Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Vice-Chancellors from across the country were on Thursday opposed to any further hike in the fee structure as the “cost recovery from students is already very high.” Since the thrust of the government in the XI Five Year Plan is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) to 15 per cent, the dominant view from among the Vice-Chancellors on the contentious issue of fee hike was that it would be counter-productive.

Cost recovery from students is already in the range of 40 to 50 per cent, and so the scope of generating resources for higher education through fee hike is limited. This was the conclusion arrived at the end of the two-day national conference of Vice-Chancellors on the ‘Development of Higher Education: Expansion, Inclusion and Excellence’ organised by the University Grants Commission (UGC) here.

Agreeing with the triple objective of expansion, inclusion and excellence set for higher education by UGC, the Vice-Chancellors were of the view that the target GER at the end of the XI Plan should be in the vicinity of 20 per cent and not 15 per cent as proposed by the government. While conceding the need for setting up new institutions, their stress was on enhancing the capacity of existing ones as this strategy would be more expedient.

On location of new universities, there was broad consensus on the need to move away from metropolitan cities and State capitals to backward and rural areas where the GER is lower than the national average. Also, it was observed that mere expansion would not make higher education inclusive. “This will require a pro-active approach and strategies for removing the regional and social imbalances.”

Though the VCs did not have any quarrel with the emphasis on professional education, they said it should not be at the cost of humanities and pure sciences. In view of the stress on expansion and quality, concern was expressed about faculty shortages.

Addressing the valedictory function, Union Minister for Science & Technology Kapil Sibal said the need of the hour was a paradigm shift; “not just a tinkering with the process.” Stating that the Vice-Chancellors had set themselves a tall order by suggesting a GER in the range of 20 per cent in five years, he said even allocation to the tune of six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product for education would not solve all the problems facing this sector which was described as “the sick child of education” by Union Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh on Wednesday at the opening session of the conference.

Dwelling on his Minister’s observation, HRD Secretary R.P. Agarwal said the realisation that “we need to nourish the impoverished child” was a positive step as it makes the country confront the issue instead of brushing it under the carpet. Disclosing the Ministry’s intention to promote research in universities by increasing the cash component of the Junior Research Fellowships and Senior Research Fellowships to close to lecturer salary levels, Mr. Agarwal stressed the need to strike a balance between research and teaching so that the latter does not languish for want of quality candidates.