The government has moved to rationalise subsidies in education. The ministry of human resource development has proposed a new fee structure for IITs, starting from the next academic session. The fee for the general category has been hiked by 122 per cent to Rs 2 lakh per year, while the SC/ ST students, the disabled and those from economically weaker sections will attend for free. It is clarified that students from families earning less than Rs 1 lakh per year will also pay no fees. Those from families with an annual income of Rs 1-5 lakh will be waived two-thirds of the fee, and will pay less than Rs 70,000 per year. Besides, they can apply for scholarships and student loans.
Subsidies for the Indian education system have been skewed from the Nehruvian period, when technical institutes were valorised in the hope that they would create the graduates who, in turn, would build the temples of modern India. Over time, though, the relentless focus on higher education has served to distract attention from school education, especially at the primary level, creating a technically capable nation which nevertheless lacks a well-rounded education. A rationalisation of the enormous subsidies at the top — the government spends about Rs 6 lakh on every IIT student every year — would create budgetary surpluses which can be channelled into schools. Besides, a price tag of Rs 2 lakh is not unreasonable at a time when education is being commodified and a section of the market threatens to turn into a certification business. While private institutes charge exorbitant rates, the committee of IIT directors charged with rationalising the fee structure had recommended a rate of Rs 3 lakh per year, with a view to making the IITs self-sustaining. However, the ministry apparently balked at such a steep hike.
In the phasing out of subsidies, exclusion on the basis of the ability to pay is a reasonable way to go. The general category in IITs is precisely that — children of families which are financially capable and favoured by history. The rationalisation would not affect the prospects of students who make the grade academically but may require financial assistance. For instance, it would in no way discomfit the alumni of Super 30, the legendary programme which grooms 30 economically backward students every year for the IIT entrance examination.