The world beyond slogans
In the University circle, an overwhelmingly majority believes that the entire education sector must be funded and facilitated by the government. Such a slogan during teachers’ meet is not only widely accepted but is also considered unquestionable.
In fact any deviation or slip on this proposition often invites motive-finding remarks from others. It is taken for granted that this must never be compromised. Now let me talk numbers. At present, the government is spending approximately Rs 80,000 annually on a student enrolled for a graduation degree in a non-professional college.
IIT needs to spend around Rs. 2.5 lakhs per student and medical colleges require to spend Rs. 15 lac per student annually. On a conservative estimate, if the government proposes to spend Rs. 1.5 lakh per student of this age then for an estimated population of 14 crore people of the age between 18-23, we need a sum of Rs. 21 lakh crore for the higher education alone.
Alarmingly, that would consume nearly our entire budget allocation. Moreover, this spending will be sufficient only if the infrastructure is already in place and we will be needing finances just to maintain and run the institutes. Further, this also excludes the spending on primary and secondary education.
In view of the above estimates, we must accept this fact – grudgingly or otherwise – that the world beyond slogans is quite different. The reality is not as romantic as one would like that to be. However, irrespective of the present spending commitments of the government the policy planners are of the opinion that a 6 percent spending on education will be satisfactory.
Unfortunately, this figure is presently less than one percent. This means that even if the government accepts our cry of spending 6 percent of the budget on education, much would be left as desired even after that. It is not difficult to conclude that for one reason to stop private parties from participating in this sector there would be many in its support which would outsmart all logic and sensibilities.
In fact, it would be further revealing to know that approximately 40 percent of the school education and about 72 percent of the college education are under private (aided/unaided) hands. It would, therefore, be suicidal to switch off the presence of private sector in Indian education field. On the contrary, there is a history of participation of the Indian private parties in the primary and secondary education sector and that has led us to a stage where we are right now.
Foreign missionaries, local philanthropists, and visionaries have invested liberally in this field. What is even encouraging is that most of these organisations and trusts started not for commercial gains but for the noble cause of spreading education as a mass movement.
Lastly, it can’t be ignored that successive pay commissions have in a way ensured that a major contributing factor towards the cost per student is the salary component expenditure. On one hand, this has made lives of people involved in teaching much better financially but it has also acted as a huge repulsive factor for those philanthropists who were willing to spend their earnings to spread education. When people associated with education started treating this sector as an employment opportunity and not services, even those who were earlier ready to spend money for the spread of education began exploring education as a business sector.
A two-way decline has ensured the development of the education sector as a business avenue. Professional courses and some streams of higher education have a saleable aspect as these courses are considered to be job-fetching courses. Making use of this, many organisations and individuals are still showing inclinations to take a plunge into the higher education sector considering it primarily as a business venture.
To conclude, I would suggest that the government must take a pragmatic approach. I see no reason to stop the government from allowing setting up of private schools that would charge very high fees if it can help the government in running additional schools. After all, the main job of a government is to tax the rich for the welfare of poor - and not to dry their revenues by forcing the rich to earn and spend less.
(Dr. Rakesh Kumar Pandey is Associate Professor, Physics Department at Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal.)