Saturday, January 22, 2011

IITs propose to hike fees by five-fold

In a recent news by, there is a story that IITs have proposed to increase the fees for the UG degree course by five times. The proposal says that this will allow IITs to become independent of government funding and hence more autonomous. The committee headed by Dr. Kakodkar made this proposal to the government. The committee based its recommendations on the way IIMs charge fees in which, course-oriented degree programmes are financed completely by the students and research-oriented programmes are funded through various sources, like MHRD, DST, other government organisations and private industries.

But, how much justified is this? In another report, that appeared in the Times of India, the logic used was that one-third expenses should come from students, one-third from government and one-third generated through research projects. And there is a provision for extending low-interest loans to economically backward students. However, unlike foreign universities, where scholarships and tuition waiver are given to certain students, the committee doesn't make any mention of the same to students coming to IIT. Scholarships  in foreign universities are based on various criteria, ranging from academic excellence, sports excellence to ethnic origin. IITs already extend tuition waiver, free accommodation and free basic messing to students from the SC and ST category, irrespective of their economic status. Why don't they apply the economic backwardness criteria to these students?  If their parents are economically well to do, why should they be extended such privileges.  And there is nothing in store for meritorious students. Additionally, in foreign universities, the students have the opportunity to work on campus and earn some money to substitute their living expenses. The way IIT curriculum is designed today, it leaves the students with very less time to work and earn some money. Also, there exist no opportunities on IIT campuses, where students can be employed as part-timers. IITs, ironically, pride on the fact that their course structure is so intense that students have to over-work and under-sleep to stay on track.

Another point, the committee's report doesn't mention is the plan to increase revenues through research projects and technology licensing. Research projects, currently, are mainly available through government agencies like DST, DRDO, BRNS, etc. So, indirectly it is the government and tax-payer who are funding the research work. Contribution for research and consultancy projects through private industries is very low, when compared to the government sources. How do the IITs plan to change this scenario? Will there be an increase in contribution towards research from private firms and endowments? And, what about earning through technology licensing? How much do IITs currently earn through technology licensing? Will the committee set any reasonable revenue targets from technology licensing that IITs should aim to achieve?

And finally, IITs should reduce the stuff they dole out for free. Through its Centre for Distance Engineering Education Programme (CDEEP), IIT Bombay transmits its courses for free to institutes that are interested in beaming those to their students. Similarly, other IITs too have such distance education programmes. The question is, when IIT students pay fees to attend these courses, why should others view it for free? Why doesn't IIT charge them too for it? If financial autonomy is desired in running degree courses, then such free doling should be completely brought to a halt

To sum it up, costs of education have increased. But,the government has to play its role in keeping the cost incurred by students at a reasonable level. Schemes to bring in meritorious students should be there in place, in form on scholarships and not only low-interest loans. IITs can augment its earnings through other sources too, but there needs to be concrete planning to enhance those earnings. And finally, esteemed individuals and trusts in the Indian society should try and create endowments or chairs in IITs, rather than donating money to foreign universities. This would definitely attract some talent to the IITs.
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