Why higher education in India must not bow to the market

Written by Madhu Prasad | Published on: December 14, 2015
were clear in intent. Although they could not be passed by the previous government, they will most likely be brought into effect by the present one as they aimed at making Indian HEIs compatible with the United States model, and putting in place the legal framework required by the WTO-GATS trade regime. A series of ill-conceived `reforms’ have been hastily imposed in universities and colleges with no policy deliberations or national debate and little regard for the absence of adequate infrastructural facilities and faculty strength. No reviews have been undertaken either to remove anomalies or reassess the decision to implement these "experiments" which include: semesterisation at postsecondary level; imposition of choice based credit system (CBCS); four year undergraduate program (FYUP); grade-point system; contractualisation of faculty positions; and Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) and Central Universities Act 2013 which aim at standardising India’s diverse HEIs in terms of structure, uniformity of syllabi and accreditation. It has only been repeatedly claimed that such reforms would enhance student `choice’ and `mobility’.

Due to the commercialisation of services the architecture of GATS is more complex than the architecture of trade agreements on goods. Four modes of trade in services have been demarcated. These are: (1) Cross-border supply: provision of a service at a distance. In the case of education, this mode includes e-learning or and other distance learning programs. (2) Consumption abroad: the consumer-student travels to another country to access the service. (3) Commercial presence: the service company sets up a subsidiary abroad. For example, a university sets up a campus abroad. (4) Presence of natural persons: a professional (researcher or teacher) travels to a foreign country to provide a service. Markets may be opened in one or more of these modes.

This offer was made in spite of the conclave of state education ministers having warned against the move in January 2005, citing fears of conflict with national values and goals. If the offer is not withdrawn before the conclusion of the Tenth Ministerial Conference of the Doha Round being held from 15th – 18th December 2015 at Nairobi, Kenya, it will become a commitment in perpetuity.

The liberalisation of services stipulated by GATS means establishment of commitments on opening trade with reference to two important clauses:
National Treatment (NT) ensures that foreign providers benefit from conditions of treatment that are "not less favorable" than those given to domestic institutions or companies. Foreign suppliers cannot be discriminated against. National Treatment for foreign and domestic corporate education providers could mean that governments either provide similar infrastructural, financial, tax and other facilities to ALL higher education institutions or else withdraw these from public funded institutions. It is claimed that limitations can be specified for “public services” which could include (a) subsidies and grants; b) requirements on nationality or residency; (c) qualifications, licenses, standards; (d) requirements on registration and on authorisation. However, the conditions for determining what can be regarded as a “public service” provided “in the exercise of governmental authority” are unclear and open to contestation. Public services would have to be extended without any fee whatsoever and would also not be in competition with any private players. With this definition only absolutely free educational institutions could claim exemption. That would not leave uncontested the claims of the increasingly hybrid higher education sector in most countries, including India. Further, public services could be defined as being “in competition with” private players by the mere presence of non-governmental providers.

Market Access means the elimination of all barriers (in the form of rules, regulations laws, etc.) that hinder the entry of foreign services providers into the domestic market. Limitations that maybe established or eliminated in liberalising Market Access must be listed in a country’s schedule as follows: (a) number of services suppliers that are allowed access; (b) Value of transactions or activity; (c) Total number of service transactions or total sum of service production; (d) Total number of natural persons who may be employed in a sector or by a specific supplier; (e) Specific type of legal form or personality of suppliers; and (f) Establishment of specific percentages of participation for foreign capital or the total value of foreign investments.