India File

IIM-A fees and the crisis in liberal education

Rutam Vora | Updated on December 03, 2019

File photo of IIM-A   -  The Hindu

The fees for the flagship Post Graduate Programme (PGP) in Management at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A) has increased by about 68 per cent in the past 10 years. The argument given by the institute for the sustained increase in fees is the general inflation, higher operational expenses, including faculty salaries, and infrastructure spend.

Does this increase leave out disadvantaged sections? Ajay Pandey, senior faculty and former dean, programmes, at the IIMA, pointed out a clear distinction between professional and liberal higher education that lies at the core of the debate around the affordability of higher education.

“It is a matter of perception that higher fees put restriction access of higher education for a section of society. In reality, this theory is unfounded. If somebody wants to come in, there are options available to seek financial support. And they are rather easy to get. But if somebody is not aware about the availability of such financial support, then it is a different problem relating to awareness,” says Pandey.

IIM-A spends approx ₹8 crore to provide fee waiver to candidates from financially weak backgrounds. Sources revealed that about one-third of the batch usually avail such fee waiver. “We were told that the institute had to implement fee hike to meet the shortfall created from increased expenses — higher salaries and overall inflation.

Fee waiver causes additional burden on the finances. This means the hiked prices are effected on those who are capable of paying,” said one of the recent alumni of the institute not willing to be quoted.


Due to its financial and operational dependence on government support and interventions, there was a debate on the independence of IIMs. Notably, at the time of the formation of the IIMs, they were established with public funds and they are perceived as public institutions; hence, IIMs cannot expect to become fully independent of the government. But an IIM Review Committee Report in September 2008 recommended that the Board of the IIMs “should have full powers to manage, including selecting and appointing the Director, proposing the name of the Chairman, raising funds, determining fees for all courses, among others.”

“The issue is about the quality and access to those who actually want to pursue liberal higher education because there is not too much of utilitarian value in pursuing such education. The demand for professional education depends on which job market they aim to get plugged into,” states Pandey.

The job factor

The logic is that professional education promises jobs at ‘attractive’ salary, therefore it demands a particular quality and skills. And because professional education promises a “good job”, people will be willing to pay. According to Pandey, issues relating to choice between professional and liberal education can be solved by providing quality liberal education.

“If you don’t have good quality liberal education, and if there is only good quality professional education, then this dilemma will worsen. Because, if someone is unclear about his choice but if he thinks that by joining an IIT or IIM it will plug him into a particular job market, then there is a problem.”

But on the liberal side, there is a need for co-investment by the candidate also, so as to avoid the free-rider incidence and solve the excess demand problem. One can calibrate appropriately to arrive at a number to charge the fees.

But you can’t do it at the same way as you charge professional education. However, Pandey considers financial discrimination at the primary education level responsible for what is happening at the back-end of the education system.

Published on December 03, 2019

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