Millennium Post

Gone are the days

Once an education superpower, India is sliding. Costs are sky-high and things are grievously wrong. So wrong that everything is hitting the proverbial fan and our youngsters are fleeing the country

Gone are the days

The novel Coronavirus of 2019 has taught us many terrible lessons, but I shall discuss only one, one that I have not spoken about so far. How and why has the cost of education in India gone up so dramatically while the possibility of getting a job at the end of that degree course has gone down so drastically? Here's food for thought, one that I learnt about just last week and something that made my hair stand on end.

Medical colleges in the foothills of the Himalayas are suddenly charging Rs 4 lakh per student per year, as against Rs 75,000 annually just 18 months back. A five-year course which earlier cost Rs 3,75,000 now puts students and their families back by Rs 22 lakh. Don't argue with my math. There is also a Rs 2-lakh bond that has to be put in place now, perhaps to amp things up. That's a new recipe for CTC (Corporate 'Cost to Company' parlayed into educational jingoism) in our new India, already turning on its head and flailing towards a new disaster.

Down under in my own India, in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai, things are equally obtuse and alarming, with colleges charging exorbitant fees, and we are talking on-paper fixed charges, and not what happens in the name of capitation fees. Back to the North, colleges in Haldwani and Doon Medical College are charging fees that thumb the nose at sensibility. Things are so pricey that students are standing in protest outside colleges, demanding a respite from these crazy fee hikes. These two institutions alone are netting the state Government over Rs 126 crore annually in fees. The economics of our country are in shambles, as we have oft-talked about. The dynamics of education are now headed for a vicious spin. That's cause for alarm and worry.

'Sarkari' colleges too…

It is not just private colleges that are making students pay through their nose, for the trend is the same in state-run colleges. It is no wonder then that the spectre of 'brain drain' is gathering a furious pace. When a small family takes a life- and 'biradari'-threatening loan to get the little ones qualified enough to find a job, they now tend to inevitably reach out to the Western part of the world – to the UK, the US and Europe. Or Australia, New Zealand, Johannesburg. For the future is safer, the salaries better. Loans can be repaid more comfortably. Remember, we don't just cope with annual fees while getting educated in India; there are coaching classes to pay for, books and reference materials that put us back by lakhs of rupees too.

The recent protests in Tamil Nadu over the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) are an indicator of things to come. The State Government recently tabled a bill seeking a permanent exemption from NEET, leading to a walkout by the opposition parties. Elsewhere in the country, there is tumult in colleges and the assembly in Uttarakhand as well, wanting to know why the State charges far more than neighbouring Himachal Pradesh as examination fees. Similar outrage is being witnessed at our prestigious IITs, IIMs and other premier institutions.

The cusp of the matter lies deeper. It is not so much about the fees; it is about the lack of jobs at the end of the payments. Even the Indian Institute of Management charges an average of Rs 13.6 lakh per student per year. It was fine earlier, because most first-year CTC packages for IIM graduates would net that in a year or in two at most. Today, there are no guarantees of any jobs or any income.

Dangerous portends

Did I talk about brain drain? I did, I guess, but that only happens after our younger ones graduate and are recruited, right? Nope. A new disarming trend is where educational loan organizations are witnessing a hefty jump in outbound student enquiries. Surprisingly, this does not include Indian banks, which are seeing no increase in their loan books. According to research reports, there's been a 209-per cent rise in overseas educational loan applications in the first quarter of FY 2022 alone, as compared to the first quarter of the previous year, when we were in the grip of the first wave of the pandemic. Where are most of the applications coming for? Well, they are for our under-graduates looking to head to the United States, the United Kingdom and parts of Europe.

Just last month, the United States shared that over 55,000 Indian students and exchange visitors are headed to its geography for higher studies, an 'all-time record'. As far as the UK is concerned, 3,200 students have been accepted into universities there for higher education, a new high, including my brother's son and the not so little one of my best friend. Our best budding brains are flying out of the country to learn to earn. For UK alone, the increase in students travelling from India has risen 19 per cent year-on-year.

This has quietly happened through the pandemic. While we all panicked and brandished 'thaalis', pelted spoons and spatulas and made a racket, screamed "go, Corona, go", our Next-Gen planned a quiet exit. And let's not forget, we also lit candles and flashed our mobile phone torches, reaching out to the divine to ward off an evil. We perhaps failed to recognize the real devil.

Headed for the US model?

Are we inadvertently headed for the US model, where every college pass-out ends up spending the first 10 years of his / her career paying off student loans? Let's look at trends in India, which allude to this. Management students passing out of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE)-recognized colleges are now getting far fewer jobs than before. In just 2019-20 and 2020-21, the number of graduates finding jobs after passing out of our colleges has declined by 23 per cent. In Delhi alone, a comparable number of students graduating from management institutes, versus those finding a job, has dropped by 37 per cent. I am glad that I was born decades ago. Because of 4,053 graduates, only 2,569 found paying jobs.

In India, interest rates for overseas educational loans have slithered to 9.5 per cent for applications to premier global schools and varsities. The loan ticket size is a revealer in itself, increasing from Rs 30 lakh last year to Rs 35 lakh per student in FY 2021. The trend is surging, with applications now skyrocketing even for Ireland, the European Union and Singapore.

Demand for international courses has more than doubled in just the last four months. We are witnessing traction from students preferring international universities over those in India. Ironically, India's under-graduates are even choosing Russia and the Czech Republic over degrees from our motherland. Even Hitler would have been queasy about this turn of events. Clearly, people who can afford it are bailing out their Next-Gen, if not themselves. Perhaps, once the new generation becomes capable, they will follow suit and leave our shores too. Where will that leave us and how did we let this happen? Or is the truth that we couldn't really care less anymore, as a polity? I don't know.

I could sing a song

Crooning has always been a passion, a saviour even, but no sing-song can allow me to digest this turn of events. People big and small, well-off and struggling, seem to have but one obsession now, that of getting the Next-Generation out of the country. In our claimed attempts to create a new India, we have forgotten and cast aside our creed and culture, desperate to get our future out of the country to save theirs. How and why has this happened?

I could try and find a feeble simile in my own life, my education, how all of us kids grew up, walking to and from school and college many, many kilometers away. Those were good times that we lived in, and we enjoyed every bit of the misery. But then again, I also remind myself of life's teachings over many decades since; that when we go and look into the past, it behoves us to do it on our own. I shall, therefore, let you figure this one out on your own self. These are very personal thoughts and choices, tantalizing yet poignant growing-up experiences and memories. Things are surely changing, and clearly not for good.

The writer is a communications consultant and a clinical analyst. He can be reached at Views expressed are personal

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