Delhi University teachers are protesting and here’s why we need to care

Since early 2018, protests in Delhi University have entered a new phase altogether. There are always general body meetings taking place, strikes are happening at a higher rate, and it is the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) who is the face of this movement.

The important question to ask here is: What is so important that the teachers have to protest for? What is so essential an issue that requires teachers to cancel classes, put their careers in jeopardy, plan hunger strikes and disagree with the University Grants Commission (UGC)?

A teacher’s primary job is to teach. So, how important can this outcry be?

                                     DUTA has been protesting for a number of reasons. Most of them are long-standing ones, to be mentioned further. However, one of the most prominent reasons of the protest is the proposal of a new regulation on graded autonomy (formally known as Categorisation of Universities for Grant of Graded Autonomy Regulations, 2018) by the UGC, notified first in February 2018, wherein autonomy can be granted to reputed public and private colleges. Scores of teachers are protesting against the UGC move to push 35 Delhi University colleges to accept the autonomous colleges scheme.

Here’s why the protest matters-

It has always been the public funded institutions of higher learning that have made education affordable, obtainable and convenient for the masses. Not just the wealthy, but public funded colleges and universities make higher education a reality for most people who couldn’t dream of it. However, the government has started to change this process by establishing the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), a Non-bank financial institution that will make colleges rely on loans from private trusts rather than regular funding i.e. UGC grants(central universities receive almost 100% funding from the UGC as of now). Why we need to care is because this change will lead to a steep rise in the cost of education. Right now deserving students can study in the best colleges without the tension of fees, but recent measures like HEFA, HEERA and the push towards Graded Autonomy will push public funded institutions towards forced commercialization and make higher education a luxury only the rich can afford.

According to an Indian Express news article from 2016, there are roughly 10,000 teachers in Delhi University and roughly 4000 of them are Ad-Hocs. It’s 2019 now and the number of Ad-Hoc teachers has just increased. The position and job of an Ad-Hoc teacher is not a permanent one. Most of these teachers are forced to carry on teaching without any job security, annual increments, and service benefits like maternity/ paternity leave, study/ sabbatical leave, etc., despite satisfying all eligibility criteria and possessing high qualifications like doctorates and post-doctoral research experience. Moreover, according to DUTA, the government has failed to implement the seventh pay revision in totality for universities. No notice has been given regarding the implementation of revised allowances and pensions, following the seventh pay commission, and disbursal of the funds for its execution are still pending. These are teachers who have given most of their lives to education and this institution. They deserve better than what they’re getting.

DUTA has also been protesting against the delay in appointments, promotions and pensions. There had been a 27% increase in student intake ten years ago. Logically, the number of teaching jobs should also have increased to manage the rise in the number of students. Unfortunately, only a small ratio of this increase in the number of teachers was allowed. There is also said to be lack of funds for expanding infrastructure. Moreover, now with the introduction of 10% quota for the EWG (Economically Weaker General) category, the government has asked universities and colleges to further increase the seats by 25%. How is this going to be executed considering the lack of funds, upgraded infrastructure and teachers?
There is also delay in granting retired teachers pensions and according to DUTA, many teachers who have retired in the last six years or so have not received their pension at all.

The controversy regarding the roster system of reservation is another important reason. In the 200-point system practised, teaching positions were reserved by treating the university as one single unit. In the 13-point roster system, a system of reservation ruled in favour of by the Allahabad High Court in 2016 and upheld by the Supreme Court in January 2019, reservation will be applied on a departmental basis. According to Rajib Ray (President, DUTA), this system will set the policy of social justice back by decades. Since not all departments have a lot of posts, the reservation may not apply at all. “A whole generation of research scholars from SC, ST and OBC categories who are waiting for academic jobs will get excluded by this anti-reservation decision”, he said in a news article by The Hindu.
Apart from the commercialisation of education and the turning of higher education institutions into profit-making units, the provision of granting autonomy to educational establishments will lead to informalisation in faculty and staff appointments, unfavourable service conditions and definite commercialisation of courses. While earlier the college administration had to apply to be autonomous, now the government can grant autonomy to educational institutions without any applications, all on their own.

DUTA continues to fight for a pro-people education policy. They continue to condemn the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) for its “indifference” to the plight of teachers and the “callous” approach of the government towards issues afflicting teachers and higher education. It is important to understand that while one may not choose sides, it is important to speak up. It is important to start the conversation. It is important to question, both teachers and the government. It is important to demand answers. Knowledge cannot be monopolized. Education shouldn’t ever be a luxury.

- Vaishnavi Mohan

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