An instrument to kill higher education
THE Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 has been introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010 amidst the opposition of the CPI(M) and others. Immediately afterwards, the Students Federation of India and Democratic Teachers’ Front of Delhi University burnt the copies of the bill outside parliament and demanded its immediate withdrawal. Hundreds of such protests were organised all over the country in the state capitals and districts headquarters. A similar bill the “Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation, Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercialisation) Bill, 2007” was planned to be introduced in the parliament (Rajya Sabha), in the first week of May 2007. However, it was withdrawn before introduction due to the opposition of the CPI(M).
According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the FEI Bill, 2010, a number of Foreign Educational Institutions (FEIs) have been operating in the country and some of them may be resorting to various malpractices to allure and attract students. Further, there is no comprehensive and effective policy for regulation on the operations of all the FEIs in the country. It has given rise to chances of adoption of various unfair practices besides commercialisation. Therefore, the enactment of a legislation is to “maintain the standards of higher education within the country as well as to protect the interests of the students and in public interest.” It should be noted that the central government failed to implement the provisions of the AICTE Regulation, 2005 in this connection.
Foreign Educational Institution (FEI), section 2(e), means “an institution established or incorporated outside India which has been offering educational services for at least twenty years in the country” of its origin and “which offers educational services in India or proposes to offer courses leading to award of degree or diploma or certificate or any other award through conventional method including classroom teaching method not including distant mode in India independently or in collaboration, partnership or in a twinning arrangement with any educational institution situated in India.”
No FEI, section 3, shall admit any person as a student, or collect any fee from such person or its students in India for any course of study leading to the award of a degree or a diploma, by whatever named called, unless such institution has been notified by the central government as a foreign education provider (FEP) under section 4(8).
For being recognised as a FEP, a FEI has to submit its application under section 4 to the Registrar (UGC Secretary) endorsed by the Embassy or High Commission in India of the country of its origin. Existing FEIs have to apply within six months of the commencement of this Act. The FEI will have to maintain a corpus fund of not less than Rs 50 crore (about US$11 million). The FEI will also have to submit at the time of application the documents to the effect that it has been established and offering educational services for at least twenty years under a law of the country in which it is established. It will also give the status of its accreditation, wherever applicable, from the accrediting agency of that country. After a process of eight months, the central government may recognise, under section 4(8), a FEI as a FEP for the purpose of award of degree or diploma or both in India.
Thus a FEI can be recognised as FEP, if established for 20 years in the country of its origin and deposits a sum of Rs 50 crore. Given the profits involved in the business of education, this sum is a pittance. If accreditation is not applicable in a country, then no rating is required. However, in such cases which accrediting agency will assess, accredit or assure quality and standards has not been provided for in the Bill.
Under ‘twinning programme’, section 2(p), students enrolled with a FEP complete their study partly in India and partly “in any other educational institution situated outside India.” Given this definition, the FEP is not obliged to offer part of the programme in its country of origin. Using this provision any predatory FEP might offer part of its programme in a country which suits it better for making more profits.
A FEP, section 5(1), will have to ensure that the course or programme of study offered and imparted by it in India is in conformity with the standards laid down by the statutory authority, and is of quality comparable, as to the curriculum, methods of imparting education and the faculty employed or engaged to impart education, to those offered by it to students enrolled in its main campus in the country of its origin.
Therefore, a FEP ranked of low quality in its country of origin, will not be under any obligation to raise quality in India under this section. It will also not be under any obligation to raise the quality of its faculty. However, there is no mention whether a FEP can start or not the course or programme of study which does not take note of cultural and linguistic sensitivities of people of India and adversely affect the sovereignty and integrity of India.
A FEP, section 5(2), will not be allowed to utilise more than 75 per cent out of the income received from the corpus fund for the purposes of development of its institution in India and the remaining of such unutilised income will be deposited into the corpus fund itself. No part of surplus in revenue generated in India by such FEP, section 5(3), after meeting all expenditure in regard to its operations in India, shall be invested for any purpose other than for the growth and development of the educational institutions established by it in India.
This provision means that surplus in revenue generated in India cannot be repatriated outside India. This is actually not for implementation. This has been included by the central government deliberately to divert the attention of the people from the ills of foreign direct investment (FDI) in education and implement its neo-liberal agenda and commercialisation of education. The FEPs will find many ways to reinvest the surplus in profit making ventures including real estate business.
A FEP, section 6(1), will have to declare fee and other charges payable by students, conditions of eligibility for admission as a student, process of admission, details of teaching faculty including their qualification and whether they are regular or visiting members, minimum pay and other emoluments payable to teachers and other employees.
Thus a FEP will be free to charge any fee, select any student, and have its own norms regarding pay of teachers and employees. A FEP cannot fix the price of its prospectus, under a frivolous section 6(2), more than the reasonable cost of its production and distribution and no profit to be made. This is yet another section to divert the attention of the people. The central government actually promotes raising of resources by other means including charging heavily for prospectus. Therefore, even the public universities in India, including central universities, make crores of rupees from the sale of their prospectuses and fleece the students.
Under section 7, if a FEP violates any provisions of this Act or the UGC Act, 1956 or any other law for the time being in force or rules, regulations or orders made or notifications issued there under, then its FEP status can be withdrawn after due process. In such a situation, the central government will ensure alternative and appropriate educational facilities for the affected students. The central government may attach its corpus fund and such other property as it deems fit to make payments to any person employed in India by such FEP and for making appropriate educational facilities for concerned students..
Any person, associated with an educational institution or a FEI not being a FEP or a FEP whose recognition has been withdrawn violates section 3 of this Act or releases misleading advertisements or gives wrongful information in the print, electronic or any other media will be liable, under section 8, to refund the fees collected, confiscation of any gains made and a penalty of minimum of ten lakh rupees and a maximum of fifty lakh rupees.
However, in case a FEP releases misleading advertisements or gives wrongful information in the media, no penalty is prescribed.
In case a FEP violates section 5 related to the maintenance of standards or any other provision, its corpus fund can be forfeited. It will also be liable to refund fees collected and a penalty of minimum of ten lakh rupees and a maximum of fifty lakh rupees.
This is a meagre penalty given the scale of business such institutes do and dupe the students. There is no provision for any criminal action under IPC as is provided for in the AICTE Regulation 2005 or 2010.
HAVING regard to the reputation and international standing of foreign educational institution and “such other criteria as may be prescribed”, section 9(1), the central government, on the recommendation of the Advisory Board, may “exempt” such Institution from any provisions of this Act other than section 5(3) and section 8. This is nothing but giving overriding powers to the central government and Advisory Board. The 5-member Advisory Board will have three national research professors (one of whom will be chairman), UGC chairman and chairman of one of the statutory authority like AICTE, MCI, etc. by rotation. The rules for such exemption will be framed later.
It is already being argued by those who favour foreign universities that highly reputed universities in the world are starved of funds. Therefore, to attract them to India to open their campuses would require exemption from maintaining the corpus fund. In that situation, why should they come to India and open their campuses? Obviously, they would come to make money and finance themselves in their country of origin.
A FEI, as per section 13, which is imparting education leading to award of certificate or any other qualification not being a degree or diploma or equivalent qualification shall furnish a report to the UGC about its activities and publish on its website the details of courses offered, enrolment of students, infrastructure, place of functioning and whether operating on its own or in collaboration or partnership or twinning arrangement with any Indian educational institution and details thereof. They can continue doing business and making profits and repatriating them. No provision of this Act shall apply to them.
However, the FEPs are not required to submit reports to the UGC or the central government. In its absence, on what basis the UGC will satisfy itself as to whether a FEP has violated the provisions of this Act or not. In the circumstances, it will be almost impossible to withdraw the recognition given to a FEP.
SUBSIDIES TO FEPs?
There is no Financial Memorandum associated with the Bill. It was stated in the financial memoranda of FEI Bill, 2007 that there might be occasions, where “a Foreign Education Provider may have to be provided with development grant. In such event, the expenditure shall be met from the Consolidated Fund of India.” It meant that if a FEP had good political clout in the central government, it could get development grants and make profits with public funds.
The union commerce ministry had, in September 2006, circulated a consultation paper on trade in education services. It had recommended striking “a balance” between “domestic regulation and providing adequate flexibility to foreign universities in setting syllabus, hiring teachers, screening students and setting fee levels.”
Such provisions are likely to be provided in the rules which have to be made later in accordance with this Act. What kind of subsidy might be provided, such as cheap land, water, electricity and other resources is not known. Once an educational institution comes up then there is political pressure to provide such subsidies to that institution. Actually this is what is happening today.
There is no requirement for implementation of the policy of affirmative action by FEPs. There is no provision for the reservations for SC, ST, OBC and other deprived sections in the Bill. The implementation of reservation is poor in public universities and colleges, and practically the reservation has not been implemented in private institutions. Given this experience, it seems that FEPs are going to be exempt from the constitutional provision of reservation.
It should be noted that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in education, including higher education, is allowed in India under the automatic route, without any sectoral cap, since February, 2000. There is no offshore campus of any foreign university in India. There are, however, many foreign universities and education service providers operating in India through twinning programmes. An advertisement number AICTE/Legal/03(01)/2006-07 cautions the students as follows:
“As per the information available till date, 169 institutions are found to be conducting courses in the field of technical education without obtaining AICTE approval. 104 institutions are conducting technical education programmes in collaboration with foreign universities without AICTE approval. Students are advised not to take admission in technical education courses run by any institution which has not been approved by AICTE. They are cautioned that joining unapproved programmes can have serious consequences in terms of eligibility for employment, higher studies etc.”
This advertisement also carries two lists of such unapproved institutions and their programmes. What is shocking is that the lists include institutions like ICFAI, IIPM, Ansal Institute of Technology and G D Geonka World Institute which regularly issue front page and full page advertisements in national dailies about their programmes and also their tie-ups with foreign universities. These advertisements cannot escape the attention of the AICTE, UGC or HRD ministry.
I visited the website of IIPM on June 12, 2009 and asked it using its online enquiry, “Are your degrees, particularly BBA, MBA and MBE, recognised by the AICTE and/or UGC?” Quickly came the online reply that “IIPM is not affiliated to any university; neither does it seek any kind of affiliation from any such institution in future. It is an autonomous institute and offers its own courses and hence does not come under the purview of any university system / UGC etc.”
The IIPM is publishing a new full page advertisement in major newspapers. It reads: “Study at IIPM and additionally become eligible for a UGC recognised MBA/BBA/BCA degree from a NAAC Accredited State Government University of India, recognised by UGC, Association of Indian Universities and Ministry of HRD, Govt. of India.” It is mentioned in fine prints that “IIPM is an approved on site academic partner institution” of that university.
Having read this advertisement, I enquired from IIPM Corporate Office at New Delhi over the phone no. 41799993. I was told that the State Government University referred to in the advertisement is M S University, Tamilnadu. Three year integrated dual degree BBA+MBA is given by IMI, Belgium for a cost of about Rs 14 lakh. About its recognition, he said after spending so much of money, you would like to go to corporate sector and not for government jobs. For higher studies, he said this degree is recognised by some “deemed to be university type institutions.” When enquired about the fees for M S University courses, he asked my name and phone number and told me that he would get back to me in three minutes. He did not call me back.
CENTRAL GOVT PATRONAGE
As per the provision of the AICTE notification, promulgated on May 16, 2005, on Regulations for Entry and Operation of Foreign Universities/ Institutions imparting technical education in India, every institution, foreign or Indian, has to get the approval from the AICTE. The existing institutions were obliged to take approval from the AICTE within six months from the date of promulgation of this notification.
As per the punitive provisions prescribed in the notification, “In case it comes to the notice of the Council, that a foreign university is running diploma or/and degree at undergraduate, postgraduate and research level in technical education in India directly or in collaboration with an Indian partner without obtaining a certificate of registration, Council shall take immediate steps to initiate action under the Indian Penal Code for Criminal breach of trust, misconduct, fraud and cheating and under other relevant Indian Laws.”
The AICTE has replaced its 2005 Regulation by the AICTE (Grant of Approvals for Technical Institutions) Regulation, 2010 published in the Gazette of India on February 6, 2010. Even this regulation prescribes several kinds of punitive actions including legal civil and criminal actions.
Despite these punitive provisions, these private institutions like IIPM continue their business and fleece students and give them unrecognised degrees with impunity. They know that the government will not take any action against them because they have patronage from within the government. No wonder that several parliamentarians are associated with such institutions and looting the people.
In this context, note some of the comments of American educational tycoons in the Mint and the Wall Street Journal (USA) in its June 11, 2009 issues – “some for-profit schools are already bypassing the bureaucratic roadblocks”, “given the US economy and shrinking endowments, (US) colleges may need incentives from the government of India to be able to afford to open”. In the US, “college tuitions have risen faster than inflation.” The FEIs violating local laws is thus known to all. Given the eagerness of Sibal and UPA government, the aggressive FEIs will bargain hard to get more ‘incentives’ than even suggested by the commerce ministry and loot the students and their families.
NO SOCIAL CONTROL
The UPA government, due to its policy of privatisation and commercialisation of higher education, deliberately failed itself in regulating such institutions through a central legislation that could ensure quality. Most of the professional colleges in engineering, IT, medicine, dentistry, business administration, etc. are in private sector. The CPI(M) and other Left parties have been demanding a central legislation to bring these institutions under social control in relation to fees, course content, infrastructure, academic standards, examinations, etc. The draft of such legislation, though very weak in its purpose, was issued in 2005. Despite repeated demands of the Left, the UPA refused to take it up.
REJECT THE FEI BILL, 2010
The proponents of FDI in higher education argue that it would solve the problem of access, enable Indian students to access quality higher education in the country itself at relatively much lower cost, not allow the outflow of our foreign exchange reserves, create competition with the local institutions enabling them to become internationally competitive, and create new institutions and infrastructure and generate employment.
The FDI in any field, in fact, does not have an attached objective of fulfilling the social agenda of a welfare state. It is guided by profit and market alone and if these are not fulfilled, the investors look for other destinations for FDI. Foreign investors aim to increase their profits. In the field of higher education, FEPs would launch courses which the market needs, create false impression about their courses through advertisements, charge exorbitantly high fees for courses which have immediate employment potential.
It would lead to unhealthy competition among unequals. Since competition entails reduction in costs, infrastructure, laboratories and libraries would find least investment and the teachers and non-teaching staff would be appointed without necessary qualifications on such terms which would be exploitative as is in existence in most private institutions today.
FDI would impede the development of indigenous and critical research within our university education system, aggravate the tendency towards commercialisation and strengthen the stranglehold of neo-liberal ideas in our academia. The FEPs would be concerned about their profits and not about our culture and society. Therefore the courses which would appreciate and strengthen our ethos would not only be not started by the FEPs, but such courses would get marginalised in public funded higher education institutions also due to competition.
The Bill does not take care of any of the concerns expressed above. This Bill is an instrument to kill our system of higher education and promote crass commercialisation of higher education. Therefore, it should be fought against and rejected lock, stock and barrel.
Part-I published in People’s Democracy, Vol. XXXIV, No. 21, May 23, 2010
Part-II published in People’s Democracy, Vol. XXXIV, No. 22, May 30, 2010
Tags: CPI(M), Democratic Teachers' Front, DTF, Education Business, Education Providers, FDI in Education, FEI, FEI Bill, FEI Bill 2010, FEP, Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, Higher Education, IIPM, Kapil Sibal, MHRD, OBC, Privatisation of Higher Education, Reservation, SC/ST, SFI, Students FEderation of India, Twinning Programme, UGC, Vijender Sharma, World Bank Education