The draft National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government triggered criticism from different quarters in Tamil Nadu. Critics have warned of higher exit of students in the proposed system, which would “help in creating a cheap labour force for corporate entities rather than produce qualified professionals”.
Though the framework speaks about integrating vocational education with higher education and higher education qualifications leading to a degree/diploma or a certificate, experts warned of a higher possibility of students exiting the system. The framework has very little reference to the regional and diverse culture prevailing across the country, they said.
As the framework adopts a system practised in several foreign countries, the experts accuse it of diluting the local requirements and establishing a new form of meritocracy.
Tamil Nadu, which has a higher gross enrolment ratio (GER) compared to other states, could be the biggest loser if the framework is implemented, the experts told Newsclick.
The NHEQF provisions are designed in line with the National Education Policy (NEP) and in sync with the National Skills Qualifications Framework. As the NEP has emphasised a complete overhaul of the higher education system, the policy puts forward drastic changes in the existing system, including the formation of additional higher education institutions and redefining the scope of universities.
Former IAS officer Sasikanth Senthil alleged that the framework will shift towards totalitarianism and hyper-nationalistic principles. “The framework provides multiple options to enter and exit during a course. This, in the Indian context, would exit,” he told Newsclick.
The framework provides options to exit at classes 10 and 12 and during any year of study, which, according to the government, will introduce flexibility for students.
However, Senthil said that such a move would be detrimental. “The framework has recommended an academic credit bank for students to which credits will be accumulated after the completion of specific courses. The student can exit with an equivalent certification, which will only enable the availability of cheap labour for the capitalistic market rather than producing employable graduates.”
The impact on GER is also a factor for a state like Tamil Nadu, which already has a better GER than the national average. “The high GER has been achieved with a lot of efforts by including the socially and economically weaker section through the social justice principle for the last several decades in the state. This framework will have a negative impact on GER,” Senthil said.
‘SUPPLY OF FREE LABOUR WILL INCREASE’
The amendments made to the Apprentices Act, 1961, in the name of ease of doing business are exploiting the educated youth, who get only two years of work and are paid from the national exchequer during the apprenticeship.
V Suresh, general secretary, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, during the launch of a book titled NVEQF - A Symbol of Totalitarian Nationalism, pointed out the amendments favouring corporate companies. “The big industries are getting free labour for two years. This is a type of bonded labour system in practice now. After two years, these educated and qualified youth take up gig jobs. This framework will fuel further supply of free labour to industries,” he said.
The neglect of the historic, economic and political background of education has not been considered by the framework while more thrust has been given to modernise the education system in terms of adopting new models from foreign countries.
“All the provisions look nice on paper. But the demands of our country have not been considered in the framework. This will not bring the underprivileged up but will force them out of education,” Senthil said.
‘TOWARDS UNITARY SYSTEM’
The rights of state governments and state government-run universities will lose relevance as the framework shifts education more into the hands of the Union government. The policy shift has been highlighted by academics and members of civil society organisations as less importance has been given to critical analysis, process, local adaptation and federal principles.
“The shift from process to content, critical thinking to data analysis, local adaptation to universal approach and federal principles to unitary principles are adopted here,” Suresh said. “This shift will result in producing students without independent thinking.”
Constitutional principles, including social and economic justice, have not considered in the framework. “The education system is directly linked to democracy and citizenship. Education is a sovereign issue which cannot be sold,” Suresh said