Mild Reflections on Draft National Education Policy 2019

The draft National Education Policy 2019(henceforth DNEP)is  in public domain for wider discussion by  stakeholders. The College of Education, Srinagar ( in  new avatar as  cluster university) organized a panel discussion on the draft and the author of this column happened to be one of the speakers. There were three  panels on   school, higher and teacher  education  aspects  of the draft. Many valuable suggestions /recommendations emanated from the ground and hopefully shall be forwarded to relevant institutions. The draft report needs to be debated at all levels and it augurs well that the date for suggestions on the draft has been extended up-to the end of July 2019. Be that as it may   Kapil  Sibal,s thoughtless  reaction as HRDC minister in UPA1 ministry that “i will do to higher education what Mamohan Singh did to economy” led to an era in Indian higher education system which saw state commitment to public education highly diluted. The minister was shifted from HRDC  but the chaos and  lopsided thinking on  education in general and higher education in particular continues. In this write-up analysis  shall be  limited to the core component of public education in the special context of DNEP.

The current education policy was drafted in 1986 and revised in 1992 and hence there is need for revisiting the entire landscape of education so as to catch up with requirements of twenty first century. This is necessitated also by arrival of new actors viz private and foreign  players on the scene. Earlier TSR Subramanian committee submitted its  report 2018  which has found an echo in DHEP as well.  Some leading academics have already commented upon DHEP report .Eminent sociologist  Satish  Deshpande  claims that “it is a shock for academics who are used to reports not based on ground realities”. The policy has twenty years vision and the same is explained   in the report as “bringing in proper alignment between aspirational  goals of twenty first century education consistent with India’s, traditions and values”. My belief is that nation-building project in post-colonial India was explained and delivered to citizens  through the instrumentality of public education which led to establishment of great institutions by the state. This public commitment found a policy shift  after the 1990 economic reforms in India. The DNHE  policy claims that benefits of education cannot be viewed in economic terms  as far as goals of democracy, equitable society and cultural vibrancy are concerned. The idea that DHEP  considers all financial support and spend on education as investment  and not as expenditure opens a space for wider debate on status of public education in India in the context of DHEP. In this context we need to keep four essential issues in focus  in order  to understand the commitment of Indian state to public education.

First, the DNHE policy envisions significant increase in public investment in education. This per report would  go  up from the current  10 percent of overall public expenditure in education to 20 percent over a period of  10 years. In the estimation of committee public expenditure is not restricted to funds by central and state governments from their revenue but also includes funds deployed by public sector corporations as a part of their CSR efforts in line with the companies Act , 2013.The policy makers  need to understand that public education has as its basic mediator the people and not the government. It makes  sense when  K kasturirangan committee states in very simple words that “financial autonomy does not mean cut in funding but rather the freedom to decide how best to spend funds to maximize educational attainments”. This policy stance is not a puzzle in a globalizing  world. The fact is that Germany and Sweden are both capitalist countries but the higher education falls outside the influence of market forces. This also holds true for Canada as well.

Second,  the committee’s recommendation however,   is contrary to not so secret policy of privatization and market- friendly practices  such as increased competition,ranking,self-financing  and educational loans practiced  by the state. The data  and general direction of practice of policy also is  suggestive of  decline in state funding of education in India. The union budget for (2015-16) has reduced funds for HE to the tune of Rs 3900 crore. Government spending on education has declined from 4.7 percent in (2013-14) to  3.65 percent in (2016-17).Surprisingly there is underfunding of primary and child development  projects  also ignoring its significance in an unequal society. The allocation for the integrated child development services (ICDS)  scheme fell by 6.5 percent in 2015-16 and further in 2016-17.The centre has also reduced its share in the SSA from 65 percent to 60 percent (PIB 2015). The state governments laboring  under financial stress have added to the chaos. In 2017 the Uttar Pradesh government reduced budgetary funds by 42 percent for secondary schools and by 90 percent for colleges. Sudhanshu Bhushan of National Institute of Educational planning and Administration(NEPA) states : “previous draft of NEP bore the imprint of a veteran burucrat. (TSR Subramanian)  and  second that of  a space scientist(kasturirangan) makes interesting to see how the final political draft gets prepared. It might contain a synthesis in a manner that in the garb of autonomy the real practices will be intensified in favor of the market”(EPW june15, 2019).

Third, it  shall  remain a matter of great curiosity  for academics and more particularly parents  as to how public funding of education as contemplated in draft policy  is segregated from student-centric resource generation. Public universities have embarked on the process of internal resource generation which has  acquired numerous forms viz, creation of special seats for non-resident Indians, starting of vocational courses, fee hike – enhancing admission, examination, sports and youth welfare related charges ,affiliation and inspection fee on colleges etc .By way of example the Guru Nanak Dev university, Amritsar raises  186.86 crore  from internal sources(mainly fees) and 50 crore from government grant  with an overall income of  235.86 crore for (2016-17,Tribune 2016).While internal resource generation to an extent is desirable but public education should not become unbearable for parents and students. The civil society actors, academics and policy making community need to intensely scrutinize/audit  the internal governance structures in  universities and more so the state universities. There is need for internal governance in universities and in their governing bodies so as to inject innovation and professional expertise in decision-making. The line of demarcation between a public and private university must remain visible.

Fourth, within the matrix of public education we need to find out the discrepancy in funding between state and the central universities to capture the direction and imprint of centralization on policy of higher education. In 2015-16 roughly 56 percent of UGC plan grants and 88 percent non-plan grants went to central universities. The state universities received 19 percent and 4.3 percent respectively. The  faculty  teaching in peripheral universities  would definitely like to know as to whether state universities are less public  compared to central universities as far as student intake and financial requirements are concerned and do policy planners think that state universities are marginal in the task of nation-building in contemporary India. Further, there is no magic that state grants are the sole  route  to make universities or other higher education institutions more productive. Throwing money in the lap of public institutions is not necessarily going to provide them road to excellence. By way of an example there are two universities -South Asian university and Nalanda which are funded by Ministry of External Affairs. In 2017-18 SAU with just 522 students and 56 faculty members received Rs 260 crore  and Nalanda during 2015-16 got 200 crore.As against this the state university of Jadavpur with 10,000 students and 600 faculty members got just 226 crore public funds. The little known  fact is that private universities such as OP Jindal, Ashoka, Shiv Nadar have been able to attract both foreign students and faculty but government funded institutes/universities have miserably failed to attract the foreign teachers to their campuses. This issue needs to be debated comprehensively in order to generate positive feedback on  the new policy. 

 The fact of the matter is that mandate of public education in India is to push boundaries of knowledge and also to have thinking citizens .The Radhakrishan report on higher education(1948-49) had amply stated that state aid must not be confused with state control. These may be lofty goals by  contemporary Indian standards but public education shall remain to be navigated by the citizens and their tax money. Some of above-cited concerns must adequately factor in any further discussion on draft educational policy.

Prof Gull Mohammad Wani  is teaching political science at Kashmir University