Explainer: Why Kerala CPI(M)’s red carpet for foreign varsities has left SFI perplexed

Both the CPI(M) and SFI in Kerala have a history of fiercely opposing the entry of global and private players in the state’s education sector.
Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal
Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal
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In a move that has raised the shackles of even supporters and members of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Kerala, the state Finance Minister KN Balagopal in his budget speech unravelled plans by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government to permit foreign universities to enter the state.

The Budget 2024 document stated that “opportunities for establishing foreign university campuses will be examined in accordance with the new UGC guidelines without compromising on the principles of transparency and equality.” Components such as single window clearance for all required recognitions, relaxation in stamp duty/transfer duty/registration charges, subsidised rates for water and electricity, tax relaxation and investment subsidy on capital will be part of this investment policy.

"Many foreign students are coming to various universities of Kerala for higher education now. More foreign students can be attracted to the state through the above mentioned steps," Balagopal said in his speech, adding that steps will also be taken to establish private universities as well.

This announcement raised the eyebrows of the Students Federation of India (SFI), the students organisation linked to the CPI(M). Both the CPI(M) and SFI in Kerala have a history of fiercely opposing the entry of global and private players in the state’s education sector, which is precisely why the move by the Left government comes as a surprise to many.

Following the budget, SFI state president K Anusree said that while the student’s organisation welcomes the budget, they oppose the decision to allow foreign universities in the state and that they will demand strict norms to regulate the functioning of private players in the education sector. Anusree also said that they will raise this concern with the Kerala government.

Opposition in the past

In 2010, during the tenure of the VS Achuthanandan-led CPI(M) government, MA Baby, who was the education minister, had told the assembly that the Kerala government would not support entry of foreign universities in the state. The CPI(M) is also reported to have criticised the then Congress-led UPA government for its decision to allow foreign players in the country’s educational sector, referring to it as blatant commercialisation of education. 

Another incident of the Left’s strong resistance to global and private players in the education sector took place in 2016, when SFI activists manhandled former diplomat and the then vice-chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council TP Sreenivasan, when he came to attend the Global Education Meet, as a protest against “commercialisation of higher education”. Sreenivasan faced their anger for championing the cause of private universities and collaboration with foreign universities.

CPI(M)’s reaction

With questions being raised regarding the budget announcement, CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan brushed aside the concerns and said there was no “shift in policy” as far as the CPI(M) is concerned. 

“Privatisation has always existed in this country and in Kerala. It was there during the time of EMS Namboothiripad as well. Our protests in the past were not against private capital but against globalisation. We have never been against private capital. India has a capitalist system. Just because there is a Communist party in the state, don’t be under the misunderstanding that there is a socialist system here,” MV Govindan said. 

The CPI(M) leader went on to add that India has a constitution which protects the interests of capitalism. “We are under no illusion that the government (in Kerala), led by Communists, will be able to implement all the ideas put forward by the working class,” he said. 

Higher Education Minister R Bindu said that no policy decision has been taken yet by the government regarding the entry of foreign universities. “Although it was mentioned in the budget, we will discuss more on this before making a policy decision,” she said.

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