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Editorial | The Absurdity Behind The IIT M.Tech Fee Hike

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  • - Shivam Jha, Editor-in-Chief

In times like these, where academic news serves nothing but indifference to the public that has been deeply embroiled in the regular, irascible media 'debates' on a specific temple, the minute-by-minute reportage of the actions of a specific person in power and peculiarly the activities of a specific neighbouring country, a recent announcement seemed to garner above-average attention amongst the youth.

The IIT Council, led by the Union HRD Minister, had recommended that all IITs would charge tuition fee of 2,00,000 for M.Tech programmes which would be at par with the B.Tech fee structure, which is a hike of up to 900%. Alongside this, the provision of stipend of 12,400 monthly to the students for part-time teaching assistance has also been revoked. It is to be noted that the fee hike for M.Tech courses will be implemented gradually over the next few years and each IIT will take a call as to how much the fees should be increased in each year.

It is being claimed that the fee hike is targeted at students who drop out midway from the M.Tech course, however, it is being applied to all the students irrespective of their academic rigour or planned intent of dropping out (or lack thereof). The council has failed to justify why a blanket hike would rationalise placing such a financial burden on all prospective students. 

IIT Delhi director V Ramgopal Rao on his recent Facebook post supported the decision calling it a “surgical strike” on “uninterested students”. I find it appalling that a person at this position is using such vocabulary. These words belong to the political stages where political stooges and our policymakers compete with gorillas in chest-thumping. For stopping 'non-serious students' entering into the PG programme, hiking fees and revoking stipend is not the right way, rather it is an easy way to opt and implement.

With due respect, I believe the rationale behind the decision and its justification, both are fundamentally flawed on multiple parameters.

Mr. Rao assumes large US universities generate major revenue from Masters students and uses this as a benchmark in his clarification. There isn't much data supporting that. Harvard, for example, generates 10% of its total revenue from the graduate students. That includes funded masters and almost always funded Ph.D. students, who, of course, are not paying out of their own pockets.

The council has announced that they recognise the courses are lagging behind the international standards but can't restructure the courses until the pay hike is implemented. I sincerely hope they realise how ridiculous that sounds. Also, it is completely ludicrous why you need a financial motivation to change something you feel is inherently wrong and detrimental to the higher education system.

This problem arises because B.Tech undergraduates from IITs are the first preference for the high salary paying MNCs. M.Tech students are mostly recruited by same companies that visit the IITs for placement without any exceptional difference in their packages. Even in the government sector, M.Tech students exclusively get only a handful of opportunities as JRF/ SRF's for a fixed no. of years. So their road finally leads to either dropping out for the dire need to secure a job or a Ph.D. degree, with/without interest/experience in research. Thus, when M.Tech from IITs doesn't provide brighter opportunities as compared with that of B.Tech from the same institute, how and why should they both be put at the same pedestal when it comes to fee structuring?

He said that this will fix the problem of wastage of much sought-after seats at IITs and save government funds and added that if students were willing to pay ₹20 lakh for an MBA degree in an IIM, they can surely pay ₹4 lakh for a masters degree in IITs. “Nobody drops out of IIMs since they see a value in IIM-MBA programmes. On the other hand, we see over 50% dropouts in IIT M.Tech programmes." 

But has the council even tried to introspect why students are dropping out? They are willing to conveniently blame it on the 'lack of seriousness' in the students without taking into account the lack in the coursework, research infrastructure, industry synchronisation that plagues this degree. Students quit as soon as they find a job outside because this programme has failed to provide them with any additional value to their skill set or professional expertise, let along guaranteeing them a occupational stability post completion.

A large number of top ranking students drop out within the first year because PSUs hire students after the admission process has been completed and no student in their sane minds will let go a sarkari job in India. The solution isn't raising fees to attract sincere students but fix the admission - hiring sequence.

Another point which has been raised is the catalysis of the 'brain-drain' that these academic councils so lament upon. If a sincere candidate will have to pay an exorbitant fee for a Masters program anyway, what motivation does he have left to choose an IIT over pursuing it from a top university abroad?Without putting the course at par with the highly ranked institutions worldwide, the council is comfortably shifting the burden to the students.

Why isn't a considerable hike in PhD scholarships (at the end of 3 years, maybe) a part of this plan if the vision is to raise money from masters students and provide that as incentives for PhD programs? Why is the option of getting students to sign a bond to deter them from dropping out instead of the outright uniform fee hike considered? Further, there isn't an iota of information regarding where the money will be spent.

The IIT Council seems to be worried about wasting taxpayer’s money. I agree wholeheartedly. But what exactly has MHRD done to solve that problem? 

Yes, IITs need to produce excellent Ph.Ds without wasting taxpayer money. Some of them are already doing that. But you can't produce top researchers in five years however much you improve your institution. The tree is rotten at the root. The undergrad research scenario in the country is gruesome, barring the IITs and some state schools. We all know that. Instead of appealing for that to be changed, you seem to support dissolving a system that helps the under-prepared, underexposed students to make informed career decision without putting a significant financial burden on them. It is both deeply saddening and shocking. Hope you find the opportunity to do a thorough introspection.

There has been a rapid withdrawal of State funding from educational institutions accompanied by privatisation of education which is gaining its momentum keeping pace with foreign investments and corporate franchise. Even the present fee hike should be seen in this context of the manifestation of fund-cuts.

The rich can now buy education, and perhaps fill up the seats which the other sections cannot afford. This system will create a two-fold problem.

Firstly, the number of people who will have to take education loans will increase immensely. This means that a potential number of students will graduate with a ready economic handicap. The cyclical loan process of higher education will force the candidate to go for job to clear that loan and leaving little scope of pursuing his/her dream. Suppose now that dream is higher studies, the increased fee and no stipend will decrease his willingness to study further as most of the students in our country are looked to support their families after graduation. Taking loan again for M.Tech will entrap the student again in the vicious cycle of loans.

Secondly, imposing strict financial restrictions have adverse cascading effects as the talent at the core of the nation will remain untapped and deprived of opportunity.

Instead, if they continue to smother students through sky rocketing fee hikes and policies intended to exclude those coming from deprived sections, the higher education system will be at the onset of becoming a rigged game where you have to belong to a layer, belong to the choicest few to even get a chance to roll the dice. 
 

Posted by Shivam Jha

Leanness is a methodology, not a goal.