... on India's higher education. In the speech at St Xavier's College, Kolkata, Chidambaram takes an admirably hard line against private institutions that are operated as money-spinning businesses (though they are ostensibly run by non-profit "trusts").
[Sanghvi has posted this article on his blog; there's a perceptive comment from Kartikeya Tanna on what the law says about private sector participation in higher ed, and how it has been circumvented in quite a few Indian states.]
He began by demolishing the general view that Indians are fans of higher education. He pointed out that less than 12 per cent of school-going children were able to find place in colleges or universities. The world average is 45 per cent.
Given that there is a shortage of places in higher education institutions, how do we fill the gap? Chidambaram claimed that “Higher education — or what passes as higher education in India — is, save a few shining examples, either a money-spinning business or a moth-eaten system.”
He said that higher educational institutions fell into three categories. There were government-run universities. He was scathing about them: “They are no different from any government office. As a matter of tiresome duty, they produce graduates and post-graduates every year, the vast majority of whom are no more ‘educated’ at the end of their terms than they were when they first enrolled in the college or university.”
A second group consists of elitist institutions, run with the support of the government. He conceded that these were often well-run but attacked them on the grounds of elitism.
It was the third set of institutions that drew most of his ire: “For them, education is commerce. Since demand for seats and colleges far exceeded the supply through legitimate sources there was a huge business opportunity that was grabbed with both hands by shrewd business persons. The bulk of these self-financing colleges and self-styled universities are no more than money-spinning businesses that exploit the demand-supply gap.”
Given the contempt in Chidambaram’s tone, nobody will be surprised by what came next: “I recognise and support the role of the private sector in higher education. But I am absolutely clear in my mind that the private sector in higher education ought not to mean private business in education. No one should be allowed to profit from offering higher education. As far as I am aware, no great university in the world was established for the purpose of profit. I believe some activities in a society must stand outside the world of profit and higher education ranks first amongst such activities.”
Chidambaram’s conclusion was unambiguous. He hoped that when the higher education policy was formulated “we will be able to ensure that higher education is a domain that will have no place for profiteering”.