22/11/2019 : The Hindu Editorials Mains : Mains Sure Shot

Another article on Beggary Act.

Note: This is the pending article of 22nd November Hindu editorials.


Question – Keeping in mind the debate over subsidising higher education, give your opinion.(250 words)

Context – The protests in JNU over fee hike.


Should higher education be subsidised?

  1. The debate on using public money to fund higher education is linked to the question of how beneficial it is in the creation of a developed and egalitarian society. While most of the gains from higher education accrue to the person receiving it (in terms of increased incomes), it is also argued that an educated citizenry extends benefits to the society at large.
  2. For example, Subsidy in education produces positive externalities such as health improvement, and reduction in population growth, poverty and crime, and strengthening of democracy. Yet, there is a demand for removal of subsidies.
  3. These gains also include direct economic gains, such as research leading to the invention of vaccines and new technology, as well as indirect gains, such as an increase in tax collection, a more flexible workforce that can adapt to the changing demands of the market and greater appreciation of social diversity, leading to greater harmony.
  4. Public provisioning of higher education can also serve as an important tool in reducing inequality. In a society where higher education is free, students born in both poor and rich families have an equal chance of augmenting their future earnings, which would not have been the case if access to higher education had been dependent on parental incomes or wealth.
  5. By providing subsidised education we are also building the economy for the future. If it had not been for the fact that we had built a whole system of the CSIR, the IITs and Central universities, we would really not have been having the major source of growth, which is software.
  6. In India approximately 4.6% of the GDP is spent on higher education even though our higher education is largely subsidised, while in the US, even though higher education is mostly private, USA spends 7.35% of its GDP on education. The rationale here is that once a boy or a girl makes it to college or university, they are taken care of through a number of scholarship programmes. Though they have to repay through their lifetime.
  7. If we talk of JNU, IITs, AIIMs or IIMs, the intake in these institutions are very few. They nurture some of the best minds in the country. They then become Collectors, SPs, Chief Secretaries, DGs and so on. Countries must put money into higher education. We must give our young kids an opportunity to develop and these things don’t take place if you don’t subsidise it.
  8. Initially when higher education was subsidised it was mainly the children from the rich and affluent backgrounds who took to universities and other institutes of higher education. They got the benefits. In the past few years the number of first generation graduates has increased and they owe a lot to subsidize higher education. So  just when large numbers of the poor and the marginalised are beginning to express their aspirations for social mobility through access to public higher education, while the more affluent are migrating to private institutions and institutions overseas, the discussion demanding removal of subsidies is slightly unfair.
  9. Subsidies also increase/ lead to equality of opportunity because laws of nature and biology don’t go by income group, so bright children are there in poor families too. Now the children of rich parents will always find education in India and abroad that they can pay for. but the daughter of a landless labourer, where does she get opportunities from? we will lose a lot of talent if they don’t get in. A major source of growth will be gone for the country. Because education is one of those genuinely long-term businesses.
  10. If we talk of girl child, then as seen in several surveys, girls are seen as a liability and educating a girl child seems secondary to arranging dowry for marriage. The number of school drop out girls is far higher than boys. In such a scenario if higher education is not privatised and the parents with their limited income have to choose between educating their boy or girl, their natural choice would be the former.
  11. 93% of India’s workforce is in the informal and unorganised sectors, there is a legitimate perception among the poor that accessing quality public higher education is their only chance — the last ferry to cross over, from the margins to the core of the economy and, hopefully, claim their legitimate share of India’s economic growth.
  12. So keeping the following points in mind, the state has to fund this need of the future as a priority. If it does not do it, it is neglecting the country’s future.

Is it correct to say we did not harness the potential of public education in the post-liberalisation period, when incomes grew?

  • Growth in national income did not result in an increase of public expenditure for education as a whole. It kind of stagnated. Within the education sector as a whole, there was a shift in the focus of funding in the 1990s from higher education to primary education.

What is Justice Punnayya Committee Report?

  • The report of the Justice Punnayya Committee on financing of higher education highlights the need to review and restructure the norms for financing the education sector.
  • The report raised issues about the underfunding of higher educational institutions and suggested various measures to deal with it. Of all the measures, the most important was the issue of fund raising by universities. The report pointed out that universities were not raising funds from other means (from internal resources) except fees and were totally dependent on UGC grants. And the UGC made grants according to the need of the university but deducted the amount collected as fees from the grant that it gave.
  • The committee said that UGC should not do this deduction and the amount collected as fees or other internal resources of the university must be allowed to be kept by the university as a separate fund to be utilised for purposes like helping the marginalised section students.
  • It also recommended that the UGC must provide certain incentives to the universities so that they generate their own funds.
  • So apart from UGC grants if the universities raise their own funds through internal resources, they can spend the extra money on measures that promote equal opportunity, like helping a poor student to pay his or her lab fee or travel allowance in case of research and so on.
  • It is these small gestures that make huge differences.

Way forward:

  • Example of experiments in fee structure by several universities like Ambedkar University and JNU can be considered before bringing any reform in subsidies given to higher educational institutions.
  • For example,  at Ambedkar University a system of differential fee structure was introduced. Under this system, below a certain income level, the university made it possible for students to participate in higher education without payment of any fee. There was some kind of rationalisation of fee structure, the fee structures were different for different kinds of programmes based on marketability, affordability and input costs. Yet, the university managed to earn enough surplus from this to use as a corpus, to subsidise student welfare, travel assistance to students, and to get paying guest accommodation for those who did not get it in hostels and so on.
  • JNU introduced a system of deprivation points. Sometimes, income certificates can be bought; so, if you were born or if you did your school diploma, in, say the most backward 100 districts, if your parent was below the poverty line, if you were a girl, then you got nine deprivation points; if you were in an urban area and below the poverty line and were a boy, you got one point. They also used to use that as a criteria for subsidising, for charging fees and for admission purposes.
  • Both of these measures were quite successful. So there are ways that can be followed to deal with the subsidisation issue successfully rather than debating about the relevance of subsidising higher education or ending it. It needs to be ensured that a talented person doesn’t go without education.
  • Also the idea of rationalising student fees need not mean increase in fees across the board, for all programmes and students. It can be done based on the type of  programmes and their output.
  • There are also arguments being made that the student fees should be fixed at the level of last fees paid at school. Thereby you differentiate between those who go to expensive private schools and those who go to government schools.

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