The cost of education in India has been on an upward spiral for the last several years and policies have been ineffective in regulating it. The amount of money Indians spend from their pocket on general education has risen by a whopping 175% between 2008 and 2014. That apart, Indians spend Rs 25,000 crore every year on private tuition, because learning in schools does not seem to be enough. This rampant and unchecked increase has denied the poor and lower middle class the privilege of quality education.
Take for instance the IITs—India’s premier technological institutions. Over half of India’s total higher education expenses are on these public institutions. But how many public school students get sufficient coaching to crack the IIT entrance exam? In 2017, out of over eight lakh State Board students in Tamil Nadu, a mere 20 cleared the exam. The figure for Gujarat was 14. The situation is even worse when it comes to private colleges with prohibitive fee structures.
Covid has only exacerbated this situation. Students are now being forced to drop out of their classes if their parents, hit by the lockdown, are unable to pay the fees on time. This newspaper reported in detail about how many students across TN have moved from high-cost CBSE schools to low-cost State Board ones this year because parents were unable to pay the fees. And those in State Board schools have moved to free government ones.
It is at this crucial juncture that the National Education Policy is coming into the scene. It promises to bring in transparency in fee structures, but also allows private universities the freedom to fix their own fees. This has sparked concerns. Private universities will have to give 20% seats to those who deserve it for free and subsidise the charges for another 30% through scholarships.
While this looks good on paper, questions remain about its implementation. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, a landmark piece of legislation, is still far from being implemented in its full spirit, though it was introduced over a decade ago. Will the NEP bridge the gaps in education between the poor and rich or worsen it? Only time will tell.