01/19/2004                  Making education cheap or cheapening education?


Ever noticed how the Government is always where it is not needed and never where it is? I think they must have a secret ministry that continuously scans the country for whatever works and then advises the government to step in and screw it all up.


A committee headed by former ISRO chairman U.R. Rao has recommended that state-run technical institutions, including the prestigious IIMs and IITs, should charge Rs. 6000 a year. Apparently at present, it costs Rs. 1.5 lakh a year at IIM, Ahmedabad and Rs. 70,000 at IIT Kanpur. The figure of Rs. 6000 was apparently arrived at after studying the fees charged by “American universities like Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and California IT.” By some convoluted calculations that only they understand, the committee concluded that "if India was to encourage technical education as well as the US does, and make such education as affordable as it is for American citizens”, these institutions must charge only Rs. 6000 per year. Or about USD 130 per year!


This committee must have probably looking at the wrong planet, the wrong continent, the wrong country and the wrong universities, and not necessarily in that order. They must have been peering from over the moon or something, seeing that a space guy was heading them.


Heck, people in the US can’t afford community colleges and this guy talks of places like Harvard. Half the population can’t afford college education and most of the other half borrows money to attend college and spends the first half of its working life repaying what it borrowed. If they don’t drop out midway, that is.


The IITs and the IIMs have increasingly been in the news lately for producing some of the best brains in the world. No wonder that the government couldn’t bear it. Instead of trying to help them match the research and other facilities that these American institutes provide, it has to step in and drag them down to the level of other B and C grade institutes in the country.


Good education does not come cheap. Make inexpensive funds available to deserving students so that it falls within their reach. Don’t devalue the very fountainhead of their dreams instead.


This is not making education cheap; this is cheapening education.


If this is what is called “encouraging technical education”, count yourself lucky if you feel discouraged. We get worked up about the most trivial issues and yet, when it comes to something like education that will decide India’s future, we become like cattle that ponderously chew the cud and look on in blissful indifference as the world passes them by. There has been no outrage in the India media or in the student community. I don’t count.