Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Politics in Education

Government of India has passed 104th amendment to the constitution. This amendment overrides the supreme court judgement prohibiting government interference in the workings of privately run educational institution mainly pertaining to the question of reservations for minorities. The new amendment makes it mandatory for all non-minority privately run educational institutions(profit or non-profit) to reserve seats for minority students. Interestingly, minority run educational institutions have been exempted from the law. The motivation for such a law is obvious- politics of votes. Typically, politicians of all hue take up a socially important issue and instead of providing sensible, lasting solutions come up with ideas which are populist and more often than not do more harm than good. This really is the nature of profession of politics. There are a number of things which are wrong with a law of this kind, not least among these is its ineffectivenss-

1) At an ideological level this law is contrary to the principles of free-markets, less government controls and more economic freedom to individuals, which India is trying so hard to embrace. Privatley run educational institutions are like any other business. They are into it for the primary purpose of making money. This government decree is a direct hit on their potential profitability. The likely result is going to be a slowdown in the private investments in higher education meaning less colleges than there could have been and in extreme cases, a shutdown of some colleges because they are no longer profitable. In this day and age where India needs as much investment in education as it can get this law is a backward step.

2) Very interestingly, minority run educational institutions have been exempt from this law! This means educational institutions run by christian or muslim organisations do not fall under this law. At a basic level, this is discrimination against a particular section of population, mainly the majority and at a deeper level it is an assault on the fundamental right of individuals to form associations. The amendment implies that a hindu can not form a Hindu educational institution open only to Hindus whereas Muslims can form a muslim university open only to muslims. It is another ironic example in a "free democratic secular" India, where different laws apply to different sections of population fueling resentment and segregation sentiments.

3) A law like this is not likely to be effective in a country like India where everybody belongs to a minority of some kind. It is very easy to evade this regulation on paper. What we are going to see is a rush by for-profit institutions to register themselves as minority run institutions, which are exempt.

Problems of a society are rarely solved by active government regulations. An imaginative government would try to tackle the problem in ways consistent with the ideology of free-markets. A privately run business needs to be provided with incentives for contributing to higher social goals. For example, government can provide tax credits to an institution which actively engages in affirmative action, earmark funds for institutions which provide aid to poor students or encourage US style student loan markets. There are far better ways to tackle social problems but unfortunately in politics short term political gains almost always take precedence over sensible effective policies.

1 comment:

Sis said...

I haven't much to say at this point other than I find your posts interesting and I'll continue to read. I like your passion.