Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Should education be privatised?

"It'll help meet manpower needs of new sectors"
—Reena Ramachandran
Director-General, Fortune Institute of International Business`

"It'll deny the poor access to higher studies"
— S. S. Rathi
former President, Delhi University Teachers' Association

  • India has the largest number of youth in the 17-25 age group. They are our potential intellectual capital. A limited number of government establishments cannot cater to the growing demand of the economy and aspirations of the youth.

  • According to a report of an expert committee appointed by the HRD Ministry, in the next five to seven years, the demand for management graduates would increase sharply. In this situation, government-run institutions would be able to meet only a fraction of the requirement.

  • The limited government re-sources are a constraint. A large segment of our population is deprived of primary education. Private investment in higher education would contribute the much-needed resources and opportunities for the youth.

  • Academic content needs to be designed to respond to market changes, which is much faster under private ownership.

  • In addition, deletion and modification of the programmes becomes complicated in a government-controlled system. For example, Delhi University does not offer an undergraduate programme in biotechnology. But there are about 400 biotech companies in India and several worldwide which require qualified manpower in this field. Similarly, the entertainment industry is growing at the rate of 15 per cent. Government-run institutions like the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, and the MCRC Jamia with their limited seats alone cannot meet market needs.

  • The entertainment, service sector and external sectors of the economy have been growing at a pace much higher than the average GDP growth. These sectors generate tremendous employment opportunities.

  • India has the potential for becoming a training hub for the rest of the world because of its world-class institutions and the medium of teaching. Private participation would facilitate this process.

  • The fear about the quality of education getting adversely affected if we open the floodgates is valid but ultimately only good institutions will emerge the winners.

  • Privatisation would lead to commercialisation of education: Only students who can pay would be able to get higher education. This would affect poor students who have merit but are unable to afford higher education.

  • This would deprive a vast section of society of the benefits of education. If education is available to all at a minimal cost, there would be a sense of parity between the privileged and the less privileged persons.

  • By limiting education to those who can pay, we will drive out a good section of students from participation in developmental and economic activities.

  • Privatisation of education would sound the death knell of invention and research activities as the private sector would not be interested in such activities; and the underprivileged would not get a chance to contribute.

  • Ethics would cease to matter to, say, a doctor who makes it on a paid seat.

  • Those subjects and disciplines would die whose study is not financially rewarding, like literature, history or social sciences. Few would be willing to pay an exorbitant fee for these courses.

  • As far as primary education is concerned, politicians present a wrong picture. By saying that after privatisation of higher education the government would be able to divert money to primary education, they are misleading the public. No action has been taken on the Kothari Committee report, even though every political party unanimously agreed that 6 per cent of the GDP be spent on education.

  • At present, only 3 per cent to 3.5 per cent of the GDP is spent on education and merely 0.5 per cent on higher education. If the government follows the Kothari Committee report, privatisation of education would not be needed.

  • It is misconception that all private institutions give quality education. In the Capital, where Indraprastha University was started to develop private professional colleges, some of them had to be closed down due to lack of infrastructure. Even the majority of institutes that are running do not have a permanent faculty.