The government’s proposal to reduce the fees at the IITs and IIMs would
make these international institutions weaker
A reasonable part of the growth of the infotech industry in India can be
attributed to IIT and IIM graduates. From the seventies onwards, many of them
left for the US and then got absorbed in the corporate mainstream there. With
their hard work and intellect, they were able to build a positive image for
India. Later, when they reached levels of influence and an age where they wanted
to give back to the country of origin-they became our technology ambassadors.
Many of them came back and started companies in India. To that extent, the
investments that the country put into their education became–with hind-sight
one may add–marketing investments.
Today, a brand has been cre-ated and the system is working well and in the
manner of chil-dren who cannot keep their hands of attractive toys–the HRD
ministry is tinkering with the whole system in an exercise of complete futility.
The fee reduction futility actually started with the government removing
subsidies for educa-tion. At the time when this writer studied at the IIT and
IIM, which were lot cheaper. The tuition fee for the IITs in the seventies was
something like fifty rupees a month. Then it started becoming more expensive
because part of the support was withdrawn. Now we want to reduce the fee once
The fee reduction exercise assumes that there are a whole lot of students,
who have the merit but not the means do join these institutes. Is that a correct
assumption? And where is the data to support that?
First and foremost, the selection process gives a better chance to those who
have had the benefit of a very good school education. That, by far, is better in
the public schools of the country and not the government-run institutions. The
economically backward students go to government institutions. So the first step
to have more people from the economically weaker sections come up in life, lies
at the school level and not at the college level. The foundation has to be right
and money is needed there. I cannot work out how reducing the fee for higher
education will put money into primary education. It can only have a reverse
imp-act since the limited amount of resources will get split. In a country where
primary educa-tion is not available to many, trying to make a dozen odd
institutes accessible to many, does not make sense.
The reduction in fee would make these international
insti-tutions weaker. Taking away the economic freedom would, for starters, make
these institu-tions more dependant on the government hand that feeds them.
It will also impact their ability to attract good faculty. A
serious problem facing these institutes is the shortage of excellent teachers,
given the fact that the attractiveness of the corporate sector and other career
options are far higher and growing by the day.
So, whom would the propo-sed fee reductions at the IITs and
IIMs really benefit? Presu-mably the few hundred stu-dents who have the merit,
but cannot join these institutes because of lack of money. Is that really true?
If that is the case, why can’t there be more scholarships and loans provi-ded?
Considering that there are a dozen institutes of this type in the country, how
many can be the number of students who have the merit and do not get loans or
The real issue is the creation of more facilities for a
billion-strong nation, not weakening the existing ones. A dozen centers of
international educa-tion are too few. Education is not a shop where the highest
bidder should win. But that problem in India is not being caused by the IITs and
IIMs. That is being caused by capita-tion fee-based institutions. Let government
improve admis-sion methodologies and let it influence running of educatio-nal
institutions in a better manner.
For starters, it could ensure that teachers who are paid
salaries in government run institutions actually come and teach. Let it ensure
the availa-bility of funds for the truly deserving. And there are many means of
doing so–including using part of the fee charged from the other students if
req-uired. But how does fee reduction help?
Let us not bolt the wrong stable.
Shyam Malhotra is the
Editor-in-Chief of Cyber Media publications.