Suggesting a landmark change in higher education policy, a Planning Commission group has asked PM Manmohan Singh to allow private sector to earn profits from professional institutions and give freedom to private institutes to levy fees.
"The measures," said Anwarul Huda, the member who headed the group, "would encourage corporates to set up quality higher education institutes." “Expansion in higher education as envisaged in the 11th five-year plan would not take place till the regulatory impediments are removed,” he said, releasing the report on Wednesday.
In India, only non-profit organisations are allowed to set up educational institutions. But, before this policy was adopted the Tatas had set up IISc, Bangalore. Now others, like Reliance, have expressed willingness to join the sector, if regulatory impediments are removed.
If the recommendation is accepted, it would mean more money for expansion of professional education and improvement in quality of higher education. It would also bridge the gap between demand and supply of higher education.
“There is a $400 million market for Indian graduates to tap. The IT sector needs one lakh professionals every year. Such a change would help in meeting the demand,” Huda said.
BC Mungerkar, another member, had a slightly different take. He said there should be a condition that money earned from education by the private sector is pumped back to expand and improve quality of education.
He disagreed with the recommendation that corporates should have a free hand in deciding fee strucuture. “The ultimate control of the government on deciding fees should remain.”
Mungerkar’s stand is not very different from the HRD ministry’s, which — in its reply to a similar recommendation of the National Knowledge Commission — had categorised education as social service and therefore, junked the idea of earning profits.
While recommending freedom to fix fees, the group’s report on service sector wanted the private sector to give scholarships and freeships to meritorious students from historically disadvantaged and vulnerable groups. Huda was quick to point out that this did not suggest any reservation for the disadvantaged groups.
But it would not be easy for the government to accept the recommendations in light of stiff resistance of the Left. The ministry had failed to introduce the bill to allow foreign education providers in India because the Left are not happy with regulatory framework proposed in the bill.