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April 30, 2009

Now it’s education debt trap

— Shivaji Sarkar Education– be it primary, secondary or higher is becoming far too expensive, pushing generations under the debt trap. A nation that had created its strength and built a strong human resource base through affordable government and government-aided institutions today find its young generation being fleeced by the education coterie. It bodes ill for the country.

According to a study of the Associated Chamber of Commerce (Assocham), education has become a low-investment, high-profit business. Its report says that during the past eight years primary and secondary education expenses of an average parent have increased by 160 per cent while his wages have increased by only 30 per cent. The fee hike in some schools has even been a ridiculous 175 per cent.

In 2000, the annual school expenses used to be Rs 25,000 per child at the highest level. Today these have increased to Rs 65,000 a year. This does not include other expenditures such as conveyance, uniform, books and stationery. It also does not include the donations or as euphemistically termed the ‘one-time fee’ charged at the time of admission that may vary from Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 or more for different schools. Accordingly, schools have earned Rs 5,000 crore by selling prospectus in eight years. They earn another Rs 50 crore by selling plastic covers almost every year.

However, when it comes to paying salaries to the teachers, private institutions rarely give what their counterparts get in government schools. Clearly they exploit their teachers and in many cases educators are forced to function ad hoc or on virtual daily wages almost throughout their life. But parents are forced to pay 40 per cent more to fund the so-called increase in salaries, which are mostly not passed on to the teachers in the name of ‘disciplining’ them.

Higher education too has witnessed a steep rise not only in private but even government-funded institutions. Only a few days ago the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) announced an increase in its fees by Rs 1 lakh to Rs 12.5 lakh a year. In fact, during the past five years fees of all professional institutions, including Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), IIMs, central universities and other such organisations have increased manifold. Private engineering, management and medical institutes have gone several steps ahead.

A student from an average family can hardly afford the steep cost. Is education going to be a preserve of the country’s rich? Worse, as private colleges do not pay the faculty as per norms, they end up getting mediocre faculty and giving students low standard education at high cost.

As a result of all this, today we find that the youth are being forced to take hefty loans. During the last five years, about 15 lakh youth have taken a whopping Rs 26,000 crore as loan, reveals the Congress 2009 manifesto. It also says: India today has one of the largest educational loan programmes in the world, exposing the notion that the people in this country, unlike rest of the world, do not have the capacity to pay for education.

Conversely it means that education is not at all affordable here. It also means that even in the so-called developed world, which this country seeks to ape, education remains affordable, socially-funded and regulated by the government. Education loan has thus been made a compulsion by the Government to fund rogue institutions. Elsewhere in the world it is facilitation for some extreme situations.

In one of its announcements, the Ministry of Human Resource Development had spelt out its proposal to subsidise education loans. In 2008-09 it gave a mere Rs 1 lakh subsidy, which it is considering to increase to Rs 10 lakh in the current financial year. Apparently the ministry has received Rs 12974 crore as Education Cess levied on a number of instruments but is yet to have a programme to make education affordable.

Where lies the problem? Obviously, there seems to be a lack of will to contain the trend. Educational institutions at almost all levels have been left to function unhindered. They couldn’t care less about government rules and regulations, which they happily violate with impunity. For example, in Uttar Pradesh if an education department officer visits a school for any query, he is made to wait for hours before any official meets him. And when he does, the official prefers not to give any information. In one such extreme case, an official sent an adverse report, which led to the government cancelling the no objection certificate issued to the school. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) was too informed. But within a short span the State Government reversed its orders, revealing the powers that the State’s school mafia enjoys.

Apparently, it is learnt that political parties are wary of opposing this mafia, which enjoys financial, caste and other clout and is capable of causing electoral damage. For the leaders it is an area that remains best untouched. Extortionists and exploiters are in a better position because they create the money and muscle power funded by the poor people. It is no wonder this is not a poll plank.

However, political parties need to take this up. This is convoluting the education system and seriously eroding the ethical values of the youth. Since they are fleeced so heavily, they are caring less for social values and concerns. They are constantly under threat of repaying a heavy debt taken by their parents. In many cases, they don’t earn what they have to pay for their education a year. Is this not going to force them to become corrupt?

Those who plead for high fee on education need to ponder over the social cost that would need to be paid. As it is the world has suffered a meltdown of ethical values. India has not learnt from it yet. It must work towards bringing down the cost of educating a child, increase investments in education and take whatever steps required if it serious about averting a severe social and economic catastrophe. ASSAM TRIBUNE

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