Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The decline of higher education

A fine column by AK Bhattacharya. "Universities are starved of funds and their infrastructure has suffered as a consequence, which in turn has affected academic standards", writes Bhattacharya. He too stresses an idea originally due to Deepak Nayyar that a student joining a college should be made to pay the same fees he or she paid in the final year of school. I thought that was a good workable proposal, but it's been dropped now on legal grounds.

Bhattacharya also rightly points out that

    the argument against retaining ridiculously low fees for higher education does not mean that poor, needy and meritorious students should be denied concessional fees and other financial benefits. Surely, they should continue to be made available on the basis of merit and need. And such concession and benefits can be made available easily if the general fees structure is raised to reflect the changing reality and bring closer to the relative fees structure in privately run educational institutions.


At 8:14 AM, Blogger Sunil said...

one thing I never really understood was why the proposal for students to pay the same fees s/he paid in the last year or school never went through. That seemed to make some sense. Do you have more insights on that?

At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Vishnu said...

Surely, they should continue to be made available on the basis of merit and need.

I share the same idea, but seriously doubt whether it can be implemented properly. I have seen merit-cum-means awardees roaming around in motorbikes, flashing mobile phones and all.

And, I don't get this last-year-fee idea. What does that really mean? Isn't higher ed supposed to cost more than school?

At 9:59 AM, Blogger Abi said...

The subsidization of higher education is something that I never understood. It is not as if it serves everyone; on the contrary, only about six percent of the relevant age group has access to a university.

Anil Sadgopan's piece in ToI has a rant about how we are diluting our commitment to universal primary education, and how a recent bill had provisions that favoured the private schools.

So, we have a situation in which primary education is not being accorded the priority it deserves; on the other hand, we seem to have a misplaced concern for the cost of higher education.

Ominous ...

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anand said...

Sunil -- The first time I saw this idea being mooted was in a Deepak Nayyar interview by Siddharth Varadarajan. It struck me immediately as a wonderful and implementable idea. It hasn't gone through due to certain legal questions. In Nayyar's words: "this has not been readily accepted because of concerns that this may not be consistent with law. Somebody may go to court saying `why should I pay more for the same educational opportunities?'" But as Nayyar remarked a consensus along these lines should be possible. You may want to check out Abi's post too.

Vishnu -- Surely merit-cum-means fellowships are misused by some. Care needs to be taken in order to reduce the level of these misuses but it may be a difficult task. Still such scholarships are helpful for a lot of genuinely needy students too.

Last-year-fee idea: Let me quote Nayyar:
"There is recognition on the part of everybody that what we have as university fees is anachronistic. A student will pay Rs.30 for a coffee at Barista, Rs.150 for a movie ticket at a multiplex, Rs.10 to park a car every day, and yet pay the university only Rs.15-18 a month! We need to index link what we charge as fees. ... ... The most logical solution to the problem is for universities to charge students fees that they paid when they left school. It is logical, just and fair, because it measures your ability to pay." Thus the poor could study almost free, whereas the rich aren't paying anything more than what they were paying in their school.

Abi -- Very true. Thanks for the link. Here's another thought/question. I understand that funds and infrastructure are crucial in the higher education sector. But is that our biggest higher-ed problem? Why aren't our universities where funding is not an issue performing better though they are relatively better than the starved ones. I have heard a few eminent scientists remarking that human resources is the real issue and not funding at least at the research level, and I'm inclined to buy that argument.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous Vishnu said...

One question leads to another. Lack of human resources is important, but I am not sure how that can be improved. But, given the current level of human resources, are the universities working at their best? I'm not sure.

And, I do believe that funding and human resources are correlated.

At 12:07 AM, Anonymous Anand said...

Vishnu -- Of course improving human resources is tougher than improving physical infrastructure. You'll have to attract more people to research, you'll have to give them proper training, you'll have to maintain a thoroughly intellectual atmosphere for the best to stick to your institution. Of course easier said than done!


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