Welfare state crumbling

Rising Education Cost

By Shivaji Sarkar

Education is for the rich. That is the message being spread by private and government higher education institutions.
Fees are being continuously raised for the past over 20 years. Students are being forced to fund their education through debt. Over half of the students who graduate attain their degrees with high debt burden. The concept of a Welfare State is crumbling. Education is apparently no more the responsibility of the government.
There is a hue and cry over the sudden 300 to 400 per cent increase — Rs 5 lakh a year to Rs 26 lakh a year — in demands by private medical colleges in Uttarakahand. Such institutes elsewhere have also either increased the fees to an unaffordable level or are demanding such raise. In 2017, the most elitist Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu increased fees for post-graduate medical education in his State of Andhra Pradesh by 100 per cent — Rs 3.2 lakh to Rs 6.9 lakh. For the management quota it has been increased to Rs 24.2 lakh from Rs 5.25 lakh.
The irony is newly-appointed doctors get around Rs 20,000 a month — Rs 2.40 lakh a year — in most institutions. Some even get a pittance of Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000 as institutions “do them a favour” by allowing them to gain experience. The Uttarakahnd government allowed the institutions to raise the medical educations fees without putting a cap or a “whiff”.
Private colleges are known to extort Rs 50 lakh to over Rs 1 crore as capitation fee, mostly in cash or donation to some trusts, for admission to Post Graduate degree courses. It has even put brilliant medical students at a disadvantage as in the present case of Utttarakhand, where students having high merit were given admission to undergraduate, MBBS course.
The malaise is spreading all over. Just name a place, the state of affairs is the same. Isn’t the State aware of it? All are. But most medical institutions are run by influential people with strong connections. Even as the students hail from average families — wards of teachers, government or private sector employees, who have average income of Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh a year. Expecting them to shell out for a sudden increase of Rs 20 lakh a year and with arrears Rs 40 lakh is unbelievable. An MBBS is to cost over Rs 1 crore. Which bank would give such huge loans to such poor earners? And how can the country keep health care affordable?
Such whimsical decisions are shattering the dream of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who wants the country’s youth to take a lead in the global system. If the youth cannot either educate themselves for high extortionist fees or lackadaisical attitude of State governments or the institutions, the country would not be able to fulfil his dream.
The rise in trend has been happening for years. Almost all education institutions are being forced to have a cut in allocation and give undertaking that they would earn 30 to 35 per cent of their budgetary expenses themselves. This has led to increase in fees by even government-run institutions such as IITs, IIMs, IIMC and NIFT.
The fees of IITs have been increased to Rs 2 lakh per annum from Rs 90,000 in 2017. The IIMs also increased their fees exponentially. IIM, Ahmedabad increased fee of its two-year diploma from Rs 18.5 lakh to Rs 19.5 lakh. All other institutions have increased their fees during the last few years and are continuing to hike even this year.
The pertinent question is whether education and more so technical education should be restricted only to the rich? The world has seen how the UK and European Union are suffering for such decisions. The mounting debt burden is forcing students to take to devious means, even many taking to selling their body or resort to crime.
Is India trying to emulate them? The cost of education is increasing faster than the income of parents to afford the tuition fees of their children. It burdens the students with a sense of guilt as their parents toil hard and slip into penury. It is definitely a social crisis.
According to a Nielson Global Survey 2013 that polled more than 29,000 people across 58 countries in the Middle East, North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Europe and Latin America concluded that more than 78 per cent respondents agreed to the fact that higher education is vital. However, education cost is becoming a barrier for low-income families and is turning out to be a privilege for the high-income families only. The monthly expense on education was more than the global average in several developing countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines and Chile. India is not much behind.
College graduates definitely earn more than the high school graduates. However, as the value of a college degree is rising, the tuition cost of universities and institutions is increasing even faster, thus making it far beyond the reach of many deserving students coming from low-income families.
The KLEM database released by the Reserve Bank of India on March 27 gives revealing data of the job situation till 2015-16 in India. It shows that total employment shrank by 0.2 per cent and 0.1 per cent in 2014-15 and 2015-16 even as India’s gross value added (GVA) increased continuously since 2012-13. For three years, between 2012-13 and 2015-16, total employment growth has been negative.
This speaks volumes. While tuition fee structure is becoming irrational, job losses add to the growing social stress. The government is at its wits end to bridge the gap. Continuous inflation, many because of government rendered services price structure, e.g. during the past about four years LPG cylinder prices have increased from Rs 350 to 750, has added to the miseries of the people and exponentially increased government expenditure. This has a political cost.
The government must have public discussion on how to reduce the fees and cost of education despite inflation. Regulators are apparently powerless as they are, as in Uttarakhand or Andhra, overpowered by State Cabinet decisions.
An expensive education has a social cost. India has been different till it took to globalisation. Mounting costs on poor is not the solution. It will make education inaccessible to many who cannot afford to be burdened with such large loans. India has progressed through 1960s and 1970s because of its stress on affordable education — an age-old Vedic concept. It must be made the bedrock of policy formulation. — INFA