Slashes in Education due to Iniquitous WTO-GATS Regime? No, says Modi Government

Among the debates in education –and given the slashes in budgetary spending on the education sector, including higher education, –is one that, critically involves India's negotiations with the first world in the WTO-GATS negotiations; in the December 2015, Nairobi round, there was increasing concern that India's allowing '‘Market Access’ in this sector would severely impinge on India's sovereign right to take Constitutional decisions and execute policies that ensure equality in access and opportunity; A response obtained by the AIFRTE from the Commerce Ministry, in howsoever vague terms, seeks to deny these conclusions

It was in April 2015, that an MHRD panel first recommended the complete scrapping of the University Grants Commission (UGC), and the setting up of a new body which would be under the direct control of the MHRD.  The autonomy of the UGC would undoubtedly be severely affected by such a move. It was perceived that the panel recommendation were  preparations for pushing through highly centralised policy measures that may not even be deliberately upon in the public domain.
Simultaneously, the last Central Budget already saw a jaw dropping budgetary cut of 17% in Education! In the revised estimates for 2014-15, while school education allocation was cut by around Rs. 80,000 crores that of higher education was slashed by Rs. 4,000 crore.
This year’s budget saw a 55 per cent budgetary cut in the UGC’s own outlay. The biggest casualties of these measures are of course going to be students from marginalized caste, gender and religious backgrounds.
 Sabrangindia has been closely following these developments in the field of education

Columnist  with Sabrangindia, Madhu Prasad, who is also on the Presidium of the All India Forum for the Right to Education (AIFRTE) while commenting upon the December 2015 WTO-GAT negotiations at Nairobi that
“Instead of fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide free and compulsory school education of quality to all children and take steps to expand and democratise higher education, the state is retreating from its responsibility. In August 2005, the Government of India (GOI) made an `offer’ to provide Market Access to higher education as a `tradable service’ under the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) General Agreement of Trade in Services (GATS). 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 December 15- 18, 2015 at Nairobi, Kenya, it will become a commitment in perpetuity.
In this analysis, Prasad had further said, “However, the struggle in defence of higher education is already being fought on the ground. As privatisation and marketisation of education are being vigorously promoted by government policies the situation is rapidly deteriorating and attacks on the education system and on academic inquiry and freedom are becoming noticeably fiercer. In order to transform education into a commodity and a tradable service as the GATS regime demands, its character as a vibrant space for socially aware critical inquiry and expression needs to be first destroyed. This means that its constituent, freedoms of thought, opinion, expression, association and instruction can no longer be tolerated. Since academic communities both inhabit and define this space which is so essential to any free, open and stable society they become targets, systemically and individually, of governments and forces that seek to oppress people in the interests of the exploiters and profiteers.”
 On December 14, 2015, the Presidium of the All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) wrote a strong appeal to the President of India.
Text of the  Appeal:
Appeal to advise central government to immediately withdraw the higher education ‘offer’ to WTO-GATS and protect India’s Constitution and sovereignty.
Dear Honourable Mr. President,
All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) is a federated platform of about 70 students’ and teachers’ organisations and educational rights groups working in 25 states/UTs. On behalf of AIFRTE, Justice (Retd.) Rajinder Sachar sought an appointment with you on 4th November 2015 in order to submit our Memorandum and the signatures of tens of thousands of people from different parts of the country, appealing to the central government to withdraw its ‘offer’ of committing higher education for ‘market access’ to WTO-GATS before the 10th Ministerial Conference at Nairobi (15th to 18th December 2015). We are deeply disappointed that the opportunity to put forth our concerns before you was denied. Due to this denial, people have submitted their signatures to your office/PMO through District Collectors; those received by us at the last minute are annexed herewith.
The central government’s unwillingness to withdraw its ‘offer’ of committing higher education to WTO-GATS before the Nairobi Conference, despite nation-wide protests, is a clear evidence of the government plans to convert India’s higher education from a democratic entitlement into a tradeable commodity in the global market. Rampant privatisation and commercialisation has already excluded more than 90% of the deprived sections, especially the SCs, STs, OBCs and the minorities, with women and disabled in each of these sections suffering further exclusion. Once the WTO-GATS regime is allowed to operate in this sector, the doors of higher education will be permanently closed for the aforesaid sections. WTO-GATS will also impact upon the very character of knowledge and values in the higher education system to suit the corporate vested interest at the cost of the needs of our people. Even the Constitutional commitment to equal opportunity in education and the social justice agenda will be dismantled under the WTO-GATS regime as it will be viewed being against ‘level playing field’ for the corporate profits! Thus, committing higher education to WTO-GATS will erode our capacity to formulate educational policies. It is an assault on the sovereignty of the nation. 
As President of our Republic, you are oath-bound to protect the Constitution. We take this opportunity to appeal to you to advise and intervene to ensure that the central government withdraws its ‘offer’ of higher education from the WTO negotiating table of the 10th Ministerial at Nairobi before it is too late!’
On April 6, 2016, the Forum received a reply from the Commerce Ministry (an Office Memorandum) addressed to the Under Secretary of the International Cooperation Cell, MHRD, AK Gopal.   Through this reply to the MHRD, the Commerce Ministry of the Government of India has sought to clarify that ‘there had there has been no agreement on ‘Education sector’ at the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Nairobi, Kenya. Further the reply states that,
‘I am directed to refer to your OM No. 11-1/2015-ICC dated 29th January, 2016 on the subject mentioned above and to inform that India’s draft offers in ‘Higher Education Services’ submitted in the WTO in 2005 are wounded in such a manner as to allow for future evolution of regulations and policies. Moreover, it is still at ‘offer’ stage with no legal validity and still needs to be negotiated. Subsidies have been kept out of its purview, implying that we may continue to grant subsidies to domestic (Indian) service suppliers.
2.All scholarships / financial support to students in higher education sector may be continued of discontinued and such schemes may be introduced independent of the obligations under the WTO.
3.As regards the issue of FDI, you may like to note that as per the FDI policy of the GOI, 100% FDI is already allowed in the Higher Education Sector under automatic route, subject to necessary sectoral regulations.

4.The philosophy behind making offers in ‘Higher Education Services’ in the WTO is to attract foreign investment, technology and best global practices. The estimated market size of Indian students studying abroad is around USD 15-20 billion. While this is a huge demand on India’s scare foreign exchange resources, it also implies that there is a huge opportunity for Foreign Universities to set up campuses in India. However, the government shall have full flexibility to regulate these Foreign Universities as per its domestic regulations.
5.It is also informed that there has been no agreement on ‘Education sector’ at the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Nairobi, Kenya.’

See also:

1. The Nairobi Surrender

2.Why higher education in India must not bow to the market




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