Today the National Council passed the Education City Bill with some important amendments. The Bill will therefore, go for joint sitting in the 10th session of Parliament. I respect the decision of the National Council.
After I published my article ‘Education City as an Economic Project’ last week, I took time to converse further with some of my colleagues. I have also benefitted from those of you who commented, supported, disagreed and even criticized my position on my website. I would like to thank you all. After reflecting on all these views, I decided to vote today against the bill.
Some of the major arguments that influenced how I decide to vote have already been posted in my earlier article. I will not repeat them here. Two additional reasons that reinforced my decision to vote against the bill are as follows.
A consortium of two Indian business entities had submitted the bid and had been selected as the concessionaire or ‘developer’ of the Education City. In other words, there was a single bidder. The very fact that there was a single ‘consortium’ bidder as opposed to earlier expectations for more bidders after publicizing all the merits of Education City became a cause of concern for me. If indeed the Education City in Bhutan is seen as attractive as has been publicized, I thought that there would at least be a few credible bidders. This is not to suggest that the present bidder is third-rate. Some significant potential bidders such as Tata which expressed interest earlier however, did not even participate in the bid. This is one reason why I have reservations about the attractiveness of our Education City.
From the Education City Bill and DHI presentations, I understand that the onus of bringing in ‘high quality’ institutes into Education City is on the concessionaire. The government could help promote and the Board of Education City can ensure that institutes and colleges setting up campuses in the City are really ‘high quality.’ But what if the ‘high quality’ institutes and colleges are not interested? One friend whose view I sought last week shared with me that, “Experience around the world is demonstrating over and over again, particularly in the present economic climate, which is predicted to last for a long time now, that academic institutions of any merit whatsoever simply do not have the financial resources to invest in such a project.” It is therefore, highly possible that the concessionaire may have to bring in some institutes and colleges so that there is a return on their investments.
They can’t make money from empty structures and facilities. This could possibly result in inviting colleges and institutes whose quality in any sense would not match with what the Education City Bill envisages. Certainly, we do not want academic institutions that are only business entities.
The evidence so far suggests that there is really no strong interest abroad to come into our Education City. Only a few institutes have signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with us. These MoUs are however, not actual commitment whatsoever to establish campuses or knowledge centres. The best of these MoUs is only an indication that they may consider to come in later. Of course DHI reasons that even to get MoU from these few reputed institutes is a success compared to other countries in the region which have not even succeeded to get such MoUs. My reservation however, stems from the fact that we are launching a huge economic project drawing confidence from such things as MoUs which are only indications and not actual commitments.
It is for these reasons that I voted against the Education City Bill. I would be very glad to be proven wrong after fifteen years because the implications for our national society otherwise are very huge.
The writer is the Deputy-Chairperson of the National Council (Sonam Kinga)