It has been said a million times that the quality of education that our institutions offer is rather poor. We keep hearing that 75 percent of our engineering graduates are not just unemployed, but unemployable. That is, the quality of their learning is so poor that even a finishing school or a company training for several months would not make them productive engineer. Lots of experts keep giving various reasons for this poor quality, lack of autonomy, lack of faculty, greed on part of private colleges, poor preparation in the school education, and so on. But I disagree.
The poor quality education is a result of our higher education policy. Our policy over the last 3-4 decades have considered cost, access, and equity as much more important parameters than quality. We have worked really hard over this period to ensure that the cost of higher education (primarily in engineering and management) remains among the lowest in the world. It has not mattered to policy makers that the result is a poor quality education. And higher education policy is one of the shining examples of policy success, and not an example of policy failure. We consciously decided that everyone should be able to get an engineering degree at low cost near his/her home, even if that degree will not get one a job, and we have succeeded in it beyond anyone's expectation. A low-cost low-quality degree is strongly preferred over higher-cost, higher-quality degree. Today, engineering education is a buyer's market. Anyone can get admission to an engineering course.
So it does not come as a surprise that yet another committee has decided to control tuition at levels which can only provide poor quality education. Here is the news item. If this report is accepted, the highest fee that any engineering institution can charge for BTech program is Rs. 1.58 lakhs per year if the institution is located in a Tier 1 city. If it is a high quality institution (as evidenced by an accreditation), then an extra 20% is allowed. And another 1% can be charged for miscellaneous services, a total of about Rs. 1.92 lakhs per annum for the best institutions in the country.
I did a quick search of tuition cost of private institutions who are trusted by society as provider of high quality education and believed to be not a profit making entity. Both BITS and IIIT Hyderabad had higher tuition in 2015 than the maximum allowed by this committee. And both will have to increase their tuition substantially to take care of not just annual inflation, but also the higher salary costs imposed by the 7th pay commission report. In fact, other popular, well-known private institutions, including Thapar, Manipal, LNMIIT, JIIT, and many more also had 2015 fee higher than the maximum allowed by this committee report.
There is another way to look at these numbers. What is the budget per student per year at IITs. The budget is about 3 times these numbers. This can only mean two things. One, IITs are a den of corruption and waste. That is why they are spending so much money, when good quality education can be provided for a fraction of the cost. Two, the costs of good quality education are indeed higher, and this committee has, in its wisdom, decided that private sector can not be allowed to provide quality education. I suspect that it is the latter. The committee is really saying that we must follow our national policy on higher education, which requires low-quality low-cost education to be dished out to our students, and we can not really allow private sector to violate that policy by attempting to provide higher quality education.
What is even more interesting is that the committee allows MCA programs to charge 10 percent more than BTech programs. This is absolutely ridiculous. What is the expense that MCA programs have that BTech students do not have. In fact, MCA students need only computer labs, while BTech students need many more labs, which are far more expensive to maintain. But in our socialistic mindset, the price is not related to cost. First degree students should pay less, and second degree students should pay more. This is the reason a large number of colleges continue to have MCA programs in the country - they have lower cost and higher price than under-graduate programs. Otherwise, there is no rationale for this program to exist in so many places.
And if one looks at MBA programs, even the government institutes charge more than the upper limit proposed by this committee.
The government policy for several decades is also ensuring that a large number of our students are going abroad for under-graduate studies. By focusing on quality at home, we could have kept these students within India, and also attracted foreign students to our campuses. We could teach the world and earn a lot of money through it. While it would be impossible to close down poor quality institutions, and may be there is something positive about a poor farmer selling everything he has to see his son having a worthless engineering degree with no jobs, but the least we can attempt is to have high quality institutions to co-exist with poor quality institutions.
The Assam Bengal Railway in 1929
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