Cost of education must be controlled

Tags: Op-ed
Cost of education must be controlled
AP
CRICIAL CHANGES: We, in India, have to adopt major drastic changes to make education affordable because the cost of education is on the rise with no logical justification
In India, we pay very little attention to the cost of education. Indeed, there has been little study on working the cost in this sector. This is true for the entire spectrum of education — right from pre-primary, primary, secondary, to higher secondary and finally higher education. If one looks at the amount of money that parents spend on their children for educational purposes, one would realise that in the present education system, parents spend almost 30 per cent of their earnings on educating one child.

There is an unimaginable spectrum of payments that parents face. For a child in the 3-6 age bracket, which is the pre-primary stage, they spend a few thousands per year, while the entire pre-primary education consumes few lakhs. Today, almost 75 per cent of primary and secondary education comes in the domain of private education entrepreneurs who charge up to a lakh and above per year. So just taking the child through the primary and secondary education fields can cost parents about Rs 10 lakh.

The story of higher education is even worse. There are multi-layered teaching entities such as central universities, universities run by great laboratories like department of atomic energy, Indian space research organisation (ISRO), and council for scientific and industrial research and defence research organisations. Then there are deemed to be universities, state public universities, state private universities and professional institutions that are linked with industries.

Such a complex structure handles more than 13 million youths and the fees that is charged by different institutions for an identical type of degree programmes changes from few thousands to lakhs as you switch from one university to another. One can observe such enormous disparities in costing of education with no logical justification only in India.

One cannot assign a value to education. Knowledge is the food of the soul, Plato supposedly remarked. Great literature “irrigates the deserts” of our lives, as CS Lewis put it. Since centuries, ancient India has also looked at education as a thought process that cultivates human minds. However, in the present century, the link between education and industrial production has taken a new dimension.

Today, education is not looked as a process for mind enrichment. It is the conversion of knowledge into value-added product, which would further generate wealth. And this has percolated right up to primary education sector as well. Therefore, converting knowledge to wealth has become the backbone of education sector in today’s day and age. The question that comes to ones mind is how the cost of education is looked at in other nations. Is education affordable? Certainly not. All over the world, the cost of education is on the rise while students and their families certainly face the burden of attaining education. In the US, college education comes with a price tag of upto $60,000 per year for a four-year residential degree at an American university. A report by PayScale, a research firm, measured the returns on higher education in the US, which they figured out varies enormously.

Over a span of 20 years, a graduate in computer science from Stanford can expect to make $1.7 million more than someone who never went to college, after the cost of that education is taken into account. A degree in humanities and English at Florida International University leaves you $1,32,000 worse off. The study also found arts degrees (broadly defined) at 12 per cent of the colleges offered negative returns, while 30 per cent offered worse financial rewards than putting the cash in 20-year treasury bills.

However, the issues before the Indian education system are quite different. We have a large number of students who simply do not get a loan and may also not be able to have access to state or central government schemes. We never talk about providing soft loans at affordable rates, say 3 per cent. Our governmental policies are yet to touch such issues.

“Opportunity”, said US President Barack Obama on April 2, “means making college more affordable.” In time, transparency and technology will force many colleges all over the world to cut costs and raise quality.

Online education will also accelerate the trend. In 2013, 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course in the US. Such courses allow students to attend fine lecturers without having to pay for luxurious dormitories or armies of college bureaucrats. They will not replace traditional colleges — face-to-face classes are nonetheless valuable — but will force them to adapt. Those that offer poor value for money will have to shape up, or disappear. We, in India, have to adopt major drastic changes to make education affordable because the cost of education is on the rise with no logical justification.

arun.nigavekar@mydigitalfc.com

(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)

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