Imagining alternative futures

The caricaturing of scientific inquiry at the recent Indian Science Congress (ISC) is only symptomatic of the larger ideological thrust through which institutions of higher education in India are now sought to be governed. Further, the choice of venue for the ISC this year — a private university in Punjab — highlights the boost that investors of private capital in higher education receive even as funding cutbacks at public universities have threatened the closure of 167 centres for women’s studies and 35 centres for studies in social exclusion. That a proposed Jio Institute was granted the ‘Institute of Eminence’ status much before it could even open is a grim reminder of state support now being unambiguously willed upon the private model. It is the same political imperative that is directing public-funded institutions towards ‘graded autonomy’ — duly recognised as a covert entry point for privatisation. The threat to autonomy is writ large in the recent moves to scrap the University Grants Commission (UGC) as a funding body for higher education, in keeping with the World Trade Organisation’s mandate that views education as a tradable commodity, not as a right that every citizen can demand of the state. Right versus privilege In 2015, the UGC, citing a fund crunch, resolved to scrap the non-NET fellowship altogether. After student protests across universities (hashtagged on social media as ‘Occupy UGC’), articulated how research fellowships were not state doles but instead sought to incentivise knowledge creation, the government was forced to retract the move. But soon after, the release of similar non-NET fellowships for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and minority students — namely, the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship and Maulana Azad National Fellowship — came to be stalled, pending a new set of guidelines that severely curtailed eligibility. The Ministry of Human Resource Development’s All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) Report 2017-18 notes that the Gross Enrolment Ratio across institutions of higher education has risen to 25.8% from 19.4% in 2010-11. The GER is an index of the proportion of citizens between 18 and 23 years — in every sample size of 100 — who have structurally secured entry into tertiary education, while exit figures (drop-outs) are left unaccounted for. The inflationary tendencies of AISHE figures notwithstanding, the report points out that the GER is 21.8% for SCs and 15.9% for STs “as compared to the national GER”. However, deeper scrutiny shows that though the standard formula for calculating GER must take the population census in the relevant age group as the base sample size, the GER for Dalit-Adivasis is produced by altering the methodology.

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