I attended a CSA conference on Globalisation and its Impact on higher education this morning. I came away feeling that the speakers were tilting a little too much towards the left for my taste. I also found that one particular speaker was stuck somewhere in the 19th century for his attitude towards globalisation in the education sector. The speaker in question, Dr. Loganathan, is from the Department of Economics at Sir Thyagaraya College in Chennai. So far so good. The problem starts when he opened his mouth to talk economics. Let me explain. He has a problem with the private sector in education. He also has a problem with foreign participation in education. That is fine, as long as you can substantiate the belief, especially in a panel discussion, with decent arguments. That is where the core problem lies. I wanted to rebut him point by point right there, but not wanting to hijack the discussion, I am limiting myself to this blog. His arguments are given in bold. They are summarised from my notes and are not quoted verbatim. My rebuttals in normal font. So, here we go!
Private participation in education has resulted in too many private engineering and arts and science colleges. Since these colleges charge very high fees, the weaker sections of the population are denied access to education.
Right! I agree. But, these private colleges exist to supplement supply of education on the government's side, and not to replace it.These "weaker sections" have access to public institutions (colleges, universities, schools etc.), which provide highly subsidised, even free education. Now, what about those who are economically backward but cannot access public institutions because of our reservation policy? I admit, that is a problem. But, one that is completely irrelevant to the discussion on globalisation and its impact on education in India. Another theme for another day.
Private institutions will deny the right of the teachers to form unions, and therefore, the right to go on a strike if they so wish. With education being completely public, there is no such danger.
Of course, there is no danger of anyone ever making teachers accountable. Because, every time someone asks questions, they will go on strike, colleges will shut down indefinitely and students will be affected. Let's get one thing straight here. Going on a strike in not a right. It is a criminal waste of time, and the taxpayers' money. Will our communists ever get this right? Kerala is stagnating because of this.
With the entry of the private sector, education is increasingly commercialised. This results in the degradation of Indian culture and the disappearance of the Guru-shishya Parampara.
Eh? Of fine. If you insist. But frankly, I don't see the point at all. I dismissed this one as the rants of an old man.
The entry of the private sector creates competition. This results in private institutions offering sub-standard education.
I beg to differ. Competition inspires improvement in quality. Also, all public institutions are not great. Our very own Madras University is a case in point. It is not equipped with the most basic facilities such as a photocopy machine or a fax. It possesses hardly any computers for a university of that size, and a wi-fi zone is perhaps too much to hope for. In brief, lack of quality is a generic problem in education in India. At least in the public sector, they can procure these things from a part of the profits they make (we hope).
IIT graduates quit the country to serve a foreign state. This is a waste of the taxpayers' money. In effect, we are subsidising education for those studying abroad.
Hmm. What to say to such a dumb argument? Don't give things away free. Follow the IIM route. Make credit available for students who get admission into premier institutions. That way, you provide access and don't waste taxpayers' money. What say?
Foreign universities want to accredit and evaluate Indian universities. This is a loss in national pride and dignity.
It is not. We really need a global yardstick for measuring quality of education. If that must be done by foreign universities, so be it. Why are we unnecessarily making this an issue of national pride? We could insist on the same in other countries. If our universities are willing to go abroad that is.
On the whole, it was impossible to digest the fact that a senior professor from one of Chennai's oldest colleges was talking as if he belonged to the 19th century. We need this mindset to change. Maybe it will be difficult to change the mindset of that generation. It is after all, the generation that has seen the worst of economic crises in their youth. But, let's hope that at least the younger generations will see globalisation and liberalisation of trade, not as a threat but as an opportunity. Let's hope.