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Call to put price tag on college degree

Calcutta, Sept. 21: The ruling communists’ lodestar — social responsibility of the state — appears to be under attack from within. At least, in the field of education.

A state-appointed committee, headed by a CPM faithful, has asked the government to water down its commitment to social responsibility and stop state-run undergraduate colleges from imparting education almost for free.

After recording the views of scores of academics, administrators and lobbies representing teachers, students and non-teaching employees, and also examining global trends over three years, the Ramendra Kumar Poddar Committee has asked the government to put a market-oriented price tag on higher education.

“There is no reason why those who can afford would refuse to pay. We generally tend to misuse a commodity for which we do not have to pay,” says Poddar, former vice-chancellor of Calcutta University and a Rajya Sabha MP.

The committee was set up in August 1999 to recommend measures for improving academic standards in government colleges and devising ways to ensure accountability of the teachers.

Its report, which has just been submitted to the education department, has repeatedly criticised the real but unspoken policy — “study now, but pay little or nothing” — that governs Bengal’s state-run and state-aided undergraduate colleges and institutions of higher learning. A copy of the over 70-page report is available with The Telegraph.

Poddar advocates an immediate upward revision of fee structures in all state-aided undergraduate colleges, more so in the 17 directly run by the government, including Presidency College, Maulana Azad and Lady Brabourne College. He argues that the cost of higher education has gone through the roof, but students, mostly belonging to well-heeled families, are not called to bear any significant part of it. “But in the case of private institutions, students have to bear the entire cost of their education,” says Poddar.

“The practice of charging suitable fees has been accepted everywhere. (So), the government also should not have any hesitation in the matter because, in the final analysis, almost-free higher education is actually subsidy for the rich at the cost of the poor.”

Poddar, however, seeks to strike a balance and has called for a provision for low fees for financially disadvantaged students only.

The government today indicated it was going through the report and would implement only those recommendations that are found suitable. State director of public instruction P.K. Ganguly, who oversees the administration of state-controlled colleges, said a meeting would shortly be held to finalise which aspects would be implemented.

If the recommendation on fee hike is approved, students of Presidency, Maulana Azad, Goenka, Bethune and Brabourne --- all directly state controlled --- will have to pay higher tuition fees than counterparts in state-aided undergraduate colleges.

At present, the fee structure is uniform in both types of colleges. While a humanities student pays Rs 75 a month, those in streams using laboratories have to fork out approximately Rs 125. A move to hike fees may run into resistance from students’ lobbies.

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