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Still cheap at the price
The recommendation made by the standing committee of the IIT council, to increase the annual tuition fee for the undergraduate course, is welcome. If anything, it errs on the side of caution, as it is still too meagre to have any significant impact on the functioning of these premier institutions. Even the hiked amount, Rs 90,000, is substantially lower than the Rs 4 lakh annual cost IITs incur per student, or for that matter fees charged by less reputed private institutions. In fact, the Anil Kakodkar committee appointed by the government to look at the functioning of the IITs had recommended that annual fees be raised to Rs 2-2.5 lakh, which is very reasonable given the expected salary of the IIT graduates.
Lopsided educational policies, which dole out excessively large subsidies on higher education, have ensured that fees charged by government-funded institutes remain incredibly low. In fact, the current tuition fee rates meet only 7% of operating revenues of the IITs. This makes IITs excessively dependent on the government. This has serious negative consequences, like government interference in their functioning which limits their autonomy and prevents them from moving up the ranks of top global institutions. Today, only three IITs figure in the list of the top 400 in world university rankings.
Affordability of the fee is not an issue, as current policies allow merit scholarships to almost a third of its students whose annual income is less than Rs 4.5 lakh. Others can opt for educational loans from banks at affordable rates, which are freely available. Higher fees would reduce the subsidy burden of the government, while allowing greater autonomy to the IITs to evolve into institutions of global excellence. What's not to like?
It's an elitist move
When the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961, laid the foundations of the 16 IITs as they exist today, it named them "institutions of national importance". That specific wording is important; it gets to the core of what the IITs are and what they represent. For half-a-century, they have stood at the pinnacle of the Indian higher education system. It has been a signal achievement in a country where there is a massive dearth of quality providers of education at every level. And they have been beacons to youth with high aspirations across India - places where they could hope to gain entrance by dint of hard work and merit, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. The IITs are, in short, meritocracies. But the move to bump up their undergraduate tuition fees by a whopping 80% threatens to destroy that.
Yes, the fee structure cannot remain entirely static. Some upward adjustment is more than inevitable, it is desirable. But a jump from Rs 50,000 to Rs 90,000 is simply too drastic. To the elite, it might seem a piddling amount. But to the vast majority of Indians, it is a great deal of money. The standing committee of the IIT council - the body that suggested the hike - has also recommended that students from the weaker sections not have to pay the higher fees, but this is a weak measure at best. It describes the weaker sections as scheduled castes and tribes and OBCs. But what of large segments of the population that don't fall into those categories but are still economically downtrodden? Are they to be simply accounted as collateral damage and left to perish by the wayside?
Anyone passing through the IIT entrance exam, among the toughest of their kind anywhere in the world, undoubtedly possesses scholastic aptitude and talent. If the country cannot take care of them then the loss is not just theirs - it's the country's and meritocracy's as well.
Source: Times of India