Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia
Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission
Government of India
We, the research scholars and students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai wish to express our concern over your recent comments pertaining to higher education in India. These include your comments on stopping the funding for universities and raising tuition fees across the board. You have also argued for an increased role for private sector investment in higher education. However, the reality of education in our country, particularly higher education compels us to strongly disagree with your comments.
Overall the gross enrolment rate in higher education in India is still less than 15 per cent. These figures show significant disparities across class, caste, gender and region. It is also less than the world average of 23 per cent. Secondly, despite the government’s constant pledge to raise public spending in education to at least 6 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), public spending on education still remains at less than 4 per cent of GDP. This is much lower than the share in a number of developing countries. The average share of higher education in the total education expenditure of both Central and State governments has come down from 14 percent during 1981-82 to 1991-92 to 12.7 percent during 1992-93 to 2003-04.
Further, the Planning Commission’s approach paper to the twelfth five year plan makes it clear that there is no scope for a rise in public funding of higher education and the government is looking at the private sector as the engine growth in the higher education sector. The approach paper says: “Resource constraints will make it difficult to meet the need of expanding higher education entirely through the public sector. Not all private educational institutions are of good quality and some are quite inferior. Minimum standards will have to be ensured. But free entry will, in the end, automatically weed out the poor quality institutions. Private initiatives in higher education, including viable and innovative PPP-models, will therefore, be actively promoted. The current “not-for-profit” prescription in the education sector should be re-examined in a pragmatic manner…”
We strongly disagree with this policy position. Unbridled expansion of the private sector will only exacerbate inequalities in higher education across socioeconomic groups and across gender and region; instead, it will be based on the slogan: “only the rich deserve good education”. In our view, in view of the above realities of our higher educational system, only a public funded education system can best ensure equal access to higher education. Hence, all efforts should be made to strengthen public higher education across the country.
As a member of a body like the Planning Commission, whose decisions impact the lives of people in the country, we hope you would give a thought to the concerns raised by us.
Saqib Khan, Karan Raut, Ranjini Basu and Rupesh Kumar
Research Scholars and students
Tata Institute of Social Sciences
V.N.Purav Marg, Deonar