As the central government persists in making higher education unaffordable for the vast majority of students in the country, teachers of Delhi University have intensified their ongoing struggle against these moves of the government.
The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) began a five-day strike on 19 March against the recent policy changes — meant to privatise and commercialise public-funded higher education — introduced by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).
Nearly a thousand teachers of DU marched on the first day of the strike as part of the “Adhikar Rally” in the university’s North Campus to assert the public’s right to access education.
The Federation of Central Universities’ Teachers’ Associations (FEDCUTA) has also given a call for a People's March on 28 March from Mandi House to Parliament Street. Teachers from other nearby universities will also join the action programme.
The policies that the teachers are opposing seek to pass on the burden of the financing of the university to the students.
Among these policy changes is a draft UGC regulation announcing a new funding formula of 70:30 — whereby central universities are being asked by the MHRD to generate at least 30% of the funding — on account of the 7th Pay Revision.
This funding formula will lead to an exorbitant rise in the fees of students studying in central universities, making even public universities unaffordable.
Then there is the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), which will replace grants given by the government with loans for infrastructure development.
Under the HEFA model, any central institution of higher education which needs money for infrastructure will be required to borrow from the agency, which will raise money from the market and then lend it to the institution in question. The institution will need to pay back the principal amount of the loan in a time-bound manner.
What this means is that any university which wants to develop its infrastructure will need to necessarily increase its revenues by increasing the fees. The consequences will be that either a college or university faces decline in its quality to remain affordable or becomes expensive. This means that quality education will remain accessible only to those students who can afford to pay for it.
Then there is the Autonomous Colleges scheme of the UGC, under which colleges can directly approach the UGC for an autonomous status — not being affiliated to a university. Besides administrative autonomy, colleges will have financial autonomy — which means that colleges will be free to decide and raise their fees, but nowhere do the UGC guidelines mention that the college would continue to be fully funded by the UGC. The colleges would not get money for hiring additional teachers. This is basically a push towards “self-financing” — not only increasing fees, but introduction of commercial, revenue-generating courses to meet the requirement of funds.
Coupled with the autonomy scheme is the “graded autonomy” policy — colleges which rank high as per the National Institutional Ranking Framework — will get more autonomy. Again, this autonomy includes “financial autonomy”.
Teachers are also protesting against the tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between MHRD, UGC and the university/college, which requires a steady increase in students’ fees.
Then there is the 5th March 2018 letter of the UGC which introduces a change in the Reservation Policy of the government for the worse, as it directs universities to prepare rosters Department/Subject-wise. Consequently, there will not be adequate representation in teaching positions for SC/ST/OBC categories as per the Constitutional requirement of 15%, 7.5% and 27%, respectively.
The DUTA is also demanding that the UGC unconditionally withdraw this UGC letter, that the government file a review petition in court and that the issue be deliberated by a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
Already, teachers have been demanding for regular appointments of teachers in Delhi University, which is reeling with 60% ad-hoc faculty. Promotions have been neglected while pensions have been pending for years.
“All of these policy changes are inter-related and have been put forward with the sole aim of commercialisation and corporatisation of the public-sector higher education,” said DUTA president Rajib Ray, speaking to Newsclick.
“While DUTA is raising these issues to the best of our ability, one university alone cannot stop these processes. A change in policy only comes when it becomes a issue that has public support, and this is a public issue.”