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Double Commoditisation of Education System

Prabhat Patnaik spoke at a convention on “Questioning the Policy Directions in Higher Education”, organized by DUTA about the commercialisation of higher education. He explains that the education system everywhere is moving towards double commoditisation. One of these products would be student, who being a subject for the job market will be ready to pay any fee for corporate market oriented courses.  The other commodification is of a few well-paid teachers, who will defend this system. According to Prabhat, this will lead to converting teachers to contract labour, who will carry the major burden of teaching. It will also reduce the chances of resistance by creating a divided workforce on basis of unequal pay. Prabhat fears that this process of intense privatisation will result in shutting down of those departments, which promote critical and logical thinking. He explains that this sort of phenomenon of rapid commercialisation is more visible in developing countries like India. The only reply to this process is building unified struggles of teachers, students and all those who believe that education should not be commodified in this way.

The undergraduate program in the Delhi University to my mind was one of the finest in the world. Since I learned under Under Graduate in Delhi University, I think the like of which I have not heard since then as a student of economics. But what is happening in Delhi University is not only to my mind a matter of Delhi University; no doubt there Delhi University specific issues in fact is there but this is something which is part of a certain general tendency happening all over the world and this tendency is linked to my mind which is the process of commoditisation of education. That everywhere, there is a tendency that something called education should be bought and sold like any other commodity in the market and those doing so those selling education should in fact run this business like they run factories and earn a profit out it.

It is not surprising that the Vice Chancellors in may places are now called CEOs. It is not surprising the kind of discipline in the factory is something which is sort to be replicated inside the Universities as well. As a result of this commoditisation, of course education if it becomes a commodity then the person into whom this education goes must also be a commodity. That doesn't of course mean only looking around for a job in the market; People have been in the job market for years. But I think what is happening now is that the exclusive purpose of educational institutions is now going to be confined to producing people who are again exclusively interested only in their jobs. The definition of a commodity is that for the producer, the seller of the commodity is not a use value, it is pure exchange value. That means whoever is himself as a commodity on the market derives no pleasure from the education that he has got or she has got. And as it is all that the role of education in inculcating social sensitivity among the students, the role of education in introducing the grandeur of the world of ideas, the role of education in making students strive for a human society, the role of education in introducing a kind of curiosity about the world in unleashing creativity, all of that is now going to be supplanted by a role of education where it is imparting set of skills in order to make money on the market. A bunch of self absorbed, self centered. socially insensitive individuals whose sole purpose in life is to make money and that is exactly what is the objective of this educational reform which are taking place not just in Delhi University but elsewhere in the world. In fact Terry Eagleton has got this piece on Universities where he narrates a story where he went to a South Korean University. Incidentally, astonishingly he was saying that you find this tendency in a much more rapid way realising itself in the so called newly developing capitalist countries than in the older capitalist countries. That in countries like East Asia or in India, there is a rapidity about this transmission towards commoditisation of education which is far greater than what you have even find in the advance capitalist countries. Terry Eagleton has the story that he was visiting a South Korean university and the CEO was accompanying him and he asked this CEO; once CEO has shown him all those lovely machines and labs, this and that, he says that where are your critical studies departments located? so CEO looks like completely pause heart, asked his assistant what he is talking about and then said we shall look into the matter.

But you know I want to make an additional point that I think it is not only commoditisation in this sense which is happening but I think there is an effort to introduce a kind of dualism into the education system, particularly the faculty. In the United States today for instance, two thirds of the entire faculty is adjunct faculty and like wise even here in provincial university; In fact Arun was talking about a local University in Orissa. The economics department was being run on the basis of just three faculty members who are teaching MA, M-Phil, supervising PHD and so on and how because obviously they all kind of guest lectures who are paid a pittance. So you have actually among the teachers, a kind of dualism and the objective of that dualism is to have one set of proletarian teachers who have no tenure, who are paid a pittance, who are basically teaching the kind of syllabus handed down from the UGC. Standardisation by the way is a very important component of commoditisation. Additionally, however you have some privileged full time professors. Like again you have in United State, who are paid very well and their tole then of course be to become the ideologue of the system. To really become defenders of the establishment because they themselves are very much part of the establishment by virtue of being privileged members of it. I think if we are moving towards that kind of a dualism, that you really have commodity production of two kinds. One hand you have commodity production of bunch of students who have been produced imparted with certain skills in order to basically to meet the requirements of capital on the job market. On the other hand you would be producing the commodities in the nature of ideologues to actually defend the system. It is that we are moving towards, it is not single commoditisation but dual commoditisation and I think the struggle would be more fruitful if we looked at this very much broader context within which the changes in Delhi University are located.




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