Should we bail them out?

The government has decided to open up the education sector, particularly of the higher education variety, to foreign universities and a bill is expected to be introduced in Parliament in the current session. It is a continuation of our decision earlier to provide more than Rs50 crore to Cambridge and Harvard universities.
For Cambridge it was to honour the entry of Nehru. In Harvard it was to commemorate the 75th birthday of Amartya Sen.

The major arguments given for the bill are that it will minimise the number of students going abroad and save billions in foreign exchange and enhance competition. It will open the windows for foreign expertise and facilitate globalisation. Many of the students going for beautician or bread-making courses in Australia are primarily interested in getting residence permits and becoming citizens of that country. They are not interested in learning per se. Hence, the arguments regarding saving foreign exchange are not without basis.

Let us look at what has taken place in the last six decades in higher education after the arrival of institutions of higher learning like the IITs, NITs (formerly RECs), the IIMs and various other institutions in medicine and law. The lower and middle classes could have access to education based on merit since most of these institutions, particularly government-owned ones, were following rigorous criteria for entrance tests. The traditional feudal elite, belonging to what can loosely be called the Delhi/ Mumbai caucus which thrives on the recommendations (sifarish) culture, found the going difficult.

Not only that, most of the children of business magnates could not get into prestigious Indian institutions due to strict entry norms. They were sent abroad for higher education by the elite by paying a hefty sum as fees.

As it is well known, one of the important criteria to get into these world-class institutions in the US and UK is the amount of money you can give as fees or as gifts in the form of grants. The elite thrived on the illegal money stashed abroad in various tax havens to educate their academically-challenged progenies even as the less monetarily endowed classes were ascending the  hierarchy by merit, capability and competence.

The elite suddenly realised that the cost of sending their children is increasing and the newly ascending bankrupt classes are becoming powerful in terms of their positions in many organisations. These are the children of the middle classes.
So the elite decided to hit back and take things in their own hands. The result is this foreign university bill. These so-called quality institutions will look for larger donations and then give admissions based on “legacy”. That is the children or sponsors of alumni get preferences based on “donations”.

These institutions in the UK and US are broke and many departments are getting closed. “Some are admitting more out-of-state students, who pay higher fees. Several institutions have also started to cut the number of students they enroll in order to save money. California State University (CSU), a public university system that has 23 campuses in California, will reduce enrolment by 20,000 students in the next academic year because it has lost $564 million, or around 20%, of its state funding, according to a report in The Economist, London.

We find that the discussion and debate in the media after the bill has been approved by the cabinet is regarding “market”, “business” and “return.” That is the main reason for the interest of global companies/institutions to get into these activities. It is not for imparting education or knowledge.

Today if anyone talks of globalisation, it is on Indian and Chinese terms. The axis of power has shifted and the West is in terminal decline, or monotonically declining, for those who are mathematically inclined. When the West is in decline on all fronts and when its Weltanschauung is not being bothered about, what is the necessity for India to try to copy their educational  system? It is broke from the financial point of view as well as the philosophical one. Their models have not worked, including their family system, community system and social security system.

Even their church has suffered due to therecent outbreak of scandals. This is one reason why Martin Wolf of the Financial Times suggests that Britain should give up its permanent seat in the Security Council in favour of India.

It is up to our Parliamentarians to decide what India wants and what they would like to leave for the future generations. One only wishes that some Gandhian institution will distribute copies of the original Hind Swaraj of Mahatma Gandhi — published hundred years before — to our Parliamentarians to understand that we are proud children of Nalanda and Taxshila.
(Views expressed are personal)


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