An editorial in the Business Standards, titled Dr Joshi’s ideas points out the financial implications of HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi's drive to reduce the fees for engineering and management courses. Dr. Joshi is proposing that the government provide a subsidy to
keep the fees far lower than the actual costs for all students, including those who can afford to pay higher fees. The amount of this subsidy, according to the editorial, works out to 75% of the budget allocation for elementary education!
Dr Joshi’s proposals on the fees have been justified on the ground that lower fees are supposedly a recommendation of the U.R. Rao committee. But P.V. Indiresan, a former director of IIT, Madras, and a member of the Rao committee, has debunked Dr Joshi’s thesis in a newspaper article.
Teaching a student at an IIT costs Rs 2 lakh annually, says Dr Indiresan, while smaller colleges manage to keep this down to Rs 50,000, given that they have lesser facilities and smaller faculty.
If you assume Rs 100,000 as the average annual cost of an engineering degree, and don’t allow any college to charge more than Rs 6,000, that’s an annual shortfall of over Rs 3,500 crore, given that around 380,000 students enrol for engineering degrees each year. If the government is to make up this shortfall, then it is a huge hole in the Budget.
Another Rs 500 crore can be added on account of the proposals on management schools. For, on average, the fees are Rs 60,000 a year (the IIMs charge Rs 1.5 lakh, which Dr Joshi wants reduced to Rs 20,000). India produces nearly a lakh MBAs each year, and so the shortfall that will have to be made up by the government is around Rs 400-500 crore.
While Dr Joshi’s objective, presumably, is the laudable one of making top class education accessible to those who cannot afford it, there are cheaper ways to do this. One is a scholarship for economically weak students who qualify through the merit-tests at the IIMs/IITs, instead of giving a huge subsidy to everyone. But then these institutes would remain as autonomous as they are today!.
As it happens, Rs 4,000 crore a year towards the ‘control-IIM/IIT’ programme is just a fourth lower than the central budget for elementary education and literacy (Rs 4,904 crore), or the one for secondary and higher education (of the Rs 4,956 crore allocation, just Rs 664 crore are for IITs/IIMs currently).
Is more money being funnelled into higher education at the cost of primary education?