Bengalis, scattered over two countries and elsewhere, are full of contradictions. They were never a martial race, but were at the forefront of violent struggles to dislodge the British, and later, during the Naxalite movement. Hindus and Muslims lived largely in peace over centuries there, but one of the worst communal riots in history happened in Bengal. Bengalis are often brilliant individually, but are collectively marginalised in most spheres.

This blog is an attempt to understand the people and their mind.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Education for the highest bidder

A report in the Statesman, Kolkata on 12 June 2011 carries these nuggets.

Kerala health minister Adoor Prakash purchased a post-graduate seat at Pariyaarm Cooperative Medical College in Kannur for his daughter for Rs 80 lakh because it is “the responsibility of any father to ensure a better future for his children.” The minster runs a chain of liquor bars which I guess somehow qualifies him to be the health minister of a state that has overtaken Punjab as the biggest consumer of alcohol.
Unfortunately, Prakash had to give up the seat because of criticism even from his party, the Congress, which as we all know, believes in austerity and value-based politics!

The comedy of ironies doesn’t end there. The seat was sold to him by the CPI M-controlled college, headed by party leader AV Jayarajan.

Education minister Abdu Rubb is under pressure from his party, Muslim League, to return the MBBS seat which he got for his son at the Jubilee Mission Medical College, Trissur. The Christian management of the college charges Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore for an MBBS seat, but cynics allege that the seat has been gifted to the minister for supporting its stand that it can sell even government seats. (I presume this refers to the seats allotted to students who find themselves in the merit list prepared by the government.)  But to his credit, the education minister hasn’t yet succumbed to the pressure.

The DYFI, the youth wing of the CPI M, marched to the medical college demanding that the minister’s son not be admitted. The commendable protest by the DYFI against the sale of medical seats lost a bit of sheen when it was revealed that its state treasurer, VV Ramesh, too had bought a seat from the Pariyaram Medical College for his daughter under the NRI category, which costs Rs 50 lakh.

Ramesh, poor fellow, had to forego the seat at the instance of CPI M leadership. He said he had been driven by a father’s instinct when he had sought the seat rather than the discipline of a comrade. “The moment I realised my flaw, I corrected it by giving up the seat. For a communist, the party is above everything,” said he. It is sad that the people of Bengal and Kerala, who have seen the comrades closely, do not notice these simple virtues amongst them. BTW, the said Ramesh is also the director of the college.

In Kerala congressmen, communists, the Muslim political elite, padres, you name them, have their hands in the education pie. It is worth noting that these political parties / pressure groups have ruled the state alternately since the 1950s.

The situation is no different elsewhere. In Karnataka, possibly all the private engineering colleges are owned by congressmen and politicos other than from the BJP, who are Johnnies come lately in the state. The BJP chief minister therefore has developed a soft corner for the aspiring engineers of the state. He instructed the private engineering colleges to charge Rs 30,000 for meritorious students, that is, those who qualified through the common entrance test (CET). The colleges demanded they be allowed to charge between Rs 50 and 80 thousand. Ultimately, the chief minister arm-twisted the private colleges to accept the following fee structure:   

45% of engineering seats [will go] to students who have cleared the CET for Rs 35,000 and the remaining 55% seats under Comed-K and management quota for Rs 1.25 lakh. In addition, a supernumerary quota of 5% mandated by the All India Council of Technical Education will provide free seats [to] economically backward students.  (Deccan Herald, Bangalore, 3 June 2011)

In West Bengal, most of the private engineering colleges were set up by the CPI M leaders and their cronies during the second half of their 34-year regime. (Engineering colleges and cold storages were the only businesses that flourished in rural Bengal, both cornered by comrades.) In 2010, the reds read the writing on the wall. They knew they would be thrown out in the assembly elections in 2011. So they did something neat. They increased the annual tuition fees of private engineering colleges from Rs 56,000 to Rs 70,000. No protests, no wrangling, and no arbitrator to decide what the fees should reasonably be! Today, a student studying at a private engineering college in Bengal may reasonably ask why they should pay twice as much as their counterparts in Karnataka. 

Lots of good things have happened in our country since independence. And lots of bad things. The worst perhaps is commodification of education.

When we were young, a bright young boy or girl considered higher education their right, as college education, including at the IITs, cost next to nothing. One only had to be smart enough. The situation has changed. Higher education is now something that the rich can buy for their children so that they qualify for a job.

If you can afford it, you can buy a comfortable future for your offspring, just as you can buy a house or a car. Is anything wrong with that?

Well, till the other day, young Indians, who had neither houses nor cars, had the option to work hard and arm themselves with technical education to make a decent living. That option has been taken away, for all practical purposes, the official sop of 5% supernumerary quota notwithstanding.

Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen has said a time might come when one part of India will resemble California and the other part will be like sub-Saharan Africa. If that ever happens, privatisation of education, rather, making business out of education will contribute much to the process.