rationale for privatization of education
Published in University Today
Much of the discussion over the part higher education is to play is in the context of
industrial change and globalisation and is dominated by what might be called a
‘technocratic imperative. The issue can be taken up at two levels.
A. Response to growth in social demand for higher education which economic change
and heightened aspirations has created.
1. The current industrial revolution termed as the technical-scientific revolution has
pushed up demand for intellectual labour. Thus a real labour market for university
graduates has developed. If the university is to fulfill the function of training the
specialists needed by the corporate world, higher education must be reformed in a
functional direction. Growth in the tertiary or service sector for instance, can be
effectively met by quantitative expansion in the no of students proceeding along
established curriculum linkages and pathways from higher education to labour force.
This can be accomplished by orienting the content of study towards interdisciplinary
work or more vocationally biased courses. The task can be accomplished without any
structural change.
2. The more formidable task that higher education is being asked to fulfill within the
overall context of industrial change especially, the information technology revolution,
is a more complex one. Universities are also cast as engines of socio-economic and
technological change, the basic objective of higher education being to close the
technology gap between the developed and the under developed world. This task can
be accomplished only by re-engineering the university structure as currently
constituted to foster a more stimulating research environment conducive for
B. Two additional issues need to be taken note of: types of jobs that will emerge and the
type of skills thought to be required.
1. There is little agreement regarding the occupational profile that may emerge from the
information technology revolution. Some anticipate multiplication of executive an

Department of Economics,
Associate Prof. (Retd.)School of Open Learning, University of Delhi.

managerial positions while others think that the jobs will be created in the marginal
service sector. But the important aspect is not the accuracy but the unstable nature of
any prediction that can be made. Higher education operates on a certain degree of
prediction to cover the ‘lead time’ between the entry of one cohort, its qualification
and its emergence on to the market place often resulting in a mismatch between
supply and demand.
2. There is little agreement between industry and higher education on the type of
qualifications needed. For instance, there is a consensus on the desirability of
increasing computer literacy. But this should not be misconstrued as having each
man being his own programmer. It should be taken as a device to facilitate
acceptance of technological change. But, then this is, obviously not the task of the
universities. However, the main area of disagreement appears to be in the degree of
job specific skills to be incorporated into higher education Courses. Moreover, it is
pertinent to underline that the view common to many firms is that the type of skills
required are general rather than specific ability to analyze, to communicate, to adapt
to change, and capacity for hard work.

In pre-capitalist societies, direct inheritance of occupational position was
common. In these societies the basic productive unit was the family. Transmitting the
necessary production skills to the children as they grew up was a simple task. Even in
the early capitalist economy, the class structure was reproduced through the
inheritance of physical capital by the offspring. The Indian social division of labour
(the varna system) is a classic example which was reproduced generation after
generation simply through the acquisition of skills and education within the family.
But such a replication has become more complex and intricate in the present day
industrial society as the social division of labour has come to be differentiated by
the types of competence and educational credentials as well as ownership of
capital. The problem of inheritance is now not so simple. The parameters of
inheritance have changed. The crucial complication arises because education and
higher level skills are embedded in human beings and unlike physical capital, these
assets cannot be passed on to the offspring at death. In the contemporary society
which has come to the termed as a technocratic society, education and higher order
skills play a dominant role in the hierarchy of production. As noted by Prof.
Galbraith the control over production has already passed on to the technocrats from
the owners of capital. The situation can be saved in favour of the dominant class only
if the skills and educational credentials can somehow be passed on within the
family. The universities are therefore called upon to “reform” themselves. There
are two trends discernable already which seek to reinforce the existing inequalities.
1. The ecological niche’ of higher education in govt. expenditure is now no longer
secure as is evident from the govt. refusal to underwrite social demand for Higher
education any more.

2. The new policy based on privatization seeks to fortify social division of labour,
allaying the fears of the ruling classes which appears threatened by mass higher
education. The policy seeks to achieve this objective by introducing a system of
gradation by denying a level playing field.
3. It must be born in mind that the best universities in the US like Harvard are privately
funded, but the donors have absolutely no say in managing the university. They have
no role in either in the admission of the students or the appointment of the faculty or
for that matter in the cultural life of the university. In India, privatization means
running ‘diploma mills’ like any other commercial establishment solely with the
motive of making money. The primary task of education is to develop critical faculty
which is anathema to education managers as policy makers, not even their last

Higher education exerts considerable influence on the larger society. Besides the
utility idea liberal cultural ideals and research play a significant role in shaping
human minds. In western Europe systems of higher education assumed the level of
dealing with mass higher education around the year 1970’s. The event was realized
nearly three decades earlier in the U.S. and erstwhile Soviet Union. What does
mass higher education mean ? Even though the tipping point is not simply statistical,
the statistical dimension is of vital significance. The whole concept of ‘mass’ as
opposed to ‘elite’ higher education depends on it. Quantitatively speaking, the
borderline between the two is crossed when 15% of the relevant age cohort (15-25)
attend such institutions. (Trow, 74).
The system of Higher Education must first complete the quantitative
revolutions by attaining this critical mass. The quality will emerge from the phase
transformation which will emerge as a metamorphoses. In India, only 6% of the
relevant age cohort are enrolled in the institutions of higher learning. But there is
need for caution. Higher education needs to be defined properly. According to
O.E.C.D. the usual criteria in these matters identifies higher education as consisting
of those courses of a nature and standard that lead directly to post-graduate study.
The example of Delhi University is vary revealing. Delhi University has a student
population about 2 lakhs. The majority of the students belong to what is known as
B.Com.(Pass) and B.A.(Pass). According to the definition these students do not
even qualify to be included as part of Higher education. These and many other
courses are for all practical purposes terminal courses. If the definition is strictly
applied the students participation rate of 6% which is ridiculously low would be
considerably scaled down. In contrast higher education in the developed countries
has all the potential to move on to what has been called the ‘universal stage’ of its
evolution when enrollment level attains 25-35% of the relevant age group. In India,

panic has already gripped the policy makers and all attempts seek to restrict the
evolution rather than enhance it. The greatest damage that the policy prescription
entails is the rigid criteria for success. It stifles innovation and prevents universities
from adapting to new challenges. Colleges and universities can succeed in many
different ways. Universities serve the function of preserving and transmission of
knowledge. Extension of knowledge takes place through organized research.
Higher education also fulfills the role of socialization. The larger socialization
function of shaping the morals and character of students, which has largely been
shelved needs to be resurrected. Most of all the system of higher education must
address the question of empowerment of the disadvantaged section of the society.
These are the question of not means but of ends, not of techniques but of values.
These are the questions that require direct dialogue between higher education and
its public, not par administration interposee.