Adding to the burden

Print edition : April 29, 2000

Higher education in the country could become dearer from the coming academic year.

THERE could be a steep hike in college and university fees all over the country in the academic year 2000-2001 if the recommendations of two committees set up by the University Grants Commission (UGC) are accepted. The Drafting Group for Fee Regulations chaired by K.B. Powar will consider the reports prepared by the UGC committees headed by the Vice-Chairman of the Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education, Dr. M. Anandakrishnan (see interview), and the Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Dr. Mahmud-ur-Rahman.

The Anandakrishnan Committee reviewed the maintenance grant norms for colleges affiliated to Delhi University and recommended an enhanced fee structure. The Mahmud-ur-Rahman Committee examined the fee structure of all Central universities and other unive rsities and suggested measures for an upward revision in the fee rate. According to the Rahman Committee report, there are 243 universities in the country, including the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management, deemed univers ities, State universities and Central universities. There are about 46.11 lakh students and around 2.5 lakh teachers.

If the recommendations made by the two UGC-appointed committees are accepted, then students in colleges and universities across the country will have to pay substantially higher fees starting from the coming academic year.-K. PICHUMANI

The general import of the two reports is that the government alone cannot bear the cost of higher education and "society has to bear the cost of higher education as it used to do earlier, if not entirely, at least substantially". The factor of cost-effec tiveness and returns is, therefore, extremely relevant to present-day investment, argues the Rahman Committee. Fees constitute a major source of income for colleges and universities. The committees said that as fees have not been revised for 40 years in most universities there was a need for an upward revision.

"We can no longer wait and watch the public outcry and avoid student fulminations on the question of garnering resources for the universities without imperilling new discoveries and excitements in the course of academic pursuits," states the Rahman Commi ttee report, the more voluminous of the two. Both reports, of which the Anandakrishnan report is more recent, offer similar reasons for their stance. The reasons include the unfettered growth of the higher education sector that has rendered it uneconomic al; the cost factor of sustaining an expanding information and knowledge base; a declining trend in philanthropic activity in the educational sector; and the inability of governments to shoulder the mounting costs of higher education. Another reason cite d was that it gave "sobriety to the system and to the institutions and is also helpful in maintaining law and order". The underlying sentiment here is that if students pay more, they would be more serious about their studies and not fritter away time.

However, apparently it is the government's inability to support the cost of higher education that has been projected as the compelling factor. This philosophy was advocated in the National Policy on Education in 1986 and supported by the World Bank durin g its observations on higher education in the same period and later as well.

While the expressed intention is to charge the affluent sections of society, it is evident that a class-wise fee structure would be difficult to implement. This notion assumes that it is only the elite who have access to higher education. On the contrary , the prevailing democratic fee structure has allowed many students to join colleges and universities, a trend that could well be reversed by the proposed fee hike. In order to give students from weaker sections access to higher education, the Rahman Com mittee has proposed tuition fee waivers and scholarships.

Universities are expected to generate at least 15 per cent of their recurring expenditure at the end of every five years and 25 per cent at the end of every 10 years. Fees would now be in two broad categories, according to the Rahman Committee report: tu ition fees and development fees. Tuition fees would cover the actual cost of imparting education. Almost a three-fold increase in the tuition fees for various courses and two to three-fold increase in the examination fees is proposed. In the matter of fe e structure, the Rahman Committee report has drawn from a 1992-1993 report on Delhi colleges by the Justice Dr. K. Punnayya Committee, also set up by the UGC. In addition, the Rahman Committee report gives universities a carte blanche to charge mo re than the minimum amounts suggested as tuition fees. It was suggested that enrolment fees, which now ranges from Rs.10 to Rs.20, be hiked to Rs.100 and above.

It has also been recommended that student activities should not be subsidised by the university and that the entire cost for these be met through earnings from student fees.

Hostel fees would go up considerably if the committee's recommendations are accepted. For a single-seater room, the present rent is Rs.385 a year while the Rahman committee has proposed Rs.1,000 a month. On mess charges, the report suggests that universi ties could continue to provide a subsidy towards payment of salaries for the staff and the purchase of furniture and crockery, but should attempt to withdraw this gradually. Suggestions to fix fees based on actual expenditure for expenses such as those f or magazines, games and mess charges were also made.

The Rahman Committee report wants policy decisions by the UGC in respect of fee structure to be made mandatory and to be followed by every university. It should be made clear, it suggests, that the fee suggested was the minimum and the words "and above" be added wherever some level of fee is mentioned. The revenue realised has to be substantial so as to meet the requirements suggested by the Punnayya Committee, which says that by the end of the Ninth Plan universities should generate 25 per cent of thei r budget. The tuition fee is expected to recover the actual cost of imparting education.

The Anandakrishnan Committee emphasised the importance of colleges generating additional resources so as to reduce its dependence on the UGC. It went a step further than the Rahman Committee in suggesting higher tuition fee rates. From an existing Rs.15 a month for undergraduate courses, the Committee recommended an increase to Rs.100 a month. Further, it suggested a substantial hike in development fees and left it open to individual colleges to decide the fee amount for student facilities, which is at present Rs. 5 a month for each student. It also felt that the hostels were heavily subsidised and that for some items such as electricity, water, crockery, geyser, fans and so on a consolidated fee between Rs.500 and Rs.1,000 a year be charged. It has ev en suggested an establishment fee of Rs.500 a month for each boarder. The revised fee structure should come into effect from the financial year 2000-2001 and will be applicable to the new entrants from that year. The fee structure, suggests the report, s hould be reviewed at the end of each Plan period and increased by 20 per cent to meet the "increasing cost of education".

IT is ironical that the two UGC reports should present a contrast to the Kothari Commission report on education, a seminal treatise on education in independent India. The commission had observed: "It is undesirable to regard fees as a source of revenue. They are the most regressive form of taxation, fall more heavily on the poorer classes of society and act as an anti-egalitarian force. Suggestions have been made to make them progressive by relating them to the income of the parent and the size of the f amily. But this would not be administratively sensible and in a country where 60 per cent of the population has an income of less than Rs.20 per head per month, their yield would be almost negligible. It would, on the whole, be much better to raise the r equired revenue in some other and more equitable form than to depend on fees. We recommend, therefore, that the country should gradually work towards a stage when all education would be tuition free."

What is significant is that all these structural changes envisaged in higher education follow the ideological shifts observed in the National Policy of Education of 1986. This coincided with a World Bank report on financing higher education in developing countries which suggested that in view of the general shortage of funds, the only way out is for students (parents) to bear a large part of the burden of the cost of education. It was argued that only the relatively better off students were able to purs ue higher education and subsidising them made for inequality and not egalitarianism. If the same subsidy were shifted to primary education, the effect would be towards equality. It is also a fact that funds from higher education have never been diverted to primary education and concerned academics believe that the argument that one should develop at the cost of the other is a fallacious one.

In a 1994 document, "Higher Education: The Lessons of Experience", the World Bank stated: "Indeed it is arguable that higher education should not have the highest priority claim on incremental public resources available for education in many developing c ountries, especially those that have not yet achieved adequate access, equity and quality at the primary and the secondary levels. This is because the social rates of return on investments in primary and secondary education usually exceed the returns on higher education..."

It is significant that the language and thrust of both the UGC reports approximates the World Bank's prescription for dealing with higher education.

In another document called "Documents for discussion of the World Bank" (1995), a Bank economist, D.P. Winkler, suggests that "governments should consider granting loans to needy students... And cost recovery may be increased for public institutions by m eans of elimination of subsidies." The World Bank document as well as the UGC reports tend to believe that benefits have been cornered by students from high-income families and hence there was a need for an upward revision of fees.

Vijender Sharma, former president of the Delhi University Teachers' Association and a member of the Democratic Teachers' Front, told Frontline that the reports have not considered how students in mofussil towns would pay higher fees. He said that the two reports had a distinct metropolitan bias that erroneously assumed that only the rich sections came to study in universities. He said that while there was no detailed assessment of the class profile of students in a metropolitan university such as Delhi University, a study by the Association of Indian Universities indicated that only 30 per cent of students could bear the costs. The profile may have changed but not significantly, said Sharma.

There is little doubt that the additional fee burden will add to the resources of the colleges and universities but it may not be altogether desirable considering that enrolment levels for higher education in developing countries are still low compared t o the developed nations.

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