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IIM fee row ends with return to old order

New Delhi, June 29: Curtains were brought down on the four-month-long IIM controversy with the Congress-led Centre today ordering the withdrawal of Murli Manohar Joshi’s fee-cut fiat.

“I am happy to report that the controversy has ended,” Arjun Singh, Joshi’s successor as human resource development minister, said after a meeting here this morning with the chairpersons and directors of the six Indian institutes of management.

“And all IIM chairpersons and directors have agreed to be more sensitive to the needs of the poor students,” Singh added.

Joshi declined to respond to the development, saying he had not “read” about the United Progressive Alliance government’s decision and was awaiting details.

He had ordered slashing the annual fee by 80 per cent and triggered a controversy that erupted into an ugly face-off between the NDA government and the IIMs.

The acrimonious conflict ended with the IIMs reverting to the old fee structure and increasing scholarships and need-based financial assistance schemes to both first- and second-year students.

“The order issued on 5th February will be immediately withdrawn now that a settlement has been reached,” the HRD ministry said.

The settlement has given back to the IIMs the right to charge high fees. But at the same time, the institutes have promised to ensure that no meritorious and needy student is denied access to the IIMs because of low family income.

From now, all students whose annual family income is Rs 2 lakh and below will be eligible for financial assistance, including a full waiver of tuition fee.

“The institutes will ensure that no student faces any difficulty in pursuing education at the institutes because of lack of resources,” the ministry said in a press note.

In some cases, the IIMs will also consider waiving hostel and mess charges in addition to tuition fee. All the institutes have given an assurance of providing “active assistance and support to all the students who needed bank loans”.

Joshi had forced the IIMs to swallow the fee-cut decision on the grounds that the premier business schools were inaccessible to poor students because of the high fees ranging from Rs 1.25 lakh to Rs 1.50 lakh. The ministry had threatened to strip the institutes’ autonomy if they did not comply with the directive.

The IIM controversy was the first issue that Singh took up after taking charge of the HRD ministry.

He said the “mess” created by his predecessor was “deep”, with the IIM row topping the list of “messy” issues.

Without naming Joshi, his successor today squarely blamed the earlier dispensation for triggering a stand-off that could have been avoided. “The ministry issued the fee reduction order without consulting either the finance ministry or the internal finance division of the HRD ministry,” Singh said.

He clarified that the HRD ministry under him would not infringe upon the autonomy of institutions of higher education. “I fully believe in and respect the autonomy of the higher education institutions.”

At the same time, Singh sought to puncture Joshi’s claim that the fee-cut order was the only way of helping poor students.

“The present settlement means that instead of Rs 30,000 (the annual fee ordered by Joshi), the poor students have now been given a total fee waiver and those who can afford will pay the normal fees,” the ministry said.

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