Economic growth has been accepted as a sacrosanct objective. There is expansion of trade, investment, market, and increase in GNP, productivity, per capita income, profit, efficiency, salary etc. The new reform process pursues economic growth to the best of its ability until it is distracted by other issues like education, health and environment. It puts over emphasis on economic efficiency and modern urban sector at the cost of the larger society.
Economic growth is partly superficial, based on borrowed money and technology, with no inner dynamism generated by indigenous technological capacity. There is hyper growth of the tertiary sector, in which education constitutes the major component. The quality of higher education and research is deteriorating .The realities of the ground regarding higher education are worse than the scenario that is published in reports and newspapers. The statistical mirage underestimates the ground reality and depicts a misleading picture.
The Higher Education system in India has undertaken a series of reformatory measures after globalization. The privatization of higher education has become unfettered. It has been aiming at curtailing subsidy and downsizing higher education through public funding. We are closing many old courses and neglecting old colleges/ universities, which has less or no job prospects. It is encouraging new colleges and new courses having job-market orientation for the urban sector. The academic load and number of papers in various degrees for the students has increased . Donations and course fees have increased like anything. This trend is also endorsed by the academic circles. Indian parents in cities have become too crazy to analyze the real worth of the degree. They used to sell their property to invest in the admission of their son/daughter in these courses. Therefore higher education has remained more an instrument: ‘means and end’ of luxury of the upper class only. The trend has become more pronounced and pervasive during last two decades of liberalization.
The job market indication has become very powerful. It is widely accepted in India now. It has created an attractive wave, but very deceptive. It is highly transient and inconsistent. It is unfortunately deciding the fate and future of the emerging knowledge-base of the society. The job market fluctuates for several temporary causes and spurious external factors. The educational reform has now linked all grants and public funding with the assessment of performance of the academic institutions . Unfortunately it has become counterproductive. As a result, the quality of education and examination/evaluation standards have been deteriorating in academic institutions more so in so-called autonomous institutions. It has encouraged self -financing courses in both public and private universities/ colleges. Many courses have been started under PPP mode. It has introduced many study loan schemes for the students going abroad. But the returns from higher education to the society in real terms has remained very low. This argument does not uphold the view against privatisation of higher education. The fact remains clear that commercialization of education is becoming a very powerful process where the return to the society in the long run remains a question. Ironically it is widely accepted among the educated class of urban society. The policy makers sit on the ivory tower of success and remain increasingly insensitive to this perverse trend. But it only promotes individual interests at the cost of social welfare.
Neo Liberal Orientation: Education as an investment in the social sector is given wide publicity in last two decades. These trends suggest a movement towards a neoliberal economic orientation in which capital and the market gain hegemony.
The World Bank’s rationale for investment in the education sector is based on mainly four economic arguments: (a) inducing higher rate of returns by having an educated –skilled labour force, (b) increasing the flexibility, efficiency of labour market through higher quality education, (c) raising willingness to accept new technologies for higher productivity (d) enhancing women’s education so as to raise women’s participation in labour force. All these are popularly known as the ‘human capital’ perspective, in which education is regarded as a ‘productive investment’. It is quite convincing and logical. Although not stated in such reductionist terms, the education policy of the Government of India has been framed by the same perspective since the 1990s. Therefore educational reform has created more an euphoria and fake optimism rather than real quality-improvement in educational system.
Perhaps we are heading towards a technoeconomic fragile transformation but not towards the prosperity of people or social transformation The entire educational system has been veering around the vagaries of job market. But the fate of a subject/degree/college should not fluctuate with the fluctuations in the job market. The subject should not sink or swim in accordance with the degree of buoyancy in the job market. Knowledge-base of the country should not be prone to dance according to the tuning of the market . Because knowledge has permanent value. Knowledge is always universal. It is never contextual , temporal, national or regional or personal property of anyone. Downsizing higher education in India is done at the behest of the World Bank. Contractual and temporary appointments are very common in all public universities of India. Eventually it leads to ‘intellectual marginalization’ and isolation. It is by design but not by default. It has a series of social and economic implications beyond perception. Thus the role of the state has become very critical and more indispensable. There is an urgent need for higher education to derive from a policy that is built on the norms of quality, democracy, equity and sustainability.
Educational Vacuum: Globalization has brought fundamental changes in the approach to higher education and research in India . It has substantially reduced the subsidy and financial support to academic institutions of India. It may help the advanced countries to promote their intellectual properties as their ‘captive resource’. It is providing incentives for the growth of informal education. Because the formal education is the formidable adversary to the informal education system. It helps to create sufficient space for non-public universities such as transnational cyber universities and franchised institutions, which operate only on the basis of commercial parameters. It has become very attractive for all in the short run. But the private sector, left to its own devices, pursues short term gain with no never emerges from this kind of regressive educational system.
Quality Deterioration: Privatization of higher education is not bad. But the unbridled commercialization of higher education unfortunately, may result in the ossification of creativity in the educational system. By commercialization the mathematician can be happy at the cost of Mathematics and physicist can become rich at the cost of Physics. The disciplines of knowledge are remaining neglected, sterile and stagnant. Indian IITs hire brilliant professor from outside, but it has failed to produce a good professor of its own. Because all brilliant IIT students after B. Tech degree migrate abroad for lucrative packages. It has become the national norm. Most brilliant students have no interest for higher studies and research. Students are not responsible. They choose a career before they spell the word career. They are made to believe that education is means to an end. As a result each branch of study remains as the stepping stone for the stakeholders and eventually it itself perishes. The quality of higher education is benignly neglected. As a result higher education suffers from mediocrity. There is improvement of examination system but not in the educational system. The appointment of faculty members including the Vice Chancellors of different state and central universities suffers from match-fixing syndrome. Mediocrity prevails in the universities, which are supposed to be center of excellence. There is no space for the talent and intelligence.
Gresham’s law: Bad money drives out good money out of circulation persists. The Vice Chancellors are very busy in establishing their own legitimacy and self-aggrandizement. Majority of them are good managers who remain hooked in convocation, meeting with the Chancellor, visit of NACC or UGC team, syndicate- senate meetings, annual day celebration, sports day, Campus cleaning, and various non academic and routine matters. They boast about their achievements, success, boldness and honesty. Ultimately there is gross neglect of teaching and research. There is no vision of an academic leadership. The grading system of NAAC committee is great hoax and functioning of AICTE are all eye-wash. The outlandish criteria led down by the UGC and bureaucracy for improvement of quality of higher education are utterly perfunctory. The quality of the highest degree of Indian universities is rapidly falling. Plagiarism has proportionately increased with the spread of internet culture. We are not ready to confess that Indian degrees are not recognized in western countries , but our IIT degrees are recognized in America for techno collie jobs. India has no place in the world educational map. Not a single higher educational institution appears among the top 200 list of the world. Therefore the education system of India flourishes at the top but perishes at the bottom. It has a built-in-doom. The intellectual capital erodes. Thus quality and sustainability of higher education of India is at stake in the long run. The educational dualism is becoming more pronounced in backward states of India like Odisha. The success of higher education system (HES) thrives on social polarization. As a result the renteer economy expands very high and parallel economy grows very fast. All corrupt people in the world are educated though vice versa is not true. All stakeholders of the parallel economy are highly educated. The social priorities regarding education in India are never reflected in the budgetary allocations. It does not give due weightage to the quality of education.
Thus educational reform should not mean privatization per se, but genuine quality improvement. Educational dualism manifests in difference in employability, contractualisation of jobs , gender inequity and economic marginalization and income inequality. Though women empowerment is widely debated, the gender bias is becoming more pronounced in higher education system of India. The loudness of the concern is directly proportional to the degree of hypocrisy and indifference. The professionals are more insensitive and isolated from the society. They are mercenary and socially disoriented. There is also a trend of intellectual marginalization in India.
Conclusion: The global situation is changing so fast, it is dangerous to make any kind of projection for the social sector, particularly for the education sector. The quality of higher education is very essential. It should be considered as a nonnegotiable factor. Thus higher education system should aim at promoting quality and ‘neo-professionalism’. There is urgent need of autonomy of higher educational institutions. Autonomy is the most essential ingredient of excellence. It can be achieved both by private institutions and public institutions. The ‘quality’ is important not the ownership or nature organization. None should be blamed or pampered. The goal of sustainability in higher education does not involve the change of ownership. It involves the shift in emphasis and approach for genuine quality and social relevance but not necessarily for job-market-relevance. One needs to distinguish between society and market; and their imperatives. The higher educational system should have a strong and meaningful ‘feedback system’ which enhances the self correction and self direction.