Himachal Student movement forces BJP government to roll back anti-student semester system
The consistent mass-based and militant student movement of Himachal Pradesh has forced the BJP government to roll back the semester system in the colleges of the state. It needs to be stated here that the consistent efforts by Students’ Federation of India (SFI) unit of the state in building a powerful and unified movement on the issue forced even organizations like ABVP to raise the issue of semester system and Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). In the last 5 years, SFI has been successful in making the disastrous impact of RUSA an issue beyond the colleges, which even the political parties like Congress and BJP had to acknowledge. The transition of a policy offensive in education into a political issue in the state is the biggest achievement of the movement and the present decision is solely an outcome of this.
(Suresh Bhardwaj, the education minister of Himachal Pradesh)
Before the assembly elections, BJP released its vision document, which is a now a policy document of the state government. In this, the party promised to end choice-based credit system and semester system under RUSA and to introduce the annual examination system. However, after the formation of the government many of the ministers and BJP leaders have been giving contradictory statements. A committee was formed by the state government to reassess the impact of RUSA and the consistent pressure of the student movement forced it to recommend the ending of semester system and moving back to the annual system.
The Himachal Pradesh committee of SFI in a statement has welcomed this recommendation. However, SFI has also clearly stated that merely rolling back the semester system won’t solve the discrepancies created by RUSA. The following needs to be done, if the government is indeed serious about improving the higher education in the state: ending the choice based credit system, bringing back the reevaluation system, implementing a central schedule under RUSA system and filling up the vacant teaching & non-teaching posts. SFI has also warned that its movement will continue unless the state government doesn’t remove all the discrepancies in the RUSA system and in the coming days it won’t hesitate in building up a militant agitation if the BJP government shows any kind of dilly dallying on the issue.
It is imperative here to understand how and why RUSA is such a big issue. The Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) was a UPA flagship programme which has been carried forward by the BJP government. It replaces the pre-existing multiple funding mechanisms with one centralized mechanism. The funding is linked to a set of conditions failing which the institutions/states won’t be eligible to receive funds. These conditions include implementation of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), semesterisation and compulsory accreditation among others. The same document makes it clear that the funding under RUSA will be norm based as well as performance based. This basically means that the state governments or universities won’t have any room to modify the system according to their specific conditions and all powers to determine their education are snatched away from them. This will go on to increase the already existing inequalities. The recent decision to grant graded autonomy to 60-odd educational institutions is in line with this policy direction.
Himachal Pradesh was one of the first states to implement RUSA in 2013. A poorly thought system with a top-down approach without taking into account the infrastructural weaknesses, the huge number of vacant teaching posts and the geographical specificities ( long winters, where semester system is simply not feasible) meant that in the first semester examinations after the implementation almost 60% first year students failed in their examinations. In the later years there were huge delays in the declaration of results and the then state government even tried to bring private players to check the answer sheets of the students ( this attempt was defeated resoundingly). The anger among the students and parents created conditions in which organizations like SFI effectively intervened to create a larger movement against the policy offensive.
The relief to thousands of students of the state has come after long and sustained struggles. However, the student movement in the state can’t afford to sit back. It must continue to up the ante, given the BJP’s loyalty towards the profiteers in the education. The pen pushers of neoliberal reforms have already started writing columns in local newspapers saying that Himachal will lose lot of funds if it rolls back semester system (it needs to be noted that the second phase of RUSA has started). All such efforts have to be combated and defeated by strong ideological struggle. However, the moot point remains that RUSA is part of an all India policy attack and it can be countered effectively only by a powerful all India students’ movement.