After months of prolonged speculation on whether the government will or will not raise the fees of IITs in accordance with the recommendation of the joint IIT council, the cat is finally out of the bag. The Union human resources development (HRD) ministry has decided to more than double the tuition fees of IITs from the current Rs 90,000 annually to Rs 2 lakh.
Given the IIT standing committee, expert committee and finally, the high-powered IIT panel all recommending steep fee hikes, the decision to raise the fees was more about "when" than "if". But still, many who refused to read the writing on the wall are a disappointed lot today.
Delving into some statistics, the tuition fee was last revised in 2013 under the UPA government from Rs. 60,000 to Rs. 90,000 pa.
The panel also approved that the students belonging to families whose annual income is less than Rs. 1 lakh will be able to get full fee waiver, along with those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the differently abled.
The students belonging to families with an annual income less than Rs. 5,00,000 will be entitled to a waiver of two-thirds of the tuition fee, irrespective of their category. The rest of the students who do not fall under any of these categories will be helped with loans to fund their education, the officials said.
With these contingent facts in place, we analyse the various pros and cons that would follow such a decision by the MHRD.
THE CASE FOR FEES HIKE:
Infrastructural costs have swelled from Rs 3600 crore to Rs 10,500 crore in 10 years, as more facilities are being created in the development of IITs. Fees only accruing to 20% of this expenditure, a large portion of this spending comes from the pocket of the tax payers through government funds. In comparison with the facilities the IITs provide, students pay peanuts and it still doesn’t amount much after the hike.
Expenditure has increased manifolds and to maintain the quality of education, there were two options available. Either the government bore the extra costs or the fees could be hiked. Depending on the government limits the growth of IITs and affects the autonomy of the institute. Financial and academic autonomy is important for any premium educational institute.
Given that the salaries withdrawn by IIT teachers is commensurate with that other universities where students pay at most 30% of the fee paid at IITs, there’s little motivation for advanced academia to return to IIT after their higher studies. If the difference — between what the market pays for IIT talent and the pay that teachers get — becomes too wide, India’s best academia will drift elsewhere. This will not augur well for the future academic excellence of the IITs.
The cost for higher education in any of the developed Western countries (The US, UK, EU or even Australia) is anywhere between Rs 40-60 lakh a year. Even if one were to deduct half these costs (on account of boarding and lodging), the cost of tuition fees would still not be less than Rs 20 lakh a year. In the US, it takes a student around 3-5 years to pay off his or her investment in higher education, despite earning a US-standard salary.
In India, the average salary drawn by an IIT graduate freshman is around 10 lakh pa. That would permit the student to pay off the entire cost of higher education within two years, if not earlier which is in stark contrast to the time taken in the US, for instance.
THE CASE AGAINST THE FEE HIKE:
The past few years have seen the dominance of IITs being seriously challenged by private colleges such as the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS)-Pilani, Thapar Institute and the like. Significantly lower fees was one of the factors apart from a strong brand image that held the IITs in good stead.
The move will create a more divided campus and, in effect, a more divided society. As the difference between the burdens on those enjoying exemptions and those paying full fees rise, the resentment among the latter is set to shoot up, with more and more people trying to dupe the system and unjustly avail the benefit of commissioned waivers.
The case based on for foreseeable income that an average IITian draws falls flat when one takes into consideration that a large number of IIT graduates in fact go for higher studies in various fields and have no immediate earnings to pay off any loan. In fact, to make things worse, a huge number among these students take loans to pursue higher studies.
The past few years have seen an unprecedented zeal in the start-up environment. IIT alumni have been at the forefront of this critical change. Be it Flipkart or Snapdeal, many of the leading start-ups were founded by students who benefited from the affordable education IITs provided. Raising IIT fees will disincentivise the start-up culture and force students to take up a career in jobs to fend off any future accumulation of an unpaid loan. To get involved in a risky venture like a start-up may not seem like a good choice when there's a burden of a loan that needs to be paid off.
Yes, while it is true that a fee hike entails a lot of cons, it is equally true that it’s time IITs are granted the autonomy that they deserve, the way for which can only be paved by ensuring financial self-sufficiency.
It may look unwarranted as to why the burden of this quest is being shifted to the ones who have an anticipatable salary at the end of graduation, but the real fact of the matter remains that to make IITs comparable to world class institutions, we need an influx of excellent academia which is currently tucked away in foreign wetlands owing to better facilities and salary. It is important to realise that the fee hike is not some phenomenon out of the blue, and neither is it unique to IITs. It reflects the general trend across the world that premium education has been steadily becoming expensive.
If this fees hike and a conceivable autonomy is used to create facilities which at par with and possibly better than the universities abroad, IITs also will soon become centres for cutting edge research and excellence.
While the above stands, it is also true that IITs will have to be extremely careful in handling waivers and will have to operate in full throttle to extend easy loans to students. Post-graduation waivers can and should also be introduced for those who wish to continue with their studies and are not in a position to earn immediately. Additionally, IITs may even have to lobby for a higher minimum starting salary to sell its talent to the companies vying for them. Accept it or don’t, it’s here for real and we can only hope to get the best out of what we invest with the administration really sweating it out to make IITs the epicentres of global education.
Written By: Swati Agrawal | Ankur Goel
Cartoon By: Shubham Chaudhary