A dream being undone in Andhra Pradesh

Even as the dozen newly started universities in the state languish for want of funds, functioning from rented buildings, with no faculty and therefore no teaching, a prestigious higher education experiment has literally sized down.

The high-sounding International Institutes of Information Technology, started two years ago as the pet project of the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy to tap and promote rural talent, have been asked to cut their student intake this year by half. The government has made it clear that it has no funds to develop the IIITs as they were planned to, on par with the prestigious IITs.

Three IIITs were set up in three regions of the state by YSR two years ago: in the temple town of Basar in Adilabad district, in Nuzvid in Krishna district and Idupulapaya in Kadapa district. They were to be developed as centres of excellence under the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies. They offered an ‘integrated’ course of six years for students who had passed SSC. In the last two years, 12,000 students were admitted in the three campuses, each campus taking 2,000 students.

Rural IT education

The entire pool of students was drawn from rural schools. The project drew praise: Congress president Sonia Gandhi who inaugurated the Idupulapaya campus in 2008 said it was ushering in a revolution in rural IT education. Former President A P J Abdul Kalam, who visited Nuzvid campus early this year, said the IIITs were contributing to bridging the yawning rural-urban divide in IT education.

The government however now finds the IIITs a burden it cannot bear. The IIITs were allocated Rs 300 crore in the 2008 budget but only Rs 245 crore was released. Similarly, in 2009 as against the budgeted allocation of Rs 600 crore only 245 crore were released. This year the IIITs have projected a budget of Rs 864 crore but the government has allotted a mere Rs 400 crore.

Although the IIITs have come up with alternative ways to fund themselves, the government has rejected them saying 36,000 students (over six years) would be an ‘unbearable burden’ on the state exchequer even in future. Educationists have objected to this callousness towards education as they believe that expenditure on education should not be treated as a burden. “The government should cut back on unnecessary expenditure on other fronts,” said a teacher on condition of anonymity.

There are others who believe the Rosaiah government is not keen on encouraging these institutions at the cost of others, especially in view of the financial crunch the state is facing. However, all the three IIITs maintain that the present infrastructure built up in the last two years on their campuses will take care of the intake of 2,000 students this year. They deny the government’s claim that the state cabinet decided to cut back on the intake by half on a recommendation of the management committee of that oversees the three IIITs.

Yet others point out that it was not fair that half of the budget for higher education be allocated to the IIITs. The most affected by these ‘lopsided’ allocations are the newly started universities as part of YSR’s goal of starting a university in every single 23 districts of the state. Officials point out that out of a budget of Rs 862 crore for the current academic year allocated to 31 institutes of higher education that include 27 universities, half of the amount is allocated for the three IIITs.

It is clear that there is an ongoing tussle between various educational institutions as they struggle to survive on meagre funds released by fund-strapped government. The education department is divided into pro and anti-IIIT camps that essentially translate into anti- and pro-YSR groups. In this game of one-upmanship in the corridors of power, those who come out the losers are the rural students.

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