One important argument advanced in favour of the formation of a state, scholars confer, is to provide indivisible public services like education and health to the citizens. They are called as ‘merit wants’ that can be provided by an institution that stands for sovereign political power. The World Bank economists have used their intellect to distinguish between public goods and private goods even in education. They have called only school education as a public good and higher education as private good as it provides benefits to the individual and not to the public (even if one becomes a Nobel laureate we should not claim him or her as a citizen of a country). Even this distinction could not save school education in India is a different matter. Those who are familiar with the American higher education know that around 65 percent of the students are provided with free education through scholarships. The private universities survive with the munificent endowments and the research projects that the distinguished alumni get from private sector. However, they are very few. The situation in the higher education of the advanced countries varies from country to country. Now the Indian government is seeking ideas and recommendations from concerned citizens, business groups etc. as to how to expand higher education to meet the growing needs of an economy.
Indian higher education was initiated by the British to meet their requirements and to help create an elite class that helped them to survive and would run the state once they leave? There are several issues in this statement, but we concentrate on the current discussion on a report given by a group of business-cum-educationists recently in Delhi on private participation in higher education. It is reported that the committee wanted land free of cost (wanted on lease for 999 years like the Mulla Periyar dam) from the government and a 300 percent deduction from taxable income. The wish list continues; a 10 year multiple entry visa for foreign students, a national loan fund of Rs 1 lakh crores, no space index for institutions in urban areas to start campuses (like one room universities) and the Prime Minister should personally write to the business houses to take part in higher education. We could not access the detailed report and could pick up only a few points from the media reports. It appears that neither the Professors nor the civil society organizations have voiced their views on this important issue that would impact the future generations and the country.
Some of the experts who have given the recommendation are being considered by a section of the media as great intellectuals and educationists who brought a turnaround in the system. While the critiques and a few educationists consider them as body shoppers with naked craving for money and success. It is also alleged that some of these self-styled educationists brought disaster to the system as they were responsible in influencing the whole system to concentrate on the production of men-machines or so called software personnel to meet the lower level skill requirements of USA and other advanced countries in their transition from manufacturing economies to service providers. It is difficult to evaluate the ultimate result from this transformation is a gain or drain; the country lost the best brains of few generations due to the private interests and profits of the few. We all know how the Engineering colleges in the country particularly in the South where English medium helped the boys and girls to access the job market of English speaking advanced countries flooded with BCA, MCA and such related degrees. Those who could not get in to it used the informal sector to get the tag of soft ware engineer certification even without a degree and left formal education in the mad rush for jobs in the 1990s and 2000s. The froth is gone now. There is some kind of homogeneity and a guarantee of minimum salary structure comparable to some central government jobs now in the soft ware sector for a select few. The repugnance for these courses is reflected in the closure of several colleges in the South. Can a developing country with less than 15 percent enrolment in higher education and a dropout rate of around 70 percent at school stage afford this?
The collegiate education or higher education in the country was initiated through the Grant-in-aid system of the East India Company that promoted philanthropic organizations including private charities to establish educational institutions. If we look at the history of these institutions, we realize that those who have occupied important positions in India and abroad in the past and are being flaunted now as educationists were the beneficiaries of this phenomenon. We must pay our respect and gratitude to these institutes that have invested their resources without expecting anything in return. Some of them are still surviving along with the religious charities that have a different mandate, but have contributed for the development of education in the private sector. The funding agencies like UGC, AICTE, state departments of education etc have been providing grants to maintain these institutions that are generally declared as non-profit organizations. But, majority of these institutions that came in the boom period with the support of political and business interests have made money out of the social demand for a certain category of education. Some of these institutions have flouted norms and put all kinds of pressure on the regulatory authorities to get their licenses to operate renewed. As a result, some of the regulators are in jail and several professors are going round the CBI, CVC etc for their extraordinary service rendered to higher education. Majority of these characters are involved in the operations as educationists and are being unmasked as pseudo Educationists. Amusingly, some of the professors who never taught in a school are producing text books for school children (not the school teachers) that create ripples in Parliament.
The land grant scheme to develop university education in the USA is different as there is a built-in character of charity in some of the well established private universities. They have shown results and produced Nobel laureates and transformed the economy. But, none of the entrepreneurs of education in India who can be called as Edupreneurs (including the experts of the Report) spelled out the benefit to the society at large. If public resources are provided to the Edupreneur how is it possible to reconcile this with the arguments of the World Bank that higher education is a private good?
Prof. K.S. Chalam is Former member, UPSC and Ex-vice-Chancellor Dravidian University and Professor of Economics email@example.com