In his first innings as a politician, Dr Manmohan Singh liberated our economy. In his second, as prime minister, he brought about a paradigm shift in … our foreign policy… Our guess, and wish, is that he now does to our higher education what he did to our economy and foreign policy in 1991 and 2008, respectively.
– Shekhar Gupta
Indeed, the signals being sent out by Kapil Sibal, however vague, make an unmistakable case for the extension of neoliberalism into the sphere of higher education. In this vein, the HRD Ministry has proposed alternatives that would allow for greater ‘freedom’ and ‘autonomy’.
However, much like the economic reforms of 1991 and the paradigm shift in foreign policy reaffirmed by the nuclear deal, such promises aren’t exactly benevolent commitments to freedom. Instead, as Kavita Krishnan points out, phrases such as ‘autonomy’ and ‘freedom’ are essentially neoliberal euphemisms for freeing the state from its responsibility to provide for higher education, which is now proposed to be tied to the diktats of the market.
While it may be too soon to be sure of its specific consequences, it wouldn’t be ill-founded to fear that market forces are proposed to have an upper-hand in deciding syllabi and funding research, which could lead to the systematic marginalization of the social sciences. Further, if education turns into a money-making enterprise, it may become highly inaccessible to a large number of people. Moreover, lack of government interference in the selection process of faculty and students could possibly mean an attempt to thwart the reservation policy, which is of absolute importance given our sociological context.
Indeed, the need of the hour is to do a serious re-assessment of the situation of education in India, while keeping in mind the specificities of our context. While change is certainly imperative, quick-fix infiltration of private capital is not the most promising solution. Instead, it would be useful for us to consider problems relating to access to education, quality and content, the domination of English as the academic language, etc in a more nuanced and sensitive manner.
At this juncture, it is upon the students and teachers’ movements to make sure that the future of education is not jeopardized by crass attempts at commercialization, even as the neoliberal discourse is attractively pitched along the lines of freedom and diversity.
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