“Not only does neoliberalism undermine both civic education and the public… but it also treats knowledge as a product…views schools as malls, students as consumers, and faculty as entrepreneurs.” -Henry Giroux
Neoliberal expansions to education in general and to the tertiary level education, in particular, were encouraged with the intention of bringing quality, productivity, and consistency in the performance of educational institutions. Neoliberal ideologues and their admirers continually advocated for the exposition of our universities to the corporate sector. It was believed that healthy competition among institutes would offer an environment where the students will acquire applied knowledge.
Pakistan, with historically low spending on its education sector, finds those claims quite attractive and appealing. The policymakers perceived that state cannot ensure the provision of education to its overwhelmingly increasing young population, hence private investment in education must be encouraged. Resultantly, we are witnessing a large number of public-private joint ventures along mushrooming of exclusively privatized universities.
The question, however, is, whether the private sector has offered what they were expected from? Except for the very few super-elite institutes, unfortunately, the answer appears in negation. Due to the implicit compromises on the quality of education, the corporatization/privatization has produced dysfunctions, rather than performing the role which was claimed by neoliberal ideologues as raison d’etre of liberalizing the campuses.
It has been evidently seen that students’ Fee (money), has been prioritized by the majority of private university administrators in Pakistan. Since they (owners) have started treating education as a commodity, customerization of the students emerges as an inevitable outcome.
Privatizing one of the core public rights is authenticated with the argument that it is helping poor state structure of education in equipping young minds with analytical skills. The actual situation, however, debunks the all the held myths. The privatized institutions are now characterized by the depreciation of education standards, widening the already existing class disparity and producing functionally illiterate individuals.
The lust for maximization students’ intake are compelling the private educational entities to run in a race which results in further degradation. The private universities are trying to attract more and more customers (Students) via eye-catching admission prospectuses and their rhetoric of possessing sophisticated infrastructure. Students paying huge fees are provided with satisfaction by awarding relaxed grades.
It has further been noticed that faculty is also been hired ignoring the true academic capabilities of the candidates. Students-faculty ratio and students-space ratio which is central to any learning environment have often been overlooked hence, remain unbalanced.
Quality Enhancement Cells (QECs) which were established by the HEC (Higher Education Commission) to ensure quality teaching and supervision, are provided with fake data in order to get early accreditation. Cognizant of the fact that each private university may not be involved in all the above-mentioned malpractices but a majority of them are certainly doing it in a much patterned way. Putting bluntly, it is asserted that the excessive increase in the number of private intuitions like tuition academies in urban cities of Pakistan is producing junk.
Despite many of their (private institutes) shortfalls, there is still a commonly held belief that private universities are producing more competent graduates than the public sector institutes. This common-sensical belief works in favor of the private university graduates in the job market and enjoys an edge over their peers who have got graduation from Public Sector University. In other words, graduates of public sector institutes encounter symbolic violence- a sociological term referred to the discrimination perpetrated against any student on the basis of his/her alma mater’s reputation, in job interviews.
Private university graduates may also be favored due to the cultural and social capital which they have accumulated as a result of distinctively maintained Corridor Curriculum – again a sociological term used for etiquette acquired as a result of interaction among peers outside the classroom, on campuses.
To put shortly, it can be concluded that the commonsense beliefs about private institutes as essentially good inculcator of highly professional ethos, give an irrational advantage to students who earlier has been termed as junk in this article.
Pertinent to mention here, are the defunding moves by many governments including the current PTI-led govt. Such assaults on public education certainly will have devastating impacts on public sector education and that needs no explanation.
Hardly a year or more would’ve been passed since the current govt. imposed cuts on education budget in 2019 and the faculty and students were found agitating on campuses. Instructed by HEC to manage their internal budgets on their own, the public sector universities have started imitating the strategies adopted by the private university to meet their financial needs.
Following commercialized patterns, they are also prioritizing the students’ fees as a source of revenue generation. If such a situation persists, the distinction between and public and private will ultimately fade away and hence the working-class families will find it extremely difficult, almost impossible, to send their children for university education.
Thus, it is suggested to all the policymakers to avoid adventures in the form of public-private joint ventures. In the case of extreme unavoidable circumstances, nevertheless, the state may instruct their concerned body to regulate the educational economy and do not let the invisible hands deteriorate educational standards in autonomous manners. Having said that, it is again emphasized that private education must not be considered as an alternative to sufficiently funded public education. To avoid class disparity, and to produce critical citizenry, the state must not further defund public education.