Prof. Suman Mukhopadhyay on Students Loan

There is an urban bias in all our plans. In the present occupational structure, the agrarian and rural sector provide sustenance for majority of Indians . It is only now, we are thinking of penetrating this sector with Gramin Banks so, it is inevitable, that there is no penetration of students loan for the country. The problem with banks is they do not provide loans with adequate collaterals, nor do they hold the guarantors strictly accountable for repayment of these loans. As such, the brighter students are allowed to leave the country – without the sponsoring institutions being made a party to the disbursed loanable funds.

If defaulters in tax payments have strictures on going abroad, why then migrating students not settle their outstanding loans before they leave the country? The sponsoring institutions abroad ought to be held responsible for repayment of these outstandings. The brain drain is more a financial tranche to foster development of other countries – borrowing Indian human resource – in the name of providing opportunity for self-development or career advancement of these students. The opportunity cost the exchequer of GOI for educating a graduate or a professional in India is far more than expressed in the fees charged from the students. In that way, everyone is virtually on a scholarship. The trouble is few students realized the debt they owe to the country.

Any scheme to assist students and youth to pursue higher education is commendable. It is significant that an IT – based student Financial Aid Authority will be set up to administer and monitor scholarships and loan schemes through Pradhan Mantri Vidya Lakshmi Karyakram. “Indian youth have to be both educated and employable for jobs” – there can be no refutation to this contention. Additionally, the National Skills Mission set up under Scheme Development and Entrepreneurship Ministry is, indeed, a laudable initiative, as this is primarily aimed at increasing the employability of rural youth population. However, when these initiatives is seen against the backdrop of a 16.5% slashed funds for the education sector in the 2015 – 16 Union Budget ; with a sharp drop of almost 25% cut in the school sector – which has the highest dropout rates in the world with poor quality primary education – the vision of our education policy does get rather blurred. Secondary education is important , but only after primary education and this is “primary” to any education policy. It is pertinent to point out that there can be no greater inequality than to provide equality amongst “unequals” .

How many students, especially in the rural areas, can be provided with tutors for four to five subjects ? How do we expect these students to compete with their counter parts in major metros for a common examination? What we call “merit” is often reflected on parents’ ability to provide financial support in pursuance of knowledge. Given this background , scholarships for the middle and poor classes will have little beneficial impact. It could have been better, if the government had thought of taking initiatives to reserve seats , say, 50% and paid for them dedicated for admission of students from low income groups and rural backgrounds. There are some excellent institutions, run by Missionaries (both Catholic and under Ramakrishna Mission etc.) that provides true education, regardless of class profile. GOI who do well to ask these institutions to penetrate deep and wide in the country to foster primary and secondary education.

Providing higher education at subsidized rate needs greater scrutiny. The GOI should essentially fund primary and secondary education and carefully develop research institutions, skill training, IT institutes, soft skill development centres. Higher Education should be left for the truly deserving and scholarships should be provided ‘with a human face’ and not on an abstract sense of merit. Such scholarships must be deemed as a loan which ought to be repaid with a minimum tenure as service to the nation. Else, we will be on the receiving end spending money on students who work for other countries.

Education is essential for character building , physical education, confidence, motivation and self esteem . In this regard, the government must address issues on life skills, soft skills, human values and getting to know what India is and needs to be. Religion is important but that can wait. Realization is eminent and is the manifestation of expression and belief. Funding in this regard is crucial and priceless.

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