGC and ICSSR, clearly pointed out that the knowledge base of the New Education Policy 2020 is detached from facts, evidence, and reality as the committees entrusted to make this policy, supposedly aimed at transforming the higher education sysytem, have not studied the existing system and not looked at any data on the evaluation and needs of the higher education sector in India, not even the rich data collected by the National Sample Survey (NSS). He said that the policy, without any connect with the rich experience of the India’s past in higher education, has simply borrowed all the ideas from the US and some European experiences without examining its relevance and suitability for the Indian needs. He said that the policy’s objective to improve quality measures through promotion of private sector, inviting foreign private universities in India and some other initiatives have consequences which will restrict access to higher education for the socially and economically disadvantaged groups. There is no vision in the NEP 2020 for inclusion and equity.

This was followed by four thematic sessions which were addressed by the members of participating Teachers’ Associations, former Presidents of FEDCUTA, members of AIFUCTO, and several other educationists and experts in both higher and school education. The convention concluded with a panel that was addressed by Hon’ble Members of the Rajya Sabha from various political parties, including Dr. L Hanumanthaiah (INC), Dr John Brittas (CPM), Sri Binoy Viswam (CPI), and Ms Fouzia Khan (NCP), who spoke on the Alternative Vision and Strategy for Higher Education in India. The Parliamentarians expressed disappointment with the way National Universities were being turned into a monolith. They said that the teachers and the teachers’ bodies must raise their voice against the attempt being made by the current regime to turn Indian Universities, that were earlier places of freedom and exchange of critical ideas, into a lab for corporatisation and communalisation of the education system. It was widely felt that the muffling of voices would not build any Knowledge System, would be communal in nature, and would render the country into narrow domestic walls by taking away the essence of inclusiveness and diversity from the nature and character of Indian universities. Showing serious concern about the increasing attack on academic spaces and critical thinking, the Parliamentarians questioned the way Vice Chancellors in central universities were being appointed. They also questioned the increasing interference of the Governors as Chancellors of universities in several state universities to hamper the day to day academic life and activities of the teachers and students.

After deliberating at length on the experiences and the crises that universities across the country are facing due to the NEP 2020 and its arbitrary and high-handed implementation without space for discussion anywhere with teachers, educationists, and students, let alone in the Parliament, the National Convention adopted the following resolutions:

1. The FEDCUTA unequivocally demands the roll-back of the NEP 2020. The experiences that were highlighted by speakers from across the country regarding the disastrous policy changes being pushed in universities at an unimaginable speed clearly indicated that the NEP 2020 is pushing the Indian education system in a retrograde direction, and is promoting intolerance of diverse ideas at the cost of Constitutional values of equality, social justice and secularism. The NEP 2020, which is an amalgamation of neoliberalism with authoritarian populism, is only aimed at turning places of learning and teaching into factories that will only create vulnerable workforce for the corporate capital. And hence a total roll-back of NEP is being unanimously demanded for the following reasons:

(i) The changes being brought about in the name of improving "quality" such as the FYUP, the Multiple Entry and Exit System, the digitisation of education through draconian regulations such as ABC, Blended learning etc. have had just the opposite effect, that of eroding the robust public education system that we had, and promoting rampant commercialization of education. Issues of access and equity do not even find mention in the document, and the policy, in reality, further marginalizes those who were already struggling for access to HEIs.

(ii) The role of teachers has been redefined - they have been left out of all decision-making processes and voices of dissent have been crushed. Institutional and academic autonomy stands eroded and the UGC and even non-academic bodies issue dictats in the form of regulations. NEP is being used as a tool to increase government control over the autonomous public Universities.

(iii) The systematic withdrawal of funding to public institutions and replacing grants by loans through HEFA and envisaging a future wherein institutions will become truly "autonomous" without expecting governments to fund them are part of the policy that aims at privatising education putting it out of the reach of the poor and marginalized sections of society.

(iv) A host of issues relating to the NEP document’s inadequacy in addressing the heterogenous and diverse realities of the country, for example the linguistic and geographical diversity of our institutions and the problems therein.

For all these reasons outlined above, the FEDCUTA rejects the NEP 2020 and demands its immediate roll back before it can do further damage to higher education in the country.

2. The Centralisation of admissions through Common University Entrance Test (CUET) based on online Multiple Choice Question being conducted by a non-academic body NTA for admissions to undergraduate (UG), postgraduate (PG), and PhD programmes in Universities is a death knell for critical thinking in India. At the UG level, it devalues school education, promotes coaching culture, filters out the marginalised sections, adversely affects the gender ratio and regional diversity of the student population. It must be immediately withdrawn and Universities be allowed to determine their admission procedures independently or in cooperation with each other. Centralization of curricula and syllabus without taking into account diverse character, strengths and challenges faced by various Universities is academically counter-productive and should be stopped. Imposition of centralized National Curriculum Framework (NCF) should also be stopped.

3. The FEDCUTA demands that all scholarships and fellowships for Scheduled Castes, for minority students such as the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowships and the Maulana Azad Scholarships, should also be restored. The FEDCUTA will oppose all attempts to curtail scholarships and fellowships in the supposed expectation of philanthropic or private funding.

4. The FEDCUTA demands that the NRF Draft Bill which as per the media reports is to be tabled in the monsoon session of the Parliament, should not be tabled without having a proper discussion with teachers bodies such as FEDCUTA, AIFUCTO and representatives of organisations working
with the scientific community and individuals to submit their views on the Bill. FEDCUTA will oppose all attempts to get research funding dependent on private sector.

5. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that the NPS has failed to provide any social security to teachers, and other university and college staff, and their families. Teachers and staff deserve dignity and security in old age, and for their family in case of unfortunate death during service. This comes only from a decent pension scheme and hence FEDCUTA demands that Old Pension Scheme must be restored. The FEDCUTA resolves to support the call of the Indian Public Service Employees Federation for a rally at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi on July 30, 2023, demanding restoration of the Old Pension System.

6. The FEDCUTA strongly feels that the political control over the appointment of Vice Chancellors, in whom excessive powers are vested, is inimical to the very idea of the autonomy of Universities and must be immediately stopped. Along with democratization of their governance structures, a new system of selection and appointment of Vice Chancellors must be put in place that does not compromise the autonomy of the Universities.

7. The FEDCUTA resolves to participate in the national protest against the NEP 2020 being organised jointly by the Joint Forum for Movement on Education (JFME) and All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organisation (AIFUCTO) on September 13, 2023 in New Delhi.

DK Lobiyal (President, FEDCUTA) Surender Singh (Secretary, FEDCUTA)

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