Let us understand the entire JNU fee hike protest from the vantage point of Sunita. She is an average Indian young woman. She lives in a village, close to a district town. Her father is an average Indian farmer who owns a little under 3 acres of land (average landholding in India is roughly 2.8 acres). Her mother works towards raising the family besides looking after their buffalo. Theirs is a five-member family (Indian average is 4.45), including her grandmother and her younger brother, who studies in Class 10. She is exceptionally bright and has topped her college in BA. She dreams of becoming an IPS officer, like the ‘Madam’ she saw in her college function. She wants to do an MA in JNU to pursue her aspiration.Why can't she just take the Civil Services Exams immediately? She has a degree. That is all that is required. An M.A does not confer any further advantage. My sister, it is true, spent a year or two at JNU before getting into the IFS. But this was because she got her MA from London University when she was 19. She needed something to do while she was waiting to take her Civil Service exams which she could only do after turning 21. Since my family is affluent she did not need to work. Dad paid for her to attend the best Cramming College and hired a Hindi tutor. Thus she passed the exam on her first try. She scored particularly well in the interview. JNU did not help her in achieving her goal. Rather, it represented a fall back position. She could always get a Doctorate in I.R and become a professor. Indeed, she still might after retiring from the U.N.
There are only a thousand vacancies each year whereas a million sit the prelims. If Sunita is really very bright, she may stand a chance but it would be foolish for her to put all her eggs in one basket. She needs to develop work skills which raise her employability in the private sector. Having failed to get a Government job is not by itself any sort of recommendation.
Furthermore, assuming JNU offers genuine academic courses, Sunita's M.A studies will distract her from preparing for the exam. It would be better for her if she started earning some money and using it for specialized coaching classes. If I were in her place, I'd start in a lower cadre- perhaps as a clerk in a Nationalized Bank or, if she wants to improve her English quickly, as a teachers assistant in a posh Kindergarten or School.
She is not alone or atypical. She is among the millions of first-generation learners who are entering higher education – poor, mostly rural and disproportionately more from marginal communities such as Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim or OBC.It would be foolish for Sunita to set her heart on a thousand to one chance of getting a Civil Service job. Instead she- and the many millions of her fellows- must acquire productive work skills such that there is a market demand for what she has to offer. The Government can't make everyone a Civil Servant to be paid out of tax revenue. The vast majority has to earn money by doing productive things. Taxes are levied on that productive work.
It is foolish for a poor country like India to force young people into wasting their time pretending to be serious scholars when all they are doing is marking time taking a thousand to one gamble of becoming a 'Babu'.
This is not necessarily for love of knowledge. It is just that they have discovered, rather belatedly, that degrees are a passport to fulfil their aspirations to enter the middle class.Sunita has a degree. It is useless save in that it qualifies her to participate in the Civil Service lottery. An M.A is even more useless. She has no love of learning for its own sake and this will tell against her in her graduate studies. She is only doing the M.A because she hopes to win the Civil Service lottery and has got into her head that going to JNU will improve her chances.
For every Sunita who succeeds, there currently are 999 who fail. A poor country like India can't afford this sort of waste. Young people should be earning money and improving their work skills, not pretending to be scholars.
Last year, we had 3.74 crore students in higher education, the number is growing by about 6 lakh every year.But employment is shrinking while industry loudly complains that it can't find job-ready young people.
Sunita would be among the 11 per cent of those enrolled for higher education who manage to go beyond a simple graduation and have a realistic hope of a half-decent job.An MA or a PhD does not provide a 'realistic hope of a half-decent job'. Plenty of holders of such qualification end up applying for jobs as peons.
Half of India's population is under 25. Of those enrolled in higher education, half will never gain a job in the formal sector.
The website 'Youth ki awaaz' states-
' in Uttar Pradesh in the second week of September 2015, 2.3 million candidates applied for just 368 vacancies, for the post of a peon in the government secretariat. This incident highlighted the graveness of the unemployment scenario of India in a nutshell, as the applicants included 250 doctorates, 25,000 Postgraduates, 15o,oo0 graduates, 750,000 lakh Higher secondary school pass outs and over a million class 10 or equivalent pass outs, for a job which required only a qualification of a class 5 student and cycling skill.Unemployment among post graduates is 12 per cent. Among illiterates, it is 2 per cent. In some States, half of all post graduates who have job do the same work and receive the same pay as functionally illiterate people who may be younger than them. However, because of lower participation for women in the labor market, the plight of rural Sunitas is even worse. They are married to men as poor as their fathers or waiting to get married to such men- if any such can be found.
The EPW reports- Rohini Sahni and V Kalyan Shankar’s 2015 article, “What Does an MA Know?” ...is based on a survey conducted by them among postgraduate economics students in a state-run university. Their findings are worrying: students enrolled in institutes of higher education are often unaware of basic course concepts. The authors argue that Indian education suffers from the “diploma disease,” the ritualised process of qualification-earning. They add that higher education is often designed to conceal a student’s academic shortcomings.
Yogendra Yadav is aware of all this. Yet he asks about his fictional Sunita-
What would it take for her to fulfil her dream?It would take the crushing of the dream of 999 other people like her if she gets the Civil Service job she wants.
The Preamble to our Constitution promises her “equality of opportunities”.It also promises cows protection from the butcher's knife. So what? It is just meaningless verbiage.
So, she should be able to pursue her higher education based on her ability, irrespective of her gender, her location, her family means. But can she?Of course not. There is no country in the world which allows people, irrespective of their family's wealth or their own credit-worthiness, to pursue higher education rather than have to work for a living.
Suppose Sunita gets a job working in a factory. Her income would be about Rs. 15,000 per month if she really is smarter than average. If she goes in for teaching- which as a 'topper' from her College she should be able to do- she would soon be on 20,000 and should see 50,000 within a few years. By doing an MA at JNU, her opportunity cost is 2 lakhs per annum.
How fee hike affects household budget
Her family is not very poor, certainly not below the poverty line. She is from a respected farming family in her village. Besides working on their own land, the family keeps a buffalo that yields some much-needed extra income. Last year, their monthly family income was Rs 9,350 (National Sample Survey’s latest estimate of average per capita monthly expenditure in India is Rs 1,446. My estimate is based on the rural figure multiplied by 5 and adjusted for inflation from the base year). Let us say it has gone up to Rs 10,000 per month this year, or Rs 1.2 lakh per annum.
She may feel this is a worthwhile sacrifice if she gets into the I.A.S. But for every Sunita who succeeds there are a thousand who fail. Thus the collective loss is 2000 lakhs per annum. Since there are a thousand recruits to the top cadres of the Bureaucracy, this means that 2 billion pounds is wasted annually because people like Sunita do MAs rather than earn money, not from any love of learning but so as to win the Civil Service lottery.
Now, let us see what would it take her to go to JNU (it could be University of Hyderabad for that matter) to pursue her Masters.Sunita's family is agricultural- i.e. its income is volatile. They need to be putting by much more money for prudential reasons. Sunita ought to be earning and helping to boost the family's savings.
An average rural family like hers incurs about 50 per cent of its total expenditure on food. Clothing, durables, electricity and transport account for another 30 per cent. That leaves the family with just Rs 24,000 per annum for education, medicine, all other services and any contingency. Her brother’s education costs them Rs 3,600 per annum since he studies in the local government school. The family wants to send him to a nearby private school that would cost Rs 7,800 per year (Figures are from the latest NSO survey on Household Consumption on Education).
Why should she do an MA at all? A degree is all that is required for the Civil Service Exam.
For a moment, imagine yourself to be Sunita’s parents and look at your budget. Let us say you have access to the government’s latest survey on cost of education. It tells you that it would cost her annually Rs 13,000 if she stays at home and goes to the nearby government college, and Rs 17,000 if she opts for the local private college. The cost will be twice as much if she goes out and stays in a hostel.
The annual cost for studying at JNU would have been around Rs 32,000, while for most other public universities it would be about Rs 50,000.That is not the true cost. What students pay at JNU represents only about 1 to 5 percent of the total cost. The percentage is higher in other Universities. Nevertheless, this represents an enormous drain on a poor country.
You can now see why a jump in annual fee from an estimated Rs 32,000 to Rs 56,000 for a JNU student living in a hostel might make a difference to your decision (that’s additional 20 per cent of your annual household budget).But Sunita's family is much better off if she gets a job rather than spend more time chasing the thousand in one chance of a posh Civil Service job.
Yadav is wrong. Sunita is a 'topper'. She should apply for the
Not enough scholarships
And remember, we are not even thinking of a poor family. Sunita represents an average village family, better placed than more than half of rural India (That’s right: median of income distribution is lower than its statistical mean).
All this calculation excludes any additional courses or tuition or coaching that Sunita might need. She is of course not thinking of technical or professional courses like BTech or a Bachelor’s degree in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS), where her basic fee, excluding hostel, would be an estimated Rs 50,000 even in an ordinary public institution. You, her parents, have mercifully not heard about the run-of-the-mill private professional colleges that cost at least Rs 2 lakh a year, not to mention elite private universities that cost Rs 8-10 lakh a year.
What about a scholarship? So, you look up the National Scholarship Portal. Yes, she is eligible for a central government scholarship that could pay her Rs 20,000 per annum. But you missed the deadline by three years, as she needed to apply at the end of Class 12.
UGC Post Graduate Merit Scholarship for University Rank Holders. The award is for 36,000 Rs p.a. There are 3,000 such scholarships. Other scholarships can be held simultaneously.
In any case, it is awarded to only 82,000 students every year. If you combine all the higher education scholarship schemes of the various ministries of government of India, it comes to an estimated Rs 1,801 crore (about 2.6 per cent of its education budget) for about 1.4 lakh scholarships per year (less than 2 per cent of the students who enter higher education every year) in 2014-15. If you distribute that amount to the total number of students enrolled in higher education that year, it amounts to just Rs 527 per student per annum. Private universities in the capitalist US provide more students with financial aid than our ‘socialist’ country.The US, as everybody knows, is just as poor as India. Yet some private universities, like Harvard, give a lot of financial aid to poor students. It only has a paltry 30 or 40 billion dollars worth of endowment. How on earth can it manage to be so generous?
The value of the education Sunita is receiving is negative. It is making her less not more employable. It should be unaffordable for her family. The Sunitas of India should be working in factories- just like Chinese Sunitas in the Eighties and Nineties, or Korean Sunitas from the Sixties onward, or Japanese Sunitas in the Twenties and Thirties, or Bangladeshi Sunitas right now.
How to fix this
What would Sunita’s parents do, if they were to frame the country’s higher education policy? I bet they would insist on the following four steps.
The cost of education should be affordable for a family like hers. If we have to be true to the constitutional promise of equality of opportunities, then tuition and other fees should be kept as low as possible. The fee charged by private institutions too should be effectively regulated. Higher education cannot be used for profiteering.
British and American Sunitas worked in factories and offices. That's why those countries became rich. Even now, most Sunitas in the West don't do MAs. They work.
There should be a quantum jump in the number and amount of fellowships.Why? Indian 'scholars' are shit. They contribute nothing. They are a White Elephant simply.
At least 10 per cent of all top students irrespective of caste or community and at least top 25 per cent students from educationally disadvantaged communities must get full scholarship that covers actual tuition and living costs (an improved version of this scheme).What about the 90 percent who have to pay for these scholarships? Where are they going to get the money? Being less intelligent, their productivity is lower. The people who could have organized them and made them more productive are rotting away in some useless academic department. Meanwhile, those few lottery winners who enter the Civil Service spend all their time lining their own pockets by demanding bribes from the people who pay their salaries.
Other students should get the benefit of a generous earn-while-you-learn scheme. Under this,students can work within the institution for up to 20 hours in a week and can earn enough to pay their mess bills.Why stop there? Why not say everybody should receive a million dollar study grant every month?
The existing scheme of bank loans for students should be radically revised. The government should provide the surety on student loans and interest should be capped at around 7 per cent that farmers pay on their KCC card, with further relaxation on timely payment.
These are not new or radical suggestions.But they are foolish suggestions. Not even rich countries can afford any such thing.
A committee appointed by the erstwhile Planning Commission, headed by Professor Pankaj Chandra, who was then director of IIM Bangalore, had made more or less similar suggestions in 2012. There was no follow up by the UPA or the NDA regime.Nor was there any follow up to Professor Vagina Dentata Choothopadhyaya's suggestion that everybody should be renamed Gandhi and should be appointed Prime Minister of India by hereditary right.
If you were Sunita’s parents, you would be thankful to JNU students that they raised this issue.You would be very thankful that Sunita is in hospital after being trampled or lathi charged. Your gratitude will know no bounds when you hear she has been molested by her supervisor or that some rogues on campus are blackmailing her into prostitution by threatening to release using videos they shot of her being gang raped.
At the same time, you would wish and pray that this protest does not end with rollback of fee hike just for JNU. You would know that very often, as in the case of the MeToo movement, a real and pressing issue is brought to light not by the worst-affected victim but by the victim who can best articulate it. You would want to focus on the deeper issues that this protest has raised: higher education has become unaffordable just when the number of those who desperately need it is exploding.What good did 'higher education' do the millions of unemployed graduates the country has been saddled with since before Yadav was born?
Our education policy must respond to this pressing need. Solutions are available. What is missing is political will.What is severely missing in the Indian education system is competent teachers willing to work in villages and mofussil towns. In the big metros, it is University administrators and shitheads like Yadav who fuck up what once were quite promising Colleges and Universities.
If you are reading this piece, you are clearly not Sunita’s parents. But should we all not think like one?Yadav may think like Sunita's parents- assuming they have cow-dung where their brains should be. What they would prefer is the Chinese solution- i.e. girls living in dormitories working in factories and earning money and acquiring transferable work skills and commercial acumen.