Saturday, January 20, 2007
Will the HRD ministry and planning commission take steps to correct the existing regional imbalance in higher education opportunities?
(An edited version of this article was published in Indian Express on December 21, 2006. The same day news reprts came in that the locations of the 3 new IITs have been decided to be in Bihar, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.)
Education in general and higher education in particular seems to be one of the focus items, and rightly so, for the 11th five year plan. The approach paper to the 11th plan says: “Only about 8% of the relevant age group (of Indians) go to university whereas in many developing countries, the figure is between 20 and 25%. There is a clear need to undertake major expansion. … New colleges and universities must be set up, to provide easier access to students in educationally backward districts.” Similar sentiment was recently expressed by the planning commission deputy Chairman Mr. Ahluwalia when he agreed with Shekhar Gupta that higher education is a problem and went on to say, “What has happened is we suddenly realized that if the economy is now growing at 8 per cent, and could grow at 9 per cent, the skills the economy needs will become a constraint.” The Finance minister in his recent convocation address at Symbiosis International University also echoed similar sentiments.
Against this backdrop there have been news reports that the HRD minister Mr. Arjun Singh has proposed to set up three new IITs, 20 Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs), five Indian Institutes of Managements (IIMs), three Indian Institutes of Science Educational and Research (IISERs) and four Schools of Planning and Architecture (SPAs). There has been also news about one central university, and possibly more, outside of the northeast.
Even if some of these get through to the 11th plan the question that arises is where they will be located. Currently the distribution of the existing fully centrally funded institutes is skewed. In the past, decisions regarding the locations of institutions seem to be based more on – regardless of what spin is put on it, which state has a bigger influence over the central government, or where the important ministers come from, rather than making sure that these institutes and universities are distributed equitably across various states of the country.
Ironically, to get a comprehensive idea of the inequity one needs to look at pages 84-85 of the Moily committee report which lists the well-established institutions that will be subject to the 27% reservation for OBCs. Ignoring the medical and agricultural institutes there – as they are not funded by the HRD ministry, following is a state and Union territory wise list of central institutes and central universities from the Moily committee report:
Andhra Pradesh (NIT, Hyderabad U, Maulana Azad Urdu U), Arunachal Pradesh (none), Assam (NIT, IIT, Assam U, Tezpur U), Bihar (NIT), Chhattisgarh (NIT), Delhi (IIT, JNU, U Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia, SPA), Goa (none), Gujarat (IIM, NIT), Haryana (NIT), Himachal Pradesh (NIT), Jammu and Kashmir (NIT), Jharkhand (NIT, NITTR, ISM), Karnataka (NIT, IISc, IIM), Kerala (NIT, IIM), Madhya Pradesh (IIM, NIT, NITTR, 2 IIITs), Maharashtra (NIT, NITIE, IIT, MG Hindi U), Manipur (Manipur U), Meghalaya (NEHU), Mizoram (Mizoram U), Nagaland (Nagaland U), Orissa (NIT), Punjab (NIT, SLIET), Rajasthan (NIT), Sikkim (none), Tamil Nadu (NIT, IIT, NITTR), Tripura (NIT), Uttaranchal (IIT), Uttar Pradesh (NIT, IIM, IIT, IIIT, BHU, Allahbad U, Ambedkar U), West Bengal (NIT, IIT, IIM, Visva Bharati, NITTR), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (none), Chandigarh (NITTR), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (none), Daman and Diu (none), Lakshadweep (none) and Puducherry (Pondicherry U).
The sizes of the above states and UTs vary and institutions in some of them are local to significant urban population in the neighboring states such as institutions in Delhi are local to a large populace of UP and Haryana and institutions in and around Chandigarh are local to a large populace of both Punjab and Haryana. The different institutes mentioned above have different budgets; the IITs and IISc having among the highest budgets while the NITTRs having much smaller budgets. The exact budget details are not easily available to make an accurate calculation of how much money the HRD ministry spends per-capita in various states with respect to the above institutions, but a rough calculation at http://equitableindia.org – based on the 2006-07 numbers in the Indian budget, averaging out among classes of institutions, shows Delhi (Rs 183.08), West Bengal (Rs 41.20) and Karnataka (Rs 33.4) at the top with Orissa (Rs 4.07), Rajasthan (Rs 2.59), and Bihar (Rs 1.87) at the bottom among the sizable states.
Not surprisingly as per the NSSO study of 2004-2005 Orissa is also at the bottom of most higher education parameters. For example, Table 3.14.1 shows that in the 15-19 age group 29% people in Orissa are attending school/college and in the 20-24 age group this number for Orissa is 6.1%. (Both numbers are lowest among all but the UTs of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Lakshadweep.) For Bihar these numbers are 42.7% and 8.6% respectively; for Rajasthan they are 40.8% and 9.5%; for Delhi they are 70% and 19.3%; for West Bengal they are 41.6% and 11.8% and for Karnataka they are 41.7% and 11%.
When this inequity is pointed out, some respond that locations of national institutes and their locations do not matter as anyone from India can go and study there. Such people forget that premier institutions like IITs and central universities are also drivers of growth of the region where they are located. Also, many of these institutes have programs that mostly benefit locals, such as executive MBAs in the IIMs. Similarly, pursuit of a Ph.D. or a Masters in an IIT/IISc or a central university while teaching in a nearby institution is more feasible for locals.
Thus it is very important that the fully centrally funded institutions be distributed in an equitable manner across the country; the location decisions of the new institutions should not only aim towards achieving equitable distribution across the country but to some extent should also try to compensate for the past decades of inequity.
Whether the HRD ministry and the planning commission will do that and will be allowed (by the UPA coalition politics) to do that is the big question?
Some initial statements give the deprived states some hope. For example, a news report on the proposed new IITs mentions that HRD ministry officials have said that the new institutes will come up in areas where the higher education facilities are not very good. It quotes an HRD official saying that “We will look at new town and cities for establishing the centres of excellence.” Similarly, the Prime minister in 2005, while referring to regional imbalance issue in terms of educational institutions, said “I trust our government as well the state governments will take note of these findings and evolve policies to remedy these regional imbalances.” Another report quoted Prof. Bhalchandra Mungekar, Member (Education), Planning Commission saying: “I suggested that institutes of national importance should be dispersed as widely as possible for balanced regional development.”
However, with the dismal past record of institute locations being decided based on political considerations, even when they worsen regional inequity, citizens of India, especially from the deprived states, need to be watchful. With a bunch of new institutes, with varied budgets coming along, there may be attempts (we hope not) to give an appearance of balance while some of the big ticket items are again located in powerful states, or states with ties to powerful ministers and advisors, and if at all, some smaller budgeted institutes may then be doled to the really deserving but politically unimportant states. In this regard, it is helpful to know the approximate budget numbers for the various institutes. The biggest ticket items are the proposed new IITs. A news report mentions that each of them will need a sustained funding of Rs 650 crores annually for the first six years. In contrast the budget for making an IISER was estimated to be a total of 500 crores over 5-6 years. Thus, just from the locations of the proposed new IITs it will be very clear if regional inequity is being really addressed or if people are being taken for a ride by saying phrases like regional balance, equal opportunity, etc. and really doing something else and when pressed, justifying it with some reasonable sounding arguments. One such possible argument is that IITs need to be located near industries. Fine, now even the deprived states are going after industries and having success in getting them to their states. Another is possibly picking backward areas of already well-funded states. Again, the backward areas in the deprived states are even more backward! One can verify that from the list of 69 most backward districts made under the auspices of the Rajiv Gandhi foundation, which was recently mentioned by a planning commission member during his visit to Orissa.
Dear esteemed Planning Commission and HRD ministry, the citizens of India, especially from the states that are in the bottom of the HRD higher education funding are watching you and hereby put you on notice that you be true to your words and that you look after all of India with equal eyes.