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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 21 New Delhi May 14, 2016

Implications of the IIT Fee Hike

Monday 16 May 2016

by Monish Kumar Babbar and Sandeep Pandey

The Indian Institutes of Technology Council, headed by the Minister of Human Resources Development, Smriti Irani, based on a recommendation by its Standing Committee, has decided to increase the undergraduate fees from Rs 90,000 to Rs 2 lakhs per year. This now makes IIT education costlier than some of the private engineering colleges. Although this is being done in the name of achieving greater financial autonomy, if this is not privatisation of education, then what is it? It appears that the decision is a direct outcome of India, as a member of the World Trade Organisation, signing the General Agreement on Trade in Services on December 19, 2015, in Nairobi, liberalising the sector of higher education.

However, to create an illusion that the government has still retained some control on decision-making, the fees of differently abled students, those belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and with family income of less than Rs 1 lakh has been waived. Students with family income of less than Rs 5 lakhs will be able to avail a 66 per cent concession in fees. These are likely to be interpreted as unfair trade practices by the Dispute Settlement Body of the WTO and may have to ultimately go, raising a question on the sovereignty of the country.

This decision is going to change the profile of students entering the IITs. It will now be a more uphill task for students from weaker socio-economic-gender backgrounds to clear the joint entrance examination. Parents may not like to invest in girls’ education if there will be a liability at the end of it. It may appear that this decision will not affect the students from the SC/ST category. The SC/ST students would now lose the incentive to compete for general seats making the entry of SC/ST students from weaker background even tougher. The reality is that it takes some investment to even make it to an IIT. Recently there was the case of a student belonging to the Valmiki community from Alwar, Rajasthan who got admission to the IIT at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. When he entered the IIT, he was already in a debt of Rs 2.7 lakhs which was taken to meet his medical treatment and for paying the cost of the coaching institution that he attended to prepare for the entrance examination. If it was not for the Western India Alumni Association of the IIT, BHU, he was on the verge of either selling his kidney to continue his education at the IIT or would have simply dropped out, like many other students from his background have done earlier. He was not in a position to bear costs other than tuition fees to continue staying on the campus. What use would a waiver for somebody like him be?

The racket of fake income certificates will bloom. Except for government servants, the rich and powerful, who can influence the system, will manage fake income certificates to help their children obtain the concession in fees. Children of parents from the general category and Other Backward Classes, who cannot obtain fake income certificates and will have to pay the full fee, will start detesting the SC/ST students more as they’ll think that it is their fees which are subsidising the education of SC/ST students. The government may have taken the decision to contain the damage done due to Rohith Vemula’s embarrassing suicide and to woo the Dalit middle class votes, but it is likely to further deepen the caste chasms.

The situation will be worse in other ways as well. A student who would have taken loan to make it to or study at the IIT, if for some reason is not able to complete his degree, would be in a distress which might in some cases lead to suicide, similar to the farmers of this country. And let us not forget the tens of lakhs who undertake coaching for entering the IITs but never make it. They too make an investment which puts them under undue pressure. For example, the suicide rate is on the rise in Kota since it became a hub of coaching institutions for fulfilling the IIT-JEE dream. A recent decision by the BJP Government to not consider the Class XII performance in the IIT entrance would further aggravate this problem.

Even if a student was to complete her degree from an IIT, when she would graduate with a debt of Rs 8 lakhs, the chances of her going for higher studies, willingness to initiate an enterprise or start-up would reduce and her priority would be to have a secure earning so that she would be able to clear her loans first. This will adversely impact the quality of Masters and Ph.D, research programmes and availability of professional experts in India. A number of students from India, China, other Asian, South American, African countries get a chance to enter the graduate programmes of the US universities, sometimes with financial assis-tance, because the priority of an American student completing his undergraduate studies from these universities is to repay his loans for which he starts working immediately.

The IITs already make a lot of money from various consultancies its Professors engage in. Some Professors bring research funding. In addition, alumni associations have also been contributing generously to the IITs. Rather than putting the burden on students it would be better if some of the costs of running the IITs, for example, the salaries of Professors are reduced as they get a number of benefits from the IITs, like subsidised housing, medical care, schooling of their children etc. When all the new hiring at lower levels is now on contract basis, why should professors enjoy disproportionate benefits? Specially, the professors, who are not showing any growth in terms of teaching and research, should be dispensed with to reduce the burden on the IITs. Why should the students be expected to bear the cost of sustaining these non-performing professors? A regular peer review with appropriate feedback from students should be the basis for taking decisions about these professors. Other ways of reducing the expenses at the IITs should also be thought of.

If the nation would not invest in the development of skills of engineers, researchers and scientists, then it is leading itself to a dark age in today’s time when technology, innovation and entrepreneurship are the key to development and growth.

Monish K. Babbar is a Final Year B.Tech. in Mechanical Engineering student at the IIT, BHU, Varanasi, and Sandeep Pandey has taught at the IITs at Kanpur, Gandhinagar and BHU, Varanasi. Sandeep can be reached at ashaashram@yahoo.com

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