De Facto Privatization in Delhi University through NEP, 2020 and Populist Budgets

Narender Thakur & Vaishali

Amidst the ongoing recession and Covid-19 pandemic, in order to cover up for socio-economic loss, the governments- central and now the Delhi state are resorting to a populist approach to retain their political power. This article examines the budgetary claims over development made by the Delhi government via using populist modes by highlighting the greater public spending in education and health. AAP led government in Delhi has projected the two sectors (education and health) as ideal in terms of the higher share in state GDP but equally crucial is to look at other regressive developments in terms of non-payment of salaries of doctors, nurses and teachers and contractual workers. Further, the Kejriwal government in Delhi had promised in its manifesto last year that 20 colleges will be opened under its regime and 85% seats in those colleges will be reserved for residents of Delhi. Such promises are examples of populist approach in terms of catering the voters. Educational institutions in the capital are meant for all Indians rather than residents of one state. Similarly, in health sector, as well opening more and more mohalla clinics in the city is a welcoming move but not listening to the grievances of doctors and nurses, who are protesting against the non-payment of salaries, reflects at the systemic loopholes at implementation of the populist measures which may not be sustainable in the long run.

In addition, when it comes to following the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which promotes privatization in education and contractualization of work, Delhi government also pushes for its implementation. One of the widely circulated news in social media is on Delhi government’s proposal on “Pattern of Assistance” (which DUTA is calling a “Pattern of Assault”) to ask for cost-recovery in public higher educational institutions (HEIS) from students’ fee, is in a way pushing towards self-financing in the 12 constituent colleges of University of Delhi, which are 100% financed by the Delhi government.  It is clear that notwithstanding its claims, Delhi government has submitted to neo-liberal economic policies. It doesn’t question the greater involvement of private sector and favors de facto privatization in public higher education.  This can be better understood in the subsequent sections discussing what is actually happening in the University of Delhi under the guidance of Central and Delhi governments through the National Education Policy, 2020 (NEP 2020) and 2021-22 Budget for education.

Risks of Merger & Acquisition and Privatization

In the 12 constituent colleges of University of Delhi which are 100% funded by Delhi government, teachers and non-teaching staff are constantly under the fear and stress due to the Delhi government’s ultra vires proposal of bringing these colleges under Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD)- a state public university or Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIP)- a state private university. The proposed move of Delhi government is an indication of gradually pushing these colleges to adopt self-financing approach, so Delhi government’ s claim to project itself as welfarist state, is actually carrying forward the central government’s neo-liberal agenda via – de-affiliation, merger and acquisition. Due to the irregular and insufficient grants by the Delhi government, the long-delayed salaries, pensions, medical reimbursement and other dues of teaching and non-teaching staff in the past 6 months have already kept the employees under great economic hardship and psychological stress during the Covid-19 period. In response to the alarming situation, Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) in coordination with Delhi University and Colleges Karmchari Union (DUCKU) called for a complete shutdown of the University from 11th March to 18th March, 2021. However, after the shutdown, on 12th March, 2021, Delhi government released grants of Rs. 82.8 crores under the Grants-in-Aid-Salaries and Rs. 9.51 crores under the head of Grants-in-Aid-other than salary for the financial year 2020-21. These grants release would ensure a short-term relief for the staffs due to payment of salaries up to January, 2021 in the 12 colleges. But this financial grant is still insufficient to completely pay salaries and other dues. This situation is accompanied with the risks of merger and acquisition for these 12 colleges. The recent instance is of College of Art, which is now de-affiliated from the University of Delhi and is merged with Ambedkar University Delhi. Interestingly, Andhra government is also expressing its desire to take over another college -Venkateshwara College in South Delhi campus of University of Delhi, by adopting similar strategy of merging and acquisition.  This environment has made DUTA to continue the protest and is also urging Delhi government to withdraw the plans of merger and acquisition and the privatization and to stabilize the irregular grants.  

 It is crucial to understand that NEP, 2020 has three main hidden objectives which undermine the welfare of teaching and learning community: (i) privatization via increasing student-fees and adopting self-financing mode in public funded colleges and universities, (ii) contractualization of teaching and non-teaching work and (iii) promotion of nationalism in terms of neo-conservatism to divert the illiterate, dropout, unemployed and underemployed population especially in economic recession in Covid-19 era. So, the process of de-affiliation and merging of 12 colleges from university of Delhi appears to be a strategic move by Delhi government in coordination with central government. It is because, it is presumed that the reduced number of colleges from 91 to 79 shall weaken the collective strength of Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA). Further, the state government will get the full control over 12 colleges which will work under the Board of Governors as also proposed in NEP 2020. These developments will facilitate in neo-liberal policies which shall function via maximizing the student-fees and lowering the salaries.

Education in Delhi’s Populist Budget and NEP 2020

To implement NEP 2020, the Delhi government and central government have specified their clear intentions in their respective budgets for the year 2021-22. The Delhi Government presented its Budget 2021-22 on 9th March amidst the Covid-19 pandemic and projected a negative State Gross Domestic Product (SGDP) growth rate by – 3.8% for the year 2020-21, implying absolute decline of SGDP from Rs. 7.98 lakh Crore in 2019-20 to Rs.7.67 lakh Crore in 2020-21. The percentage share of education in total budget remained at 23.7% in 2021-22 (Table 1), which is referred as an important pillar of the “Kejriwal model of development” in the Budget Speech of the Deputy Chief Minster- Mr. Manish Sisodia. Sisodia claimed that education is the focus of governance with around 25% of total Delhi budget spent on it since 2014-15.

More interestingly, in tune with NEP, 2020, Delhi education budget also emphasizes on “nationalism” as development of “Deshbhakti Pathaykram” (patriotic curriculum), opening up Sainik (Defence) Schools and Academies.  This stance of nationalism corresponds with the stance adopted by the educational budget by the central government in its Budget 2021-22 presented on 1st February, 2021. Central government’s finance minister – Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman has also proposed, “100 new Sainik Schools will be set up in partnership with NGOs/private schools/states” all across the country.

Stress on Educational Loans: Push for De facto privatization

The Delhi Department of Higher Education provides guarantees of Rs. 10 lakh loans to the students passing their 10th and 12th classes for a higher degree, as recommended in the NEP 2020 for promotion of loans for students and universities through Higher Educational Finance Agency (HEFA). This is not different from asking colleges to utilize students’ funds for giving employee’s salaries and incurring other expenses, the process is a form of de facto privatization in education. However, the share of the union education budget is very low in comparison to Delhi state education budget, which has declined 6.1% from Rs. 99,311 crores in 2020-21 to Rs. 93,224 crores in 2021-22. On the other hand, Delhi government has slightly increased its budget by 8.4% from Rs. 15,102 in 2020-21 to Rs. 16,377 in 2021-22 (Table 1).  The populist budget of education by the state government can also be understood by the increase in percentage share of education expenditure in the GDP from 1.3% in 2014-15 to 2.1% in 2021-22 (Table 1), highlighted by the Delhi government as its achievement in their governance as “Kejriwal model”.

Table 1: Education Budget of Delhi Government from 2014-15 to 2021-22

Source: Economic Survey 2020-21 & Budget 2021-22-Delhi Government

Attempt to Change ‘Acts’ and raising the Costs for students and Staff

As per the deputy chief minister of Delhi, “in order to fully implement the New Education Policy, we will have to change the 50 years old education law in Delhi – Delhi School Education Act 1973, and also the Delhi University Act 1922, which is about 100 years old. Both these laws are not aligned to the ethos of the new education policy. We have requested the Central Government to revise the provisions of the Delhi University Act and have also started working on the New Delhi School Education Act for Delhi”.

Manish Sisodia’s budget speech reflects the correspondence between the understandings or ideologies of central and state governments. The surreptitious purpose behind the desired structural change in Delhi University Act 1922 is for the merger and acquisition, to get more control over the colleges. However the Delhi University Act 1922 would not allow it until and unless the central government does not amend it in the parliament. This ongoing crisis of irregular grants and merger and acquisition plans of the 12 constituent colleges by the Delhi government should be seen in futuristic gains for both the centre and state governments and losers would be the students, teachers and staffs in terms of four types of costs. The first type of cost is the pain and distress resulted in Covid- 19 era due to the irregular salaries and other dues in the last many months, the second type of cost is to merger and acquisition of public funded colleges of the central university to the state public or private universities.

The third cost would be lower salaries and other social security allowances, lower retirement ages as 60 years in the state university as compared to 65 years in the central university, the hire and fire policy, contractual working conditions for the teachers and staff under the guided NEP policies of privatization and promotion and career mobility would be controlled by the “merit” of the teachers as per the criteria to be set by the Board of Governors.

The NEP 2020 also promotes meritocracy, as reflected in its following statement: “…The common feature of all world-class institutions globally including India has indeed been the existence of strong self-governance and outstanding merit-based appointments of institutional leaders”. The board of governors would work as the private managers of the colleges and universities as specified in the NEP 2020- “a Board of Governors (BoG) shall be established consisting of a group of highly qualified, competent, and dedicated individuals having proven capabilities and a strong sense of commitment to the institution. The BoG of an institution will be empowered to govern the institution free of any external interference, make all appointments including that of head of the institution, and take all decisions regarding governance… It is envisaged that all HEIs will be incentivized, supported, and mentored during this process, and shall aim to become autonomous and have such an empowered BoG by 2035”.  

It can be understood by these lines that BOGs would be free from any strict regulations and will promote autonomous-market oriented policies in the higher educational institutions. The fourth cost would for the students in terms of higher costs of higher student-fees as noticed in the case of higher fees in the Ambedkar University Delhi in most of the courses as compared to University of Delhi and the cost-recovery mode would enhance the student-fees in public funded higher educational institutions (HEIs).  The NEP 2020 focuses on “All HEIs – public and private – shall be treated on par within this regulatory regime… fee determining mechanism will ensure reasonable recovery of cost while ensuring that HEIs discharge their social obligations…”.  These lines of NEP 2020 imply that public institution would be treated as private institution and giving freedom for self-financing course on full cost-recovery, as a tool of de facto privatization, which is critical for socio-economic equality in Indian society.

Concluding remarks and Policy Implications

The above discussion over the ongoing crisis in Indian higher education, especially in the University of Delhi, shows that NEP, 2020 and the following populist Delhi government’s budget, 2021-22 are facilitating neo-liberalism as privatization and contractualization as well as neo-conservatism. Delhi government seems to be in direct influence under the central government, as reflected in its recent budge for education. The ongoing crisis of irregular or non- payment of salaries and other dues as well as the merger and acquisition plans of the 12 constituent colleges in University of Delhi must be seen as a larger design for bulldozing neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism by the state and central governments rather than viewing it from narrower perspective to stabilize the situation. The unions of the students, and the associations or trade unions of the teachers and non-teaching staffs have to resist these anti-people economic policies and politics of the dismantling the public sector educational colleges and universities.

There are three policy implications from the above discussion. The first policy implication is to protect the public schools, colleges and universities from the onslaught of de facto privatization policy, through a proper dialogue and with all the stake holders and following bottom-up approach rather than the top-down approach. The second policy implication, is to create a political movement for saving public education system with an expansionary fiscal policy in the recessionary pressures in Covid-19 era. The third policy implication is for the Delhi government as the 12-constituent public funded colleges of the University of Delhi should have regular funding with an assurance of the protection of their autonomy.

Narender Thakur, University of Delhi, email: [email protected]

Vaishali, NIEPA, email: [email protected]