India File

Fee hike: IITians are feeling the pinch

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on December 03, 2019 Published on December 03, 2019

Fee hike can hit students of low-income groups

When Muneer Mohammed* got out of his Plus Two a few years ago, he desperately wanted to get into an IIT for his graduation. “Yes, these institutions are the best places to study. But I was desperate because an IIT is where I could get the best education at an affordable fee rate,” says Mohammed who hails from Kerala.

He joined IIT Madras and is pursuing a BTech course at the institution. “I’m lucky, unlike my younger brother who is pursuing his Plus Two now,” he says. If he makes it to the IIT, Mohammed’s brother will now be paying nearly double the amount his brother had paid as fees. “IIT fees have gone up steeply during the past few years, making it really difficult for people like my and my brother to afford education here,” he says.

Fees at India’s IIT remained unchanged for long and a major shake-up came in November 2012 when the IIT Council recommended an 80 per cent hike in undergraduate fees, which meant the fees would go up by ₹90,000 a year. The hike came into effect in 2013. While announcing the decision, the minister for state for HRD, Pallam Raju, had said that the fee structure would undergo a review every year. The revised rates would be applicable for the new entrants and the fee-waiver schemes for ST/ST and 25 per cent of the students from economically disadvantaged background would continue, he said.

 

The HRD ministry’s take then was that while an IIT spends nearly ₹2.25 lakh on a student a year, the annual fees were around ₹50,000 per student. The previous fee revision was in 2008-09 and now it was time to rationalise the fees and make them in sync with the realities of the education market. “But the hike was a blow to many students,” remembers Deepak Johnson, who was with IIT-M during 2009-14. “Students protested, but there was no roll back.” In fact, the government then said it was acting on Anil Kakodkar Committee’s recommendation to make IITs financially independent of budgetary support to meet their operating expenditure.

Minister Raju said like the IIMs, the government wanted the IITs to be sustainable and fee was one of the ways to achieve that. “But that argument doesn’t hold water because you cannot treat public-funded higher education like a business entity aiming a return on investment,” says Mohammed.

“These institutes serve a social purpose and are supposed to be places where the poor and disadvantaged sections of the society come seeking the best forms of knowledge.” Both for the pursuit of knowledge and as a vehicle of social mobility, access to quality higher education becomes crucial.

Agrees Johnson, who was General Secretary of IIT-M students union during 2014-15. “It’s not a question of rationalising fees like private institutions do. When the IITs hike fees, every other similar institutes, including those in the private sector, will start jacking up fees,” he says. “And this will have a cascading effect on the whole higher education sector.” He says such revisions, hence, should be done carefully and any hike should be reviewed in the light of the social realities of the day.

The All India Engineering Student Council says such hikes are unacceptable and uncalled for. But the government’s logic was that IITs would focus more on research, IITs are made to be autonomous, poor students will be given scholarships, and others will anyway get loans, which they can repay after they get jobs.

IITs say the hikes are nominal and reflect a long-pending correction. A senior official with IIT says that when IIT increased fees for B.Tech programme a few years back, the full fee waiver for SC/ST students continued, and 2/3 fee waiver was provided for OBC-NCL students with annual parental income below the threshold defined by the government. “Recently, an EWS category has been introduced and they will also receive this 2/3 fee waiver since their annual parental income threshold is the same.”

He adds that the rationale for increasing the fees is that there ought to be some correlation between the amount spent in educating a student and the fee paid by those who can afford to pay, even if the fee paid is only a part of the amount actually spent. The IIT says no studies or surveys done on the economic profile of students entering the institution, though SC/ST students get full fee waiver irrespective of the parental income and OBC-NCL students by definition have parental income below the threshold defined by government.

Larger issues remain

There is the larger question of improving the country’s higher education systems. “We tend to underinvest in higher education if it is not subsidised,” says Amit Basole, faculty at the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru. “It is a difficult thing to do. It is not affordable and hence the government has a very important role to play in making it affordable.”

“I am in support of affordable public education even if it can’t be completely free,” says Basole. “In India today a lot of focus is laid on the central university system, not on the state universities. The central institutes get most of the attention and cater to only a small section of the population.”

According to Basole, the proliferation of private educational institutions in the country in recent history is a testimony of the failure of underinvesting in the state university system, which has been at the forefront of making higher education affordable to a larger population.

“Ever since the state university system was allowed to decay by way of recruitment freezes and under-investment, private influence on higher education increased manifold and this fact reflects in the mushrooming of private institutes in higher education, and most of them perform poorly,” says Basole. “The time has come for us to think bold about a broad-based public higher education system and not about installing more elitist and exclusive institutions like the IITs or IIMs.”

*Name changed to protect identity

Published on December 03, 2019
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