Here is a summary of why I don't like Kakodkar Committee's recommendation for a hike in tuition fee hike:
In my previous post, I said the fee hike implies a change in the character of IITs from public institutions serving a public purpose into essentially private institutions that can, potentially, go on to institute a regime of exorbitant tuition fees just "because we can," or "because the market can bear it."
[There are two indications in the Kakodkar Committee Report about the possibility of even higher fees: (a) it presents a dubious computation that implies that Rs. 200,000 represents only 30 % of the real cost of education at IITs, and (b) it has another section on autonomous governing boards with powers to set the tuition fees. The zeal with which the Committee goes about its business is truly scary!]
And worse, all this could happen while the institutions keep taking a lot of money from the government! This . is . just . wrong.
Again, as I pointed out in the previous post, the fee hike proposal still leaves the IITs dependent on the government for a huge bulk of its budget. Thus, it certainly doesn't solve the specific problem which, as identified and articulated by the Committee, is the IITs' quest for "financial independence" as a prelude to their autonomy.
IITs are not just another set of academic institutions. As India's leading institutions, they also serve as a benchmark. A 200,000 rupee tuition fee would send the wrong signal to the wrong sorts of people -- businesspeople, crooks, thugs and muttheads who run some of our shadiest self-financing colleges. It will only end up giving a license to every unscrupulous Rai, Pai and Chaudhuri to stiff their students even more.
The idea of a "National IIT Scholarship Programme" exemplifies what I call the doctrine of "IIT Exceptionalism." This doctrine not only refuses to see the IITs as a part of India's larger system of higher ed, it wants to keep the IITs separate and exclusive (The demand to keep JEE in addition to any other national test flows directly from this doctrine; so does the demand for maintaining a salary differential for faculty.).
[Aside: There is a case to be made for a national scheme to help students go to college -- it could take the form of direct grants (like the Pell grants in the US) or a system of post-payment (by way of a slightly enhanced tax rate on one's income, as in Australia). But such a scheme must be created for all students.]
The Committee recommends a loan scheme, "so that no student is deprived of education because of want of means." It doesn't seem to acknowledge some of the bad consequences of saddling graduates with loans (which may now start at, say, Rs. 800,000, but could get much stiffer in future if the governing boards choose to go aggressively after revenue from students).
What about students who drop out? What about idealistic students who join an NGO, a non-profit, a charity? What about enterprising ones who choose entrepreneurship over a steady, cushy job? What about those who go for jobs in the government sector where salaries are oh-so-low? What about students who want to pursue a PhD (e.g., in the IITs themselves -- something that the Committee so eagerly desires; more on this in another post)? Is it right to burden them with a (potentially crushing) loan?
A nasty consequence of the Committee's blinkered IITs-only view is this: whether they deserve it or not, IIT students are seen as among the best, not only by the society at large, but, as a recent episode reminded us, by people in the government as well. How can the government justify making India's "top" students pay Rs. 200,000 (or more), while their "less-than-top" cousins get educated in other colleges at a fraction of that cost?
To me, (1) is paramount. The IITs, together with some of our central and state universities, represent the very best of what is possible when our government chooses to do the right thing. They are a slap in the face of all those who like to go on and on about the irredeemable badness of the public sector. For all the rhetoric from industrywallahs about the glories of the private sector philanthropy, they can't cite even a single private college / university that comes even close to what these fine institutions have achieved. To the crowd that has drunk the Kool-Aid of private sector superiority, IITs are anathema; they would use every opportunity to "take IITs private."
I see the fee-hike proposal as a thin edge of the wedge. And that's why I want our government to stand firm against attempts to change the very public character of these very public institutions.
So, here's my request to our HRD Minister: Just say "No!" to the fee hike proposal.