The centres of excellence in higher learning should be subsidised, if not free, for meritorious students
Everybody talks about reservations for backward communities, but hardly anyone speaks about reservations for academically meritorious students.
Because of this, even our policymakers are not at all concerned with the meritorious students. What does merit hold for a student? Merit allows students to study in an institution of their choice with reduced fees. Traditionally meritorious students get admission to public sector institutions. Whether you are from upper caste or lower caste or high economic background or lower economic background, meritorious students should be given top priority in academics. Merit is a symbol of quality.
Old-time school teachers used to advise students that after qualifying 10th standard (SSLC) one should be self-sufficient in meeting the expenses of his or her studies. So students used to work hard to get admission to prestigious government institutions. Getting admission to a government college or university was considered a symbol of quality, as only merit prevails in these centres, whereas in private institutions with money, you can buy a seat. The society also gives high priority to people studying in merit seats, especially in fields related to the medical profession. Even while visiting a medical professional patients give high respect and confidence to doctors studied in government institutions. Since doctors who study in private institutions spend lakhs of rupees their ultimate objective would be to make money to compensate for the huge amount spent for their studies. Old-time students used to vie for the National Merit Scholarship and University Merit Scholarship, which is provided solely based on merit. Labelling as a meritorious fellow is like getting a Nobel Prize for a student even if he is from the economically upper strata of society.
The starting of deemed-to-be universities and autonomous institutions like IIT have destroyed the social fabric of education. Even though clearing the IIT-JEE is the most challenging task in the life of a student, studying in IITs is the most expensive education in the country. After clearing such a tough examination, a student is expected to get a subsidised education. Contrary to this an IIT student has to spend lakhs of rupees to complete an undergraduate study. If we go through the socio-economic background of students studying at IITs we can easily find that most of them are from economically well-off families.
This is the reason most students aspire to central institutions like JNU where education is highly subsidised. It’s the prize they get for their dedicated learning and hard work. Even today alumni from JNU are held in high esteem. That is the place where students enjoy total academic freedom. Only if there is freedom students will enjoy learning and only if they enjoy learning, creativity evolve and only if creativity evolves the country will develop. The centres of excellence in higher learning should be made free to meritorious students and it should be kept exclusively for them. During early times we had fewer higher education centres, so only the best would get admission to these centres.
There is an organised effort by vested interests across the country to destroy good institutions in the government sector. Even UGC is promoting granting autonomy to every college. Once a college becomes autonomous it comes out with its fee structures, which are not accessible to everyone. Ultimately students from the middle and lower middle class will move from higher education to paths that provide easy employment. If there is no value for the marks obtained by the students for their qualifying examination, parents and students will be forced to retract from higher education.
(The writer is a science communicator and an adjunct faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, views are personal)