India: National Education Policy makes education an expensive commodity

The reactionary Modi government has forced through a new policy that will exclude the poor from education and privatise the sector. This must be resisted: we demand free education for all!

A committee led by former ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) chief K. Kasturirangan submitted a draft of the NEP (National Educational Policy) to the UHRD Ministry (Union Human Resource Development Ministry) in 2019. The draft was then put into the public domain to seek feedback from the public and from academics. Massive protests and criticism from teachers unions and from the public subsequently erupted across the country. Despite all the protests and criticism, the union cabinet approved the NEP on 29 July.

The NEP was introduced with the aim of fully implementing the recommendation of the GATS (General Agreement on Trade and Service) in the field of education. The Modi government is working diligently to implement the NEP. The government is actively working to privatise, not only the industrial and agricultural sectors, but also the service sectors. Poor and under-privileged students are being pushed out of education altogether. The NEP also takes all necessary measures to spread Hindutva ideas across schools and colleges, and to further intensify privatisation in the education system.

NEP excludes the poor from school

The Modi government unveiled a new ‘10+2 system’ (10 is secondary school education, and +2 is higher secondary school education), which will be divided into a ‘5+3+3+4 system’. This means the first five years of school will comprise a foundation stage, including three years of a pre-primary foundation stage (Anganwadi), and class 1 and 2. The next three years will be divided into a preparatory stage in class 1 and class 2. Next comes three years of middle stages (class 6 to 8) and four years of secondary stages. Next, for the third, fifth and eight classes, a board exam will be conducted. From the ninth to 12th (4 years) eight end-of-semester exams will be conducted. And the government has said that, from the sixth class onwards, vocational education will be taught.

The state government cannot interfere and classify the syllabus for school education. The central government agency NCERT (National Council for Educational Research and Training) will provide a framework for the syllabus and study materials. The state government cannot make any changes to the syllabus. The examination will be conducted by the National Test Agency (NTA). But in a country like India, where different states have their own languages, ethnicities, cultures etc., is it right to make a centralised subject and syllabus framework, and centralised examinations?

The NEP policy states that, up to class 5 in school, the medium of instruction will be the mother tongue or regional language. After the fifth, they are going to make Hindi, Sanskrit and English compulsory languages. They are trying to get rid of education in mother tongues, and impose these languages. Only through mother tongue education can children understand a subject, because the language is integrated within the culture and society in which he/she lives.

The government has stated that it will implement a quality curriculum through this education policy in order to reduce the workload and eliminate rote learning. But their aim is not to reduce the burden on students or to eliminate rote education. Their aim is to steer the majority of the country’s poor students from the underprivileged and backward sections of the population towards roles the government deems suitable. The board exam from the third standard onwards and vocational training seek to create modern bondage.

In 1953, Rajaji (Former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) introduced a scheme of vocational education based on “heredity calling (kula kalvithitam)”. The scheme aimed at imparting the traditional occupation of parents to their children. “There is no education for sutras (The Fourth Varna): Education is only for higher caste”.

Now, the Modi government is bringing about a modern kula kalvithitam in the form of vocational training, to make manual labourers for industry. This education policy is trying to make education a commodity and a privilege in India.

Exclusion in the name of ‘quality’

India education 2 Image SandeepUnder the NEC, poor students are being deprived of education in the name of ‘quality' / Image: Sandeep

Poor students are being deprived of education in the name of ‘quality.’ The quality that the government is going to create is daily wage workers. This education system and research are being conducted to serve this capitalist mode of production. They are going to bring in an entrance exam not only for medicine and engineering, but also for other courses, in the name of quality. They argue that state subjects are sub-standard, and the students who have studied the state curriculum are unable to face competitive exams and entrance exams. The current National Entrance Examination and competitive examinations like UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) are all conducted in Hindi and English only, as per the CBSC syllabus.

It is clearly discriminatory to conduct the National Competitive Examination in this manner in our country, where different state board syllabuses are employed and different languages are spoken. The Modi Government argues that a nationwide, centralised syllabus is the only way to bring equality in education and public employment. But the truth is entirely different.

The NEET exam was brought in by the government as a national exam for medicine. The government said it could create quality doctors through the NEET. But as a result of the NEET, private coaching classes began to charge huge sums of money. It is impossible for the poor to get a medical education.

The private education institutions conduct special classes for the NEET exam with extra fees, but in government colleges there are no special classes for the NEET. The reality is only two students from a government school have passed the NEET exam. The vast majority of those who passed NEET exams are from private coaching classes and private educational institutions. The same situation is true for the entire education sector.

Higher education

The NEP seeks to dissolve the existing bodies of higher education (UGC, AITCTE, MCI, ICAR) and bring in new administrative bodies to completely restructure the higher education sector. Accordingly, they are going to create an organisation called HECI (Higher Education Commission of India), which has all the power to control higher education at a national level. Under this, separate bodies will be created for accreditation, funding, regulation and academic standards.

Currently, each division of higher education is administered separately. The MCI (Medical Council of India) regulates medical education, the AICTE regulates engineering, the UGC manages universities, and the universities manage the colleges the same way for all subject areas. These organisations grant accreditation to their respective colleges, design degrees and provide funding.

Instead, the NEP proposes a separate umbrella body (the HECI: Higher Education Commission of India) that can manage the regulation, accreditation, finance and research of higher education and control overall higher education.

Universities in India are run through the UGC, which performs important functions including:

  1. Promoting and coordinating university education
  2. Setting examinations like the UGC, NET (National Eligibility Test) etc.
  3. Approving grants to universities and colleges
  4. Suggesting mandatory procedures to central and state governments to make positive changes in university education

Now these functions are going to be done by four separate bodies under the HECI. These are as follows:

1) National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC)

“It will function as the common regulator for the higher education sector, including teachers’ education, medical and legal education, thus eliminating the multiple regulatory agencies that exist now. The NHERC is set up to regulate financial probity, good governance and the full online and offline public self-disclosure of all finances, audits, procedures, infrastructure and educational outcomes.” (NEP 2020)

Accreding and approving a college depends on whether the college has buildings, laboratory facilities and the qualified teachers are evaluated. But the NEP states it should not be based on details of financial sources. It should be based on the research conducted at college, and the number of local and foreign students enrolled in the college.

What is the reason for encouraging the research? Is it conducted for the benefit of society? Absolutely not: it is to promote research equipment for manufacturing companies and for the benefit of publishers, who publish research articles, and thus for the benefit of capitalism. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Montreal, 53 percent of all published research papers in 2013 in the Natural and Medical Sciences were produced by just five publishing companies. That is up from the 20 percent that the top five publishers controlled 40 years earlier in 1973. The publishers take the free labour power of academicians and researchers (who go unpaid for their contributions) and sell it back to the universities that employ these authors, often at a high cost. Capitalism controls the knowledge and inventions of human society.

2) National Accreditation Council (NAC)

Universities and colleges are evaluated and accredited by the NAAC, which is an autonomous body functioning under the UGC. The AICTE (All-India Council for Technical Education) evaluates engineering Colleges, the BCI (Bar Council of India) evaluates law colleges, the ICAR (Indian Council for Agricultural Research) evaluates the agricultural colleges, and it is the same way for other subjects too. The NEP states that the NAC will be an autonomous body that can evaluate all higher education institutions. The NAAC will form the IAF (Institutional Accreditation Framework) for offering grants to and accrediting higher education institutions.

The NEP states that: “by 2030, at least one large multidisciplinary higher education institution will exist in or near every district. Steps shall be taken to raise quality in every higher education institution, both public and private, to increase the enrollment ratio from 26.3 percent of India’s GER 2018 to 50 percent by 2035.” (NEP 2020)

It goes on to say:

“More colleges and universities should be started by 2030. Therefore, the NAC System is not going to directly evaluate all colleges, instead the NAC will give license to hundreds of institutions including private ones (Accreditation Institutions, or Al). These institutions will evaluate and qualify the colleges. Each AI licensed institution can evaluate and give an accreditation score to 100-200 colleges.”

Currently, to obtain NAAC recognition, the private colleges provide fake data and details. Leaving this to private institutions will make it even easier for private colleges to get NAAC recognition. It was brought in to promote private colleges and institutions, not for the improvement of education. Every higher education institution can start multiple education institutions and allied colleges. The NEP says there is no need to get approval from anyone. It is enough to get the recognition within five years of starting the college. The private educational institutions are not required to follow the reservation procedure. Based on the above recommendations, the aim is to remove the private institutions from the control of the state. Deregulation from state control creates a mechanism for the unrestricted plunder of private educational institutions.

3) Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC)

The UGC provides financial assistance to higher education institutions. It also provides finance to central and state universities and for the development of a particular department for five years. According to the report, this work will be done by the HEGC. The UGC has been recommending pay scales for professors and staff. According to the report, the HEGC will not determine the pay scale for professors and staff. The salary level can be determined by the respective higher education institution (HEI). The recommendation entirely favours private education. It should be noted that teachers working in most private colleges are paid far less than the level set by the UGC.

4) General Educational Council (GEC)

The NEP states: “The National Higher Educational Qualifications Framework (NSQF) will be formulated by the GEC (General Educational Council) and it shall be in sync with the National Skill Qualification framework (NSQF) to ease the integration of vocational education into higher education.”

And: “The professional councils, such as the ICAR (Indian Council for Agricultural Research), VCI (Veterinary Council of India), COA (Council of Architecture) etc., will act as professional standard-setting Bodies (PSSBs). They will play a key role in the higher education system and will be invited to be a member of GEC.”

All of these bodies lack the power to control higher education as they did before. All these will be converted into PSSBs bodies.

Neglected social justice

India education 1 Image PixinoThe so-called meritocratic system Modi says he wants will result in further exclusion and oppression in the education system / Image: Pixino

In particular, this draft makes no mention anywhere about reservations (quotas) for students and teachers from underprivileged groups in educational institutions. These have been a weapon to reduce and control social inequality. Meanwhile, reservations in IITs and other universities are constantly denied. The state does not care about social justice at all, as is shown in the NEP.

The report states that private higher education institutions are not required to comply with reservations. Yet the policy, which also refers to relevant data from the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DIS E) systematically evades the constitutional focus on quotas.

2016-2017 data from U-DISE says 19.6 percent of students belong to SC (scheduled castes) at primary level, but this falls to 17.37 percent at a higher level. For ST (scheduled tribes) it is 10.6 and 6.8 percent; differently abled children 1.1 and 0.28 percent, and there is an even greater decline for female students within each of these categories. In higher education, it is even steeper (NEP 2020).

The [Poverty] Eradication Measures are also absent. The reservation policy is not referred to even once and the NEP consistently emphasises the so-called “Merit-Based System” for financial aid and other types of aid. How such a meritocratic system can be created on the basis exclusion and oppression is beyond us.

In the last few years, there have been several suicides on campuses due to social discrimination. Cases include Vemula (a PhD student in Hyderabad University) and Fathima (an IIT student), both students from marginalised communities who were targeted in higher educational institutions.


The purpose of this education policy is not only to encourage private colleges and universities, but also to bring education under market control. This policy is about the exclusion of the poor from education. The NEP 2020 will be only another step by the right-wing Modi government to privatise, corporatise, commodify and communalise the education system. Introducing a public board exam for students will only lead to further exclusion. Many students will not be able to continue their studies due to there being so many exams. It will lead to a filtering of students. Introducing entrance exams for arts and science colleges and other courses will have the same result. Many students will not be able to continue to higher studies. Education will become accessible only for the rich.

There have been consistent struggles by the students of India against high fee hikes and caste discrimination in their institutions. Modi is trying to crush the dissent of students by filing false cases against those fighting against CAA and attacking students of JNU fighting against fee hikes. The students of India have been consistently fighting against the anti-poor education policies of the Modi government. Despite the lockdown, the students of India will start to move and fight for the right to free, democratic, universalised education.

We demand the following:

  • Revoke NEP 2020
  • Nationalise the education system
  • Provide free, democratic, scientific and universalised education.
  • Provide employment to all

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