Gujarat: PPP Model Denying Right to Education, Leading to Unrest
Education influences everyone in society, directly or indirectly, but educational issues don’t excite people during poll campaigns, which are structured around appeals to social identities or charisma of leaders.
Therefore, when the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and the former Gujarat Chief Minister Suresh Mehta made a public issue about the poor performance of education sector in Gujarat a few days back, presenting it as one of the reasons for the anti-establishment agitation being led by Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, it raised some eyebrows.
Access to Education behind the Patidar Agitation
Government’s education policies and performance cannot become a driver of social mobilisation and electoral strategies. However, they do reveal a regime’s ideological orientation, as well as its commitment to provide for public goods sufficiently.
As Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Education Minister Manish Sisodia have demonstrated, a government’s educational record can become a vantage point to showcase or critique its overall model of development and governance.
Many observers of Gujarat’s society have cited reduced access to higher education due to privatisation, as one of the possible reasons behind the demand for reservation by sections of Patidars – a community that belongs to the upper social crust and enjoys an economic status that puts it in the category of middle class and above.
The fact that Patidars, who led the violent anti-reservation agitations in 1981 and 1985, have themselves been pushed to demand reservation, has thrown a great sociological and public policy challenge for the so-called Gujarat model of development.
Also, the fact that Dalit, OBC Kshatriya, and Patidar castes that have generally fought against each other in the past, are seeing notable sections of their communities fight the policies of the present regime, side by side is another puzzle for social scientists and politicians as well.
Hardik-Alpesh-Jignesh Trio’s Valid Question for the State
The movement of social recognition by castes in Gujarat today should also be seen as a politics for the restoration of the state’s leading role in the delivery of public goods like education and health.
When the above-mentioned trio of young mavericks speak about the state’s youth getting left out of the job market due to poor quality education in government schools and colleges, as also due to its inability to afford the high cost of private education, they are not just labouring an obvious point but also hinting at the severe financial, social, and political stress that the state’s withdrawal from social sector can generate.
Dissatisfaction with the neo-liberal economic model for its incapacity to turn inclusive and address concerns of distributive justice underpin Hardik Patel’s intransigence on reservation for Patidars despite legal hurdles.
Alpesh Thakor’s more reasoned argument on why state fails to reach out to the rural and backward sections despite registering a very high rate of economic growth is also valid.
Tribals, Dalits, minorities and select other backward castes face the biggest disadvantages of such model of economic development.
Gujarat’s Flawed Policy on Privatisation of Education
The issues of privatisation of education are not Gujarat-specific, but common to most other states in the country.
Decisions regarding the degree and nature of such involvement fall within the domain of the state governments, which must take the blame or the credit for the socio-academic outcomes of the privatisation of primary, secondary, higher and technical education.
Gujarat’s private education policy evolved in fits and starts over the past fifteen years with an unmistakable trend of government’s gradual withdrawal and disinvestment from the education sphere.
This transition is marked by a shift towards delivery of educational services through the private actors.
This policy has a kind of “ease of doing business” thrust for entities that wish to invest in setting up new medical, engineering and other professional colleges, as well as schools.
Of course, conscious of the unbridled profiteering motive of private players, the government has constituted legally empowered fee regulatory committees at both school and college levels to determine the ceiling of fees to be charged.
Takeover of Management in the Name of PPP Model
The state’s private universities’ act has simplified the process of approval of new institutions, taking the total number of universities in Gujarat to more than 50.
The policy of privatisation helped the society in some measure, as it stopped the migration of students from the state to private engineering and medical colleges in Karnataka or Maharashtra, by creating the capacity for nearly 80,000 degree and diploma seats in engineering, 3,600 seats in medical, and 1,100 seats in the dental streams.
Nearly two third of the seats in professional courses at the undergraduate level in the state today are in the private and self-financing institutions.
The government of Gujarat has also encouraged the takeover of management and infrastructure of a slew of public assets in the education sector by private parties, under the euphemistic title of public-private partnership.
The first hint of this orientation came when a Rs 100 crore public hospital built out of the funds given from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund in the earthquake-ravaged Bhuj was transferred to a private medical college run by an influential industrial group. This model has expanded further, with about eight new greenfield medical colleges to be established under PPP model by associating public hospitals and sale of land at highly concessional rates.
Hidden Disinvestment in Education
Neo-liberal approach to education has taken the form of hidden disinvestment from education. This is evident in the form of drastic reduction in faculty and technical posts in colleges and schools, closure of some departments, and shift of publicly-funded universities to a partly self-financing mode.
Appointment of teaching staff on contractual and fixed salary (which is less than half of what a permanent teacher would receive) is the norm. Government annually employs about 11,000 such contract teachers in the public school system.
About one third of the posts in the higher education sector is vacant or filled up with ad hoc or part time teachers year after year.
Interestingly, as Gujarat was undergoing this favourable policy transition towards privatised education, the central government investment in education sector in the state grew substantially, with the establishment of premier institutions like IIT, NIFT, IIIT, Railway University and a central university, with an outlay of several thousand crore of rupees.
Careers Hit Due to State’s Withdrawal
The net outcome of such privatisation of education and the state’s withdrawal from the social sector has been a high dropout rate at the secondary level. This is accompanied by the inability of a large number of students to clear the board examinations and secure admission in good colleges. Large number of seats in the private institutions remain vacant due to their high fees and poor academic quality.
Only about 14.7 percent of the students who enroll in government schools at the primary level are able to clear higher secondary education.
The perceptible decline in the quality of education and research in Gujarat’s institutions has been evidenced by a comparative analysis of the ratings scored by universities and colleges in the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) evaluation.
Financial scams and academic irregularities unearthed in some private medical colleges recently point to a serious malaise in the regulatory mechanisms. Several surveys and reports have acknowledged huge employability and skill gap among students who pass out of the colleges. This factor adds to the unemployment and subsequent unrest among the youth.
Questions on Human Development Indices Can’t be Ignored
The well-established fact that there is no inherent positive correlation between economic growth and human development has become a rallying point for the opposition campaign for the next Gujarat election.
Irrespective of the outcome of this election, the question – why a fast-growing industrial state like Gujarat is not among the high-performing states of the country as far as human development indicators like healthcare, education, infant mortality, nutrition and income disparities are concerned – cannot be ignored for long now.
(The writer is Professor, Department of Political Science, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. He can be reached @Amit_Dholakia . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)