As it is, ‘good’ education in India is reserved for rich parent’s kids – kindergarten upward. It is a policy to make sure that the relatively stupid offspring of better off parents corner the better paying jobs in the country.
International experience suggests that the lower middle class and poor sections of society do not like to take loans or even avail of merit scholarships.
The poor don’t have any role models in their community who took a large loan and didn’t suffer for the rest of their lives. In India, lower castes and other low income groups also know that job opportunities are stacked against them as the relatively more equal opportunity employer- the public sector, has shrunk. By public sector, we don’t mean Air India or Ashoka Hotel, but municipalities, schools, colleges, professional organizations etc. India has very small public sector employment of professionals compared to USA or Western Europe. We are at around 3-4% whereas US is at around 17% and Europe is at greater than 25%. Therefore, the poor are scared that they won’t get adequate salaries to pay off their debts, as the children also have to look after their parents in the absence of free medical care.
When merit scholarships are linked to grades throughout the student’s college career, they are scared that at any point, if their performance drops, they would be out of the system with nothing to show. If merit scholarships were linked to good performance at entry and then just passing marks, then there would be more takers from the lower middle class. This is how a huge number of poorer Americans got educated through the GI Bill.
The GI Bill gave cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend University, High School or Vocational Education, as well as one year of unemployment compensation. It was available to every veteran who had been on active duty during the war years for at least one-hundred twenty days and had not been dishonorably discharged. By the end of the program on January 31, 1965, approximately 2.4 million of 5.5 million eligible veterans had used their benefits: roughly 1.2 million for higher education, over 860,000 for other education purposes, and 318,000 for occupational training.
When merit scholarships are linked to grades throughout the student’s college career, they are scared that at any point, if their performance drops, they would be out of the system with nothing to show.
We also know that most of those who opt for research or technical careers (all over the world) come from middle income and lower-middle income households. They also want relatively stable jobs. These are the families that can’t afford to keep their children in the education system for long periods. This was well understood by all the societies that are considered ‘developed’ today. It is no surprise then that, all over Europe and USA, more than 90% of the children went to FREE state schools. In India, all parents (except the very rich) spend all their money on their children’s education before they go to college.
All through the 20th century, well into the 1970s (before Thatcher and Reagan), University education was free in Europe right up to PhD level. Scholarships were given for living expenses. In the US, the number of public Universities increased dramatically after 1940s. Many of them also had the highest academic standards and were almost free for their state residents.
It is not surprising, then, that these countries experienced huge advances in science, technology, and research in the 20th century. In the post 1980s, education has become more expensive in US and UK. The result is that science and engineering schools are filled with non-white people.
Raising fees in our public institutions will have very negative long term effects. Even more of our B.Techs will abandon even semi-technical careers to earn a living with higher salaries to either pay back their loans to the banks or their parents. Lower middle class families will be scared to send their offspring to these institutions. The country will be starved of technical and scientific talent. As it is, we are 20 years behind China in our S&T workforce. This gap will only increase.
Charging fees for education actually amounts to extortion, because parents don’t really have a choice. If education is deemed good for the society and the state, then they must pool resources and make it free.
At present, IIT students have to spend about Rs 20,000 a month. This is not a small amount for a middle class family, especially if they have two kids. This will increase to 30,000. Charging fees for education actually amounts to extortion, because parents don’t really have a choice. If education is deemed good for the society and the state, then they must pool resources and make it free. Extortion always results in negative consequences!
Our education system is hugely underfunded, and the results are there for all to see – an extreme shortage of talented young people. The shortage of funds also ensures extremely unaesthetic, ugly, dirty campuses, hostels and class rooms. The best kids grow up in unaesthetic surroundings and then replicate them for the rest of their lives.
As it is, many of my students have opted out of technical and research careers because of financial compulsions of their parents. This is only going to get worse. An intelligent government would decrease fees and not increase them. We are in for bad times.
Dinesh retired as Volvo Chair Professor at the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Programme at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. Currently he is Distinguished Professor, Shiv Nadar University and Guest Professor IIT Delhi. He is member of the WHO Advisory Panel on Accident Prevention and the Governing Board of the International Research Council on Biomechanics of Injuries. Dinesh is a recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus award from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and the Distinguished Career Award form the University of Delaware. His research includes transportation research (safety and pollution), human tolerance biomechanics, motor vehicle safety, and road traffic injuries.