Is Smriti Irani simply not educated enough to run HRD or she’s only following orders from Nagpur?


Celine Mary

Certain departments of JNU, DU and IIT are ranked among the best in the world. The University of Hyderabad has been consistently ranked among the top ten Indian Universities, especially for research.

In January 2015, the UOH got the Visitor’s Award for the Best Central University of India, by President Pranab Mukherjee. This year, JNU got the President’s award for excellence in research and innovation.

The AMU, in the 2014 Asia ranking, ranked 3rd among Universities in India. FTII is a member of the International Liaison Centre of Schools of Cinema and Television (CILECT), an organisation of the world’s leading schools of film and television.

These institutions are our Badge of honour. Why are they in the news for all the wrong reasons, suddenly?

Is it just because Smriti Irani is not educated or competitive enough to head the MHRD? Is she really trying to saffronise education, following orders from Nagpur? Or is it just a façade?

In June 2014, there was news that Smriti Irani had decided to focus on a legal framework for allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in India. Irani has declared that preparations are on way to put out the red carpet to foreign educational institutions.

She also announced that foreign students will be encouraged to take up India as an educational destination. But with the hostile environment prevalent today, the number of students who would choose India, is anybody’s guess.

Added to it, the fact that the government itself is discrediting institutions like JNU, calling it Naxalite breeding grounds, even Indian students and parents would be apprehensive about choosing these premier institutes.

Are we just facing a chaos or is there a method to this madness?

When Shehla Rashid hinted at WTO’s role in the educational sector, at the India Today conclave, she was booed down. Is it too far-fetched of an idea?

India included higher educational services in its Revised Offer in August 2005 under GATS in the WTO. However, they have not yet become ‘commitments’ as the trade negotiations could not be concluded for the last 10 years. But, now there seems to be a fresh momentum in the negotiations to conclude them. We are not very sure what transpired in this area in the Tenth Ministerial Conference held at Nairobi, Kenya in December 2015, because we were/continue to be stuck in the mire of Beef, nationalism/anti-nationalism and Bharat Mata Ki Jai.

GATS recognises four modes of trade in all services. In higher education, they would work as following:

1. Cross Border Supply: where the students receive correspondence education from a foreign supplier and pay the service charges

2. Consumption Abroad: where the students go to a foreign land to receive education and pay service charges

3. Commercial Presence: where the foreign providers can establish universities and colleges here, provide service and collect service charges, and

4. Presence of Natural Person: where the foreign teachers come to India to render service in institutions and collect service charges

National treatment is a basic principle of GATT/WTO that prohibits discrimination between imported and domestic services with respect to internal taxation or other government regulation. Although the “national treatment” provision of the GATS does not specify measures on which foreign and domestic service providers are expected to get equal treatment, discriminatory measures are usually identified under the following labels:
a) Taxes, subsidies and grants: So, once the doors are thrown open to foreign universities, there will be pressure on the government to reduce the subsidies and grants being provided to the domestic institutions, since the grants would be seen as undue advantage to the domestic provider. Check this against the news of the MHRD slashing the Non-NET fellowship. Smriti Irani has reportedly refused to give any monetary grant to open any more off-campus centers of AMU which were to open at Murshidabad, Malappuram, Kishanganj, Bhopal and Pune.

Times of India reported that the deduction in budget allocation to IIT-Kanpur last year has started showing its impact now. The IIT-K, which needs a budget of Rs 261 crore annually, was allocated Rs 175 crore. The amount was released by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (HRD) in parts.

Since the allocated amount has proved not to be enough to run the institute and for paying salaries to the staff, the IIT-K administration has urged the Ministry of HRD to release some additional funds. The IIT-K authorities are expecting to receive additional funds by the end of March. Till then, the institute administration has used its internal funds to meet the crisis and is anxiously waiting for the funds to flow in. The fund crisis has impacted so much that the expansion within the IIT such as construction of the new buildings (hostels) has either slowed down or closed for the moment.

“The entire trouble began last year when for the academic year 2015-16, 175 crores were allocated to IIT Kanpur, about Rs 75 crores less than the previous financial year.”

The Economic Times reported that “an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) committee’s proposal for a three-fold fee increase, along with the creation of a 2,000-crore non-banking finance company (NBFC) to achieve greater financial autonomy for the schools, is finding favor with India Inc. “

So, IITs are going to be out of reach for students from moderate backgrounds soon.

Add to it, the current trend of questioning how students in colleges like JNU are living off the tax-payer’s money. Public opinion is slowly being molded under the guise of nationalism. Is the government slowly building a case against the financing of these institutions?

b)Licensing, standards, qualifications: Under GATS, if our state or central governments want to bring out a new scheme in relation to a service under GATS, they will have to get it vetted by WTO’s Trade Regulation Council. A trade policy review mechanism will annually review the policies of member countries and “suggest” changes. Even accreditation will be determined by them.

Accredited bodies formed under the Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM), one of the legal instruments of WTO, would annually review the trade policies of different countries and ‘suggest’ to the countries to change their respective policies.

In its 2014 election manifesto the BJP talked about setting up a highly empowered central institution “to improve the quality of higher education”, instead of having too many bodies such as the UGC, the AICTE, the NCTE, the Bar Council of India, the Medical Council of India, etc. The MHRD is regularly having run-ins with the bodies like UGC. The HRD Ministry under Smriti Irani had asked the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE), which conducts the ICSE and the ISC examinations to furnish reasons to justify its existence. Non-academicians like Gajendra Chauhan are being put in decision making capacities in educational institutions, who neither have the depth to understand nor the concern, for academics.

Are we slowly moving towards a central regulatory/licensing body which will become the hands of WTO in India?

So, what is wrong with foreign institutions coming and opening shop in India? Are we going to get Ivy League campus here in India? A Harvard has a certain reputation to maintain and it will delay any expansion, till quality standards are guaranteed.

What happens till then? In theory, individuals could find the least regulated state in America, setup a paper educational institution and then have all the bargaining power of Harvard when it comes to opening up a college in India.

With education becoming a profit earning service, there would be a slow shift to applied sciences from pure sciences and research. Why? Because Applied sciences are more employable and foreign profit-earning institutions would only be interested in offering such courses. Check this against the news of the government cutting the funding of CSIR labs and advising it to finance their research themselves.

The disparity in wealth is already in the increase. If this road is taken, the disparity in Education will also just increase, with higher education going beyond the means of poor students. Can a developing country like India afford that?

Is India succumbing under the pressure from countries like Australia and New Zealand where educational services are a major export?

Under normal circumstances, with so many goof-ups, the Minister for HRD should have been history by now. Why is Smriti not, yet?

Is Saffronisation a façade to Commercialisation of Education?

Are these just bizarre dots waiting to be joined or are they just specks in the air?

Only time will tell.

Celine Mary is a social media activist based in Doha and is working as an IT consultant. Views expressed here are the author’s own and doesn’t subscribe to them.