The decision of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to increase the annual fee from Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 90,000 has evoked mixed responses in the city.

Though an expected move, the decision raises questions regarding access to education at the premier institute. While some feel that students — who often spend a couple of lakhs of rupees on coaching for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) — will not really mind the hike, others say the 80 per cent hike in fee for undergraduate courses may systematically keep children from modest backgrounds away.

“Students spend over Rs. 2 lakh on coaching classes. Every deemed university also charges over Rs 4 lakh. Considering the fact that the jobs that you land at IITs pay so well, the hike is quite reasonable,” said R. Karthik, a student of electrical engineering at IIT – Madras. “The hike can ensure that government funds are channelled into research while the fees contribute to infrastructure and management,” he added.

“The fee, even after the hike, is very affordable because most private colleges charge this much. This is also to ensure the fee is not ridiculously subsidised as it is now,” said Bhaskar Ramamurthy, director, IIT- Madras.

Others however were more cautious in their response. R. Balakrishnan, former professor, Anna University, agreed that the current hike was justifiable considering that Rs.50,000 was quite less for an intensive course.

“The IIT brand value is such that students may not think twice about the fee. But at the same time, more hikes may be detrimental to the accessibility of education.”

Also, while the option of loans and high packages may mute concerns over the fee hike, it remains to be seen if the IITs will open their doors to more students from weaker sections.

S. Srinivasan, retired headmaster of a Chennai School, said access will become a serious concern henceforth. “No child going to a government school today can think of paying 90,000” He added that while loans were an option for students, a better idea would be for the Chennai Corporation itself to pay the fee for those children from its schools who make it. “Even if one or two children manage to get through, the others will be motivated,” he said, suggesting that the funds from the education cess that the civic body collects could be used for this purpose. In fact, the Corporation has roped in a coaching institute to train select students for the JEE, but teachers say the examination is way too competitive for their students.

According to Balaji Sampath, JEE trainer, the IITs currently attract students from certain sections of society alone. Despite reservation, merit makes all the difference to a student’s chances of admission. And merit often depends on a student’s social and economic background that would determine access to resources, he observed.

Mr. Balaji also said that while the fee hike is hardly a problem now, the real challenge would be if and when IITs decided to enrol more students from poorer sections. “And that is a complex exercise — interested students in rural areas have to be identified and given affordable, good coaching. Even then, it might be hard for them as many of the schools do not train them adequately in fundamentals,” he said.

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