A major controversy could be brewing between India’s education planners, and politicians advocating a populist approach to education.
On Wednesday evening, IIM-Ahmedabad chairman Vijaypat Singhania refused to be persuaded by HRD Minister Arjun Singh to roll back its proposed 150 per cent fee hike.
Hours earlier, the Planning Commission recommended that profit-making should be allowed in higher education, thus paving the way for the entry of corporates in the sector.
The Commission’s proposal, sent to PM Manmohan Singh, could trigger a debate reminiscent of the controversy over OBC quota in institutions of higher education.
The report has its genesis in a similar proposal mooted two years ago by the National Knowledge Commission. The HRD ministry had opposed it then, saying education was a ‘social service’.
Two days ago, Singh had argued for making high quality education affordable for poorer students. His ministry is likely to oppose the Plan panel’s idea this time too — and might find support from the Left for whom private participation in education is anathema.
Those who back corporate participation in education are, however, convinced that the traditional approach has not been greatly successful either in terms of business or in meeting the manpower requirements of India’s $400 million service sector.
Speaking to reporters after releasing the report, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia backed Singhania over Arjun Singh on the IIM fee hike. Costlier education in the IIMs and IITs can be made affordable through easy loans for students, Ahluwalia said.
Emerging from his meeting with the minister, Singhania said IIM-A’s total scholarship amount was being upped from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 8.5 crore, covering 62% of all new students.
“The fee hike is not to make profit,” he said. “The cost of the course has to be met. Our students get into jobs immediately with an annual package of Rs 25 lakh or more,” Singhania said. “Students will be able to repay their loans before leaving the institute as employers are ready to meet the cost of their education.” Singhania said IIM-A would not roll back the hike but would put in place a system to assess students’ family incomes to offer scholarships.