The movement of Students along with other Universities and Institutes of Excellence in the country do raise questions on the importance of Public Education. Education in India has always received a low priority with only about 3% of the National Budget spent on Education. Even within this, there is a lot of inequity with IITs, IIMs receiving the larger share among educational Institutions and Central Universities receiving more share in relation to State Universities. Overall, however the spending on education by the State has been low.
Despite the miniscule investment on Education by the State, the Public Education has played an important role in creating opportunities for Social Mobility. Those belonging to the poor, marginalised and vulnerable sections of Society through benefiting from subsidised education have witnessed inter-generational mobility. Many of them have risen to become Civil Servants, Officials, Social Work professionals, Media personal and Academics.
The changing priorities of the State which tends to move towards privatisation and commercialisation of education has attempted at increasing fee driven by the logic of reducing subsidies towards the same. While the fee raise has been successful with many of the IITs and Universities in the recent past, it has received resistance at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Many IITs and Universities too have started mobilizing students and providing resistance.
With the arrival of BJP at the Centre, JNU has been subject to a defamation drive. The fake news and media affiliated to saffron wing, while on the one hand intends defame the University in the name of propagating that it is the ground for anti-national activities, on the other hand it also tries to argue of the irrelevance of higher education. Pursuing of higher education is depicted as a wastage of public and tax payer’s money.
A modern society intending to create social and economic equity cannot do away with public education. While education plays an important role in creating social mobility and gaining access to employment, vocations and occupations – its role is much beyond that. Education creates an enlightened citizenry. The more the opportunities available for those from poor & marginalized sections, those in remote areas, women, Dalits, Adivasis to gain access to higher education – the better the movement it creates towards social progress.
Along with a commercial agenda, the communal agenda of the present regime also adds to its present drive. University is seen as a place where ideas and ideologies are discussed, debated, critiqued, intellectualised, written, argued and spoken. University provides spaces where not one but several ideologies may find a fertile ground. There could be Liberals, Marxists, Ambedkarites, Gandhians, Feminists, Environmentalists, Right leaning, Left learning or Centrists. Prevalence of followers of multiple ideological viewpoints can only strengthen the intellectual environment in a University. This needs to be enriched and celebrated.
However, a regime which is intolerant of other ideological viewpoints and sees other than itself as anti-nationals, University and in particular higher education is seen as spaces which corrupts. It is seen as places which creates anti-nationals who do not turn into Saffron Bhakts but become critics of the same. The strongest critics of the current regime in the recent past from the younger generation are the ones who have come from the most marginal sections of society. The current regime looks at this as a threat to its agenda of Hindu Rashtra. The lesser they get exposed to universal values and ideas, the lesser the blocks towards creating a theocratic state.
Due to its proximity with Ambanis, the current regime also intends to promote private universities such as Jio Institute, which has received the tag of Institute of excellence even before its start.
The misadventures by the current regime due to both commercial and communal agenda is leading to the current student unrest.
Public Education cannot be done away with without giving up on the need for Social Progress and Social Equity.
Author: T Navin is a Researcher and works with an NGO