"Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world," said Nelson Mandela, emphasising the crucial role of education. However, in the present scenario, access to education is becoming increasingly limited for certain sections of society due to the influence of neoliberal policies.
The current global order is governed by neoliberal principles, which are often lauded as an ideal framework for policymaking in the developing world. However, critics argue that these principles have exacerbated inequalities. Studies conducted in India have shown that the liberalisation policies implemented in 1991 have resulted in enduring class disparities.
Despite these concerns, India has been gradually shifting towards a more privatised model, leading to reduced public expenditure on essential services such as education and healthcare. This trend reflects the persistent dominance of the neoliberal approach to development. Notably, government spending on the education sector as a percentage of GDP has remained stagnant in recent years.
School Education in India
According to the latest Unified District Information on School Education (UDISE+) report of 2022, India has approximately 1,489,115 schools. However, when comparing the number of schools from 2014 to 2022, there has been a downward trend in India after 2018.
These schools are spread across both rural and urban regions of the country. As per the UDISE+ report of 2021-2022, urban India is home to about 254,327 schools, while rural India has 1,234,788 schools.
The majority of schools in India are government schools. There are 1,022,386 government schools, accounting for 85.8% of all schools. Additionally, there are 82,480 government-aided schools. In contrast, the total number of private schools in India is 335,844, which makes up approximately 22.6% of the total (UDISE+ 2020-2021).
Among the different school boards in India, there are 28,453 schools affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), out of which 21,489 are independent schools. The remaining CBSE schools include 446 government schools, 1,202 Kendriya Vidyalayas, 630 Navodayas, 235 aided schools, and 2,535 Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) schools.
In the current scenario, 85% of schools in India are government-owned, providing access to a significant portion of students. However, the implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and its policies may lead to increased privatisation of public education.
Pathway of Exclusion
When comparing the UDISE+ reports from 2018-19 to 2021-2022, a concerning trend emerges in India, showcasing a decline in the number of government and aided schools and a simultaneous rise in the prevalence of private schools.
In 2018-19, there were 1,083,678 government schools, but by 2021-2022, this number had decreased to 1,022,386. Similarly, government-aided schools declined from 84,614 to 82,480 during the same period. In contrast, the number of private schools increased from 325,760 to 335,844.
Certain states aggressively pursued this policy. For instance, Uttar Pradesh witnessed a significant decline of 26,074 government schools, dropping from 163,142 in September 2018 to 137,068 in September 2020. Madhya Pradesh experienced a decrease of 22,904 schools, falling from 122,056 to 99,152.
Odisha aimed to close down 14,000 schools, but due to legal hurdles, it was only able to shut down 5,227 government schools. Consequently, its count reduced from 55,483 to 50,256 between September 2018 and September 2020.
Another statistic reveals that out of the approximately 27,000 schools affiliated with the CBSE board in India, 78% of them are independent schools. Since 2018, the number of CBSE-affiliated schools nationwide has increased by 5,000. The northern states of India boast the highest concentration of CBSE-affiliated schools. This indicates a significant privatisation trend in the Indian education sector.
These developments highlight the decline of public institutions and the rise of private institutions. As the government withdraws from public education, private institutions are displacing economically disadvantaged students from accessing quality education.
NEP 2020 Catalysing the Privatisation of School Education
The implementation of the NEP 2020 has catalysed the privatisation of school education in India. The policy's centralisation of education undermines federalism and the rights of states, limiting their ability to shape education in a diverse country like India. Privatisation, already progressing rapidly, is further facilitated by the NEP, disregarding the crucial need to strengthen and revitalise public education.
The policy provides opportunities for extensive privatisation, including schools run by so-called "true philanthropic institutions." It also introduces alternate education models, potentially influenced by affiliated organisations like the Sangh Parivar. Non-governmental schools are granted relaxations and self-regulation, which undermine the public education system. Additionally, the NEP fails to address the rampant commercialisation and corruption in private educational institutions, relying on self-regulation instead.
The NEP deviates from the commitment to provide education as a right for the 6-14 years age group under the RTE Act of 2009, offering a vague assurance of universal access from ages 3 to 18 years. Remedies for school dropouts prioritise alternative and innovative education centres, rather than ensuring enrolment and retention in public education. This shift towards privatisation raises concerns about educational equity and quality.
The NEP's recommendations, such as special educational zones and school complexes, further deregulate and merge schools, leading to the privatisation of government schools. This privatisation results in social discrimination in education, as access to quality education becomes dependent on financial means. Many marginalised children, whose schools have been closed down, are unable to afford the high fees charged by private schools, leaving them with no alternative but to discontinue their education. It is crucial to halt the implementation of NEP 2020 to prevent these detrimental consequences.
Privatisation in Higher Education
In higher education the trend of privatisation is more rapid than in school education. Unfortunately, after the onset of neoliberal policies and commercialisation, the role of higher education has reduced to merely that of training centres to produce obedient workers.
In India, the higher education system consists of various types of institutions. Currently, there are 1043 universities, 42,343 colleges, and 11,779 standalone institutions. Out of these, 522 universities are general in nature, focusing on a wide range of subjects. There are also 177 technical universities, 63 agriculture and allied universities, 66 medical universities, 23 law universities, and 23 language universities. The remaining 145 universities fall under different categories.
Among the colleges in India, 78.6% are privately managed. This means that the majority of colleges are operated by private organisations or individuals. Out of these private colleges, 65.2% are unaided, which means they do not receive financial assistance from the government. On the other hand, 13.4% of private colleges receive some form of financial aid from the government.
Apart from the regular universities, there are additional options for higher education. These include one central open university, which provides distance education, one state private open university, and 110 dual-mode universities. Dual-mode universities offer education through both regular and distance learning methods.
Pathway Of Privatisation in Higher Education
The trend of privatisation in higher education is increasing in India, with 78.6% of colleges being privately owned. The main motivation behind these institutions is to make a profit. Unfortunately, the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 seems to support this privatisation trend instead of focusing on improving public education.
The NEP 2020 emphasises new-age and liberal education, but fails to address the need for better public education in the country. Instead, it aligns with neoliberal, anti-democratic, and centralising tendencies that have been prevalent since the 1990s. The policy incorporates elements of revivalism, communalism, and social insensitivity, while neglecting important principles like upholding the Constitution, secularism, equality, social justice, and plurality.
One example of the NEP's impact is the establishment of the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), a collaboration between Canara Bank and the Ministry of Human Resource Development. HEFA was meant to provide financial assistance for educational infrastructure and research and development in Indian universities. However, it replaces existing government grants for infrastructure projects in higher education institutions.
The NEP also recommends granting financial and academic autonomy to universities, which often leads to increased fees that exclude financially disadvantaged students. Additionally, the formation of college clusters can result in the closure of colleges, and sometimes financial targets take precedence over academic goals. The influence of corporate interests funding research projects can also lead to potential censorship of results.
Furthermore, the central government is reducing fellowships and scholarships for marginalised students. The NEP 2020 also encourages Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the higher education sector. Proposed legislation, such as the Probate University Bill, aims to facilitate the establishment of new private universities in fields like science, technology, management, and finance. This has resulted in a proliferation of private universities, limiting options for students.
In summary, the privatisation trend in higher education is driven by profit motives and supported by the NEP 2020. However, the policy neglects the improvement of public education and compromises important values. The emphasis on financial and academic autonomy can lead to increased fees, exclusion of students, and prioritisation of financial goals over academic objectives. Additionally, corporate funding and reduced scholarships further contribute to the privatisation trend.
Recently, the Union Education Minister announced new guidelines for deemed universities, which encourage their formation. The plan is to establish a higher education commission through an act of Parliament, after which the term "deemed" will be removed, and these institutions will be called universities. The government has also weakened the eligibility criteria, prioritising the privatisation of higher education.
Over the past two decades, private investments have predominantly led professional education in India. In the current scenario, the Modi government is seen to support capitalist interests by reducing government funding for the higher education sector and allowing more space for private players. An example of this is the collaboration between Reliance's Jio institute and prestigious institutions like IITs and IISc. In professional education, the majority (76.2%) of standalone institutions are run by the private sector, with only 23.8% in the government sector. This clearly indicates that professional and higher education sectors are already privatised.
With the implementation of NEP 2020 by the BJP government, it is likely that remaining government institutions in higher and professional education will also be converted into privatised entities.
The trend of privatisation is growing in India, as the central government is withdrawing its support for public education. This has resulted in the closure of publicly funded institutions and a reduction in reservation opportunities. Unfortunately, the democratic nature of education is undermined in these private institutions, limiting progressive political activism and excluding common people from higher education. The increase in fees in these institutions further exacerbates the situation, making education a privilege of the rich.
Moreover, the lack of strong regulatory bodies in the privatised education sector allows for profit-driven practices. The current education system in India can be described as "Education for the rich and privileged," as it prioritises commercialisation, centralisation, and communalisation. It is crucial to resist these policies and strive for a student-centred education system.
We need to advocate for inclusive education that provides equal access to all students without any discrimination. The Kerala Model of Education can serve as a pathway to strengthen public education and ensure that education is not treated as a commodity. Let's work towards an education system that promotes inclusion and opposes exclusion.