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RIGHT TO AFFORDABLE AND QUALITY HIGHER EDUCATION

By

Rohit, II Year of B.A.,LL.B(Hons), from Institute Of Law, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra


“Education is the best friend. An educated person is respected everywhere. Education beats the beauty and the youth.”


Education is a profitable gift to the human kind which can lay down a foundation for a dynamic and equitable society. This gift of education works as the messiah for the ones who have faced oppression and poverty in their course of life and helped them become a better person. With the likes of great teachers and philosophers like Swami Vivekananda, Chanakya, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Rabindranath Tagore and Savitribai Phule, India holds a very important place in terms of education with the world’ oldest and first university, Takshashila University. Long before the establishment of Oxford, Cambridge and Europe's oldest university, Bologna, Nalanda University was an eminent learning centre. The school attracted scholars and students from close and far at its height, with some from Tibet, China, Korea, and Central Asia travelling. But since then there has been a huge domination of the European school of thoughts formulated by Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and many more.


After Independence of India in 1947, there was a new beginning in the aspects of education. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was designated as the first education minister of India [2].


IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, Central Universities and State Universities were established to make the people educated, innovative and better citizens. But the Indian education system has still been criticised all over the world for its limitations and weaknesses.


The number of universities in India increased by 34 times between 1950 and 2014, and colleges expanded by 74 times between 1950 and 2013. The standard of the education they offer has not balanced this quantitative boom of higher education institutions. The difference between quantity and quality is, in fact, so big that it is one of the major barriers to India becoming a world leader [3].


As of All India Survey on Higher Education, 2018-2019, India constitutes about 993 Universities, 39931 Colleges and 10725 Stand Alone institutions [4]. These are regulated by the orders of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and 14 professional councils such as National Medical Commission (NMC), Bar Council of India (BCI) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) [5].


Schemes and policies are brought in for reforms in the existing education system, which has lost its relevance in the present times. In 2017, UGC sets up the recognition scheme of Institutes of Eminence for higher education institutes in India. Ten public institutes and ten private institutes are recognised under this scheme where public institutes will be granted Rs.1000 crore and no funding for the private ones [6].


Even the National Education Policy, 2020 suggested by K. Kasturirangan Committee, is a game changer and a long time needed reform to the Education System [7].


The policy recommends the creation of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) under which the National Regulatory Council for Higher Education (NRCHE) will be established, which means that this Council will act as a single authority for all areas of higher education, including teaching, but excluding medical and legal education. The existing regulatory bodies like UGC and AICTE would get abolished from the passing of the new parliamentary law [8].


For our higher education institutions, a single regulator for higher educators is certainly a desirable policy decision, but not without addressing our most fundamental problems of imparting more quality and autonomy which India lags for a long period. In 2019, the World Talent ranking report by IMD showed that India's public education expenditure has not been sufficient to either attract foreign talent to the country or develop indigenous top brains [9].


Quality Education is a vision that the education system would love to achieve, but what about its affordability? In a developing country like India, where the gap between rich and poor people is so big, education is the subject which can act as a bridge between them. Since the bridge is just becoming out of reach for the poor people, it is the government who has to build it up. India spends 4.6% of its total GDP on education and, according to the IMD, ranks 62nd in total public expenditure on education per student [10].


Experts have called for rising education expenditure to 6%, which is also in line with the aim of Niti Aayog to improve the standard of education in India by 2022 [11].


The 4% of the Indian population lives in extreme poverty, and females are more in number than men. In almost every 3 seconds, a person in India gets out of poverty which makes it on a path of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target [12].


But as of the Global Hunger Index report, 2020, India was ranked 94th among 107 countries, way behind Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The scenario is bleak, and the nation is facing widespread hunger [13].


After the release of this report, on November 12, 2020 in Haryana, MBBS fees were hiked from Rs.50,000 to Rs.10 Lac per annum in the government medical colleges. The move of the Haryana Government was criticised by the Indian Medical Association President, Dr Rajan Sharma [14].


The Vice Chancellor of PT Bhagwat Dayal Sharma University of Health Sciences (UHS), Rohtak, Dr OP Kalra stated that the decision of the state to raise fees for the MBBS course is based on research expenses and was taken after obtaining the necessary information from senior faculty members as well as officials of the state medical institutions' administrative, finance and accounting wings. In October 2019, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) saw a huge protest against the spike of the hostel fees. The hostel fee was increased 30 times the previous one. JNU Student Union (JNUSU) cited annual reports from the university to say that more than 40 percent of JNU students come from classes with lower incomes and will not be able to afford the rise [15].


The students might even have to leave the university. For a double-occupancy room in the hostel, a JNU student would need to fork out Rs.60700 per year. It comes up to Rs.62500 for a single-occupancy. The annual charges for the hostel under the revised plan amount to Rs.46600 for a BPL student as 50% recession is offered to them in room charges, utility and service. JNU will have one of the country's highest hostel charges and become the most costly central university [16].


There were many other institutes like in IITs where the fees of M-Tech was raised about 900%, in Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) where the fees was raised over 100% in last 10 years, in Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) where the high fees of Joint Entrance Test (JET) was being questioned and in SRFTI the education cost was doubled in span of 3 years [17].


But in the unprecedented times of COVID-19, the affordability of services is arising as another issue. The students of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) have raised their questions on the rules regarding the conduct of “online proctored examinations” and its practicality as of the guidelines released by the Controller of Examinations. They said to have a Windows laptop/PC with a stable internet connection and a web camera, in addition to other requirements like that of a smartphone. The All India Student Association (AISA) regarded these rules as bizarre and against the very idea of public funded education. They added by saying that many students at Jamia are underprivileged and come from socially deprived classes which make it difficult for every student to afford it and make it discriminatory. Jamia students hailing from Kashmir have expressed their problems of having 2G internet connectivity, with multiple electricity cuts and internet shutdowns during any operation of security forces against militants, which makes it difficult and impractical for the guidelines to be implemented. The National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) remarked that the authorities are needed to revise the guidelines and come with the new ones that are practically possible. The exams for the undergraduate and postgraduate students, scheduled to start from December 21, 2020, are put on hold [18].


For a nation like India, it is difficult for the government to have affordability and quality of education hand-in-hand, but it is not impossible. The Government of India has to spend more and more on education like Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries who spend about 11% of the total government expenditure on education, on average [19].


The government has to launch more schemes, scholarships and subsidies so that students get motivated and even teachers, like Ranjitsinh Disale who has been awarded for the 2020 Global Teacher Prize, must be encouraged for their teaching skills [20].


Its time to shift the focus to a bigger picture i.e. from ‘Right to Primary and Secondary Education’ to ‘Right to Higher Education’, both of quality and affordability. There is a long road for India to become a central hub for education and attain its’ position back as an ‘International Guru’ for the world, but the country’s firm determination and hard work can make it happen in the near future.