Sunday, May 29, 2011

Kakodkar Committee Report: Tuition Fee Hike

Last month, the Kakodkar Committee issued its report, available for download at the MHRD website [pdf; 8MB]. The report bears the title "Taking IITs to Excellence and Greater Relevance." [Yeah, really. Taking them to Excellence! Don't tell Jairam Ramesh about it ;-)]


If you wish to read it in smaller chunks, I have the individual chapters in my Posterous blog.]

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I read somewhere that MHRD has opened the report up for public discussion; here's my contribution.

The topic I want to look at first is the tuition fee hike, which is covered in Chapter 4. Governance, Autonomy, and Finances.. The specific recommendation is for a four-fold increase in the tuition fee for UG students from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 200,000 [PG students also face a hike, but it's treated differently in the proposal; see below].

Let me come right out and say I don't like this fee-hike recommendation. At all. In this post, I deal only with the facts and figures as presented by the Committee. In the next, I'll go beyond the figures to explore the proposal in a wider context.

  1. The Committee prefaces the fee hike proposal with the following (p. 73 - 74, Section 4.2):

    The root of the autonomy challenge lies in the inability of the IITs to be financially independent. [... huge snip ...] Without attaining financial independence, true autonomy will not be a reality. [...] Towards the objective of taking IITs to the level of world-class institutions, it is recommended that the IITs become independent of any non-plan (operational) budgetary support of the Government [...]

    We have just seen the first thing that's wrong with this argument: Autonomy is possible only with financial independence.

  2. The Committee's specific recommendation is that the IITs begin to "recover the recurring part of the cost of education through fees levied on undergraduate (B.Tech) and postgraduate (Dual degree/M.Tech/MS/PhD) education" (p.76).

    That part about "Dual degree/M.Tech/MS/PhD" made me jump! I said to myself, "Wow, that's really radical! How the hell are they going to make masters and PhD students pay tuition fees?"

    A little later, the Committee comes clean. They don't quite mean that the postgraduate students will actually pay a stiff tuition fee; the government would pay it for them! Specifically, the Committee "recommend[s] that a National IIT Scholarship programme be instituted." Not only is his scheme meant for PG students, it would cover a nearly half of the UG students as well.

    Assuming, as the Committee does, a UG-to-PG ratio of about 1, tuition costs of nearly 75 % of all the IIT students would actually come from the government!

    Now, that is real financial independence!

  3. The Committee then presents a table in which it estimates, for the seven "establised IITs" [i.e, IIT-KGP, B, K, M, D, R, G], the increase in the income from student fees for the year 2011: in the new regime, it would go dramatically up by Rs. 775 crores (from Rs. 103 crores to Rs. 878 crores). The government's contribution to the operating budget would come down equally dramatically from Rs. 1112 crores to 333 crores.

    This is misleading. As we already discussed, the government would still foot nearly 75 % of the the tuition bill; thus, its real contribution is not 333 crores, but 993 crores (333 crores + 75 % of 878 crores).

    In the new regime, its saving is not nearly 780 crores (as the table implies), but just about 120 crores -- which would translate into far less than 10 percent of its current contribution to the IITs' capital and operating budget.

All of which leads us to the following questions:

  1. Should the government agree to a scheme that would change the very character of its flagship institutions, while having such an underwhelming financial implications?

    Make no mistake: under the new regime, the default position of the IITs would be that everyone should pay for their education -- except those who are covered by a government-funded scholarship. This is a huge change indeed, because it transforms IITs into, essentially, private institutions.

  2. Looking at it from the IITs' point of view, their "dependence" on government funds has probably come down from about 80 % to about 70% -- and this doesn't even include the capital costs, all of which is taken care of by the government. In what way -- and in which parallel universe -- could this be called "financial independence"?

Isn't it better to acknowledge the fact that the government will continue to be a big source of funds for the IITs -- and remember, we are not even talking about the research grants a huge chunk of which is also from the government? Isn't it better to de-link autonomy from this mythical entity called "financial independence"?

The Committee has only created a false dichotomy between "autonomy" and government funding -- without realizing that the latter is the very life-blood of academic institutions. And it has failed utterly in its effort to find a viable path to greater levels of autonomy (and accountability) without destroying the public character of the IITs.