Explained: How Kerala’s new push into higher education is a sea change for the ruling CPI(M)


Vijayan is pushing for the privatization of higher education at a time when the CPI(M) in West Bengal is protesting against the establishment of new schools under the PPP model.

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Higher Education Policy Project

He says Kerala must become a hub for higher education. It calls for the creation of new centers of higher education and excellence. At present, the Gross Enrollment Rate in Kerala’s tertiary sector is 37%. The project indicates that it should be increased to 50% over the next five years. This goal calls for the establishment of new centers of higher education in Kerala. According to the draft policy, strengthening existing higher education centers, both academically and infrastructurally, would not be enough. New large educational institutions are expected to emerge in the government sector, the private sector and the cooperative sector, he adds, offering such higher education institutions under the PPP model. The draft does not specifically mention private universities and indicates that the government should exercise firm control over the higher education sector, ensuring social justice.

What happens next?

The draft would be discussed at the conference and proposed changes, if any, would be incorporated. It would be debated among LDF allies, before being shaped as policy and submitted to the LDF government for implementation. CPI(M) Secretary of State Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said the policy should be implemented.

Leaving the previous position

CPI(M)’s hostile attitude towards private investment over the years has also been reflected in the state education sector. The party had kept its student and youth wings, the Federation of Students of India and the Democratic Youth Federation of India, respectively, always on the front line against policy changes in the education sector. In the 1980s, the CPI(M) organized violent protests against private sector polytechnics and the attempt to separate upper secondary education from colleges. In 1994, when the Congress-led UDF government established a medical college in the cooperative sector in Kannur, the CPI(M) staged violent protests. Five DYFI men were killed in police gunfire at Koothuparamba in Kannur, which later became one of CPI(M)’s bloody agitations against privatization of education in Kerala. Later, CPI(M) usurped control of this medical college, which has now become a major tertiary hospital in North Kerala. When the Congress regime in 2001-2006 took the historic decision to establish self-funded engineering colleges and medical colleges in Kerala to stem the flow of students to other parts of the country in search of training professional, the party vehemently opposed this decision. In 2014, when the Congress regime moved to grant autonomy to the reputed colleges of arts and sciences in Kerala, the CPI(M) went on the rampage again. In 2016, SFI roughed up former diplomat and then vice-chairman of the state council for higher education, Dr. TP Sreenivasan, at a global education summit, saying the event would “accelerate the commercialization of higher education”.

The CPI(M) as a champion of the privatization of education

Once a vocal opponent of the privatization of the vocational training sector, the CPI(M) has slowly changed over the past decade. This was described as a change in step with the times and the growing aspirations of the middle class in Kerala, where small families were willing to invest in the professional education of children. The CPI(M), which led violent protests against the co-operative sector’s first medical school, later took the same route to build a professional education empire in Kerala. It also emerged that the wards of several senior CPI(M) leaders were studying at self-funded colleges.

Over the past two decades, the self-funded education sector has experienced robust growth. Data on higher education in Kerala shows that 69.38% of colleges in Kerala now belong to the self-funded sector. Out of 177 engineering colleges under Kerala Technical University, 165 are self-funding.

Economic and social impact

The opening of the higher education sector in Kerala has led to huge investments in Kerala. Although there is no official data, the higher education sector in recent years has become one of the largest avenues of investment in the state, where the manufacturing sector has not increased than 1.5% over the past decade. A large portion of these self-funded colleges are minority institutions. While Christian churches once dominated state higher education, the opening of the self-funded education sector has allowed Muslims to win out over the former in terms of the number of institutions. Several NRI-backed groups had also invested in the state’s higher education sector. Most of the new institutions have sprung up in the hinterland of Kerala, resulting in a reshaping of the economic profile of many villages and empowered women in particular.

A different IPC(M) under Vijayan

After Vijayan took office in 2016, CPI(M) and its teams abandoned their belligerent attitude towards private capital and adopted a market-oriented development strategy. Instead of the party leading the way for the government, the Vijayan regime saw the party walking the path set by the government. DYFI and SFI have pulled out of agitations against self-funded colleges. This change was also reflected when the previous CPI(M) scheme granted NOC to 49 new colleges, 34 of which were self-funded.

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Kerala Higher Education

School education in Kerala has seen a huge change over the past few years. School infrastructure has been upgraded and up to 141 upper secondary schools have been transformed into ‘Centres of Excellence’ through the KIIFB fund of Rs 5 crore each. The infrastructure of 395 schools has been improved through the allocation of KIIFB funds of Rs 3 crore each. However, the performance of the state in higher education is not as impressive as in the case of school education. The major issues with tertiary education in Kerala are the quality, cost and unemployment rate of graduates. Upper secondary school enrollment in 2020-21 was 3.81 lakh, down to 3.32 lakh at college level. This has created a conducive situation for more investment in emerging areas of education in the state.


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