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What Indian Elections Could Mean for Higher Ed

Lots in store for the Indian higher education in 2019. The higher education environment may appear normal on the surface, but many academics are worried.

May 5, 2019
 
 

India has been undergoing the long process to elect its next Central government since April 11. The final counting is scheduled for 23 May.The results will have a lasting impact on the country’s higher education and research priorities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making a strong political pitch for a second term. He has been India’s Prime Minister since 2014. While his government had launched various flagship programs such as Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN), National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), Institutions of Eminence (IoE), etc., for improving the competitiveness of the system, the sector has had also been the locus of many controversies.

Chauvinistic claims about ancient India’s scientific and technological contributions made by a few ministers along with politically-motivated government interference in prominent academic institutions such as Jawaharlal Nehru Universityin Delhi, Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, University of Hyderabad, etc., have drawn criticism from many quarters, both nationally and internationally.

The imposition of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules on teachers at Central universities that restricts academic freedom, promoting politically-motivated historiography and attack on scientific temperdiluting the credibility of national statistical organizations, etc, are some other  examples of the gradual development of a regimented academic system, which is not conducive to improving the competitiveness of the sector. 

Interestingly, the Modi government is confident about returning to power and has been going ahead with a policy blueprint for the next government. It was reported that the five-year action-plan, Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP), being prepared is aimed at bring in a thorough overhaul to the existing system, despite the political uncertainty likely to emerge after 23 May.The greater role accorded to higher education and research by the Modi government could also be seen from the recent initiatives of the government such as human space flight program, ant-satellite missile test, and new slogan to promote science and technology, etc. 

It is difficult to predict the outcome of the election at this stage. The two most likely election scenarios are: either the BJP-led alliance win the majority seats in the parliament and Narendra Modi will continue or a Rahul Gandhi-led Congress with the help of smaller parties form the next government. It is almost certain that that there is no Narendra Modi wave in 2019 as in the 2014 general elections. At the same time, lack of unity among the major opposition parties would prevent them from forming an alternative government, if Modi falls short of a majority.

What could all this mean to the Indian higher education? While a change in government could reset the agenda in Indian higher education, briefly discussed below on the basis of major political parties, continuance of a Modi-led government and policy priorities in higher education would to a great extent be on the basis of the recommendations of the EQUIP discussed above and the New Education Policy of India. The chances of the new government exerting its ideological dominance over academia are very high.

The manifesto of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party currently leading the government, assures regulatory changes in the sector, setting up of subject-specific universities such as Culture and Music University, Hospitality and Tourism University, Police University, Foreign Policy University, creating fifty world-class institutions by 2024 and the promotion of ‘Study in India’ to make India as major destination for  foreign students.

Latest trends point to the strong possibility of a change in government which would lead to Indian National Congress (INC) under Rahul Gandhi with the support of smaller regional and leftist parties such as the Communist Party of India forming a government after May 23. If that is the case, the conventional wisdom is that the new government would immediately revoke the most controversial decisions and reforms implemented and initiated by the previous government. 

The poll manifesto of the Indian National Congress promises doubling the allocation for the entire education sector to 6 % of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2024. It also talks about increasing the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education from the current level of 25.8% to 40% by 2024 and making India an innovation hub. The INC manifesto accords priority to the science and technology sector by assuring recruitment of more scientists to the various research institutes in the country.

However, if the Indian National Congress forms the next government with the conditional support of the left-leaning parties led by Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), that would be reflected in the policy priorities of the next government. Although the CPI(M) manifesto supports increased public funding of higher education and strengthening the research capacity of the university system, the party is very clear about opposing foreign direct investment in higher education. The CPI(M) manifesto also talks about promoting agricultural research to break the monopoly of companies such as Monsanto in the seed market, promoting free software and campaigning to promote scientific temper and rational thinking.

The role of regional parties in forming the government would also be critical in influencing future policy priorities. Most of the regional parties in India are focussed on regional issues and do not give as much importance to the higher education sector. Most favour unbridled privatisation of the sector. The Aam Aadmi Party(AAP), controlling the Delhi government, is an exception with its strong support for an increased government role in the education sector.    

In conclusion, lots in store for the Indian higher education in 2019. The environment at the higher education institutions in the country  may appear normal on the surface, but many academics are worried

Neither the ruling BJP under Narendra Modi nor the opposition INC under Rahul Gandhi is likely to get a majority in the next parliament. Therefore, it can be argued that the actual impact of the general elections in the sector would be mainly influenced by the policy priorities of the parties supporting the next government.

 

Eldho Mathews is an independent higher education researcher based in New Delhi.His current research interests include internationalization, higher education policies of India during the post-liberalisation period and post-Mao reforms in Chinese higher education system.

 

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