ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Understanding the Logic of Neo-liberalism in Education

This article attempts a critique of the private institutions in higher education by examining how they realise three concepts of access, choice and equity to form a distinct discourse of education. Using techniques of substitution and false logic in their arguments, democratic language is appropriated by such institutions as a kind of co-option technique, high on rhetoric but perhaps leaving behind the very real issues that privatisation in general purports to overcome, and creating some new ones of their own. This, ironically, may also succeed in blurring the distinction between public and private institutions, and nullify the basis on which they have entered education.

Private institutions are on the rise in India in both the education and the healthcare sectors. While opening up the economy has enormously increased their numbers, they have been around in the education sector since colonial times (Pathak 2014: 72). In the case of higher education, the body of literature on such institutions is substantial, although a recent edited volume of research on higher education, published in EPW from the 1960s to date (Tilak 2013), indicates that studies and critiques of particularly the private sector in higher education using methods and perspectives from the humanities, though significant, are still relatively few.

In the healthcare sector too, this kind of research is negligible. An interesting exception which addresses these lacunae in the study of private institutions is a recent paper on a major private hospital chain in south India (Hodges 2013). The myths surrounding its birth and growth are analysed to see how these contributed to its legendary status. The author does a historical analysis based on interviews with doctors, and demolishes these myths by painstakingly reconstructing the reality. She asserts that the legendary status of the private hospital is based upon “accepting a set of assertions that are at best, debatable, and at worst mere myths” (ibid: 242). By conducting a range of interviews with healthcare personnel and reconstructing the actual history of the healthcare sector in and around Chennai, she shows how the claims made by this private hospital do not stand up to even basic historical scrutiny. Lastly, she exposes the lack of truth value in the assertions and points out that the real danger of such myths lies elsewhere: “they obscure a set of broader historical processes that both precede and go beyond any results that can be attributed to one man or one hospital” (ibid: 242).

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