CHENNAI: Opposing the Indian government’s expected move to agree to make higher education a part of WTO’s GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services), student organisations around the city protested, fearing it would commercialise higher education in India.
On Monday, the All India Students Federation, All India Students Association, and Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, among other groups, told the media that they would protest against this move ahead of the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference of 160 countries at Nairobi on December 15 where India’s status on the issue remains undecided. “We have seen sharp cuts in the education budget. This move will marginalise the differently-abled, and students from backward communities by taking away their opportunities,” said a youth leader of one of the groups, stating that they would go on a rally in front of Shastri Bhavan next week. He added that they plan to distribute pamphlets and conduct awareness programs and street theatre on how the concepts of scholarships and government funded education will be stripped away from students if this move happened.
“The level playing field that this GATS talks about has no specifications. It will consume funds from the UGC channeled to government institutes on the ground. It must allocate the same fund to private colleges; it obviously cannot afford this,” says Anil Sadgopal of the All India Forum for Right to Education. Commending the European Union and the African Union for opposing the move openly, he said one of the problems with the agreement was that it was done without consulting the public.
“It hasn’t been made public and it has long-term problems that will affect the quality of education. Anything that goes against the global market will be removed from the curriculum. Study options that are less marketable will be withdrawn and students will be seen as ‘consumers’ and universities as ‘service providers’,” warns Sadgopal. Educationist Vasanthi Devi and other college professors also addressed the media to show their solidarity against this move.