Why we need the JNU model

Why we need the JNU model

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A recently released report of the National Statistical Organisation (NSO) is an eye-opener for all those who care about the educational, social and economic development of the country. It shows that affordable education is out of the reach of most students mainly because of financial constraints. A 2017-18 survey on which the report is based showed that only 10.6% of the Indian population aged above 15 years has successfully completed a graduate degree course. This proportion is only 5.7% in rural India and 8.3% among women. The proportion of graduates in the same age group was 8.2% as per the 2011 census. These are poor and very inadequate figures for a country that aspires to reap the demographic dividend of a young population.

The main reason for these poor figures is the cost of higher education, which is beyond the means of most families. The average annual cost of graduate education is Rs 10,501 in a government college and Rs 19,972 in an unaided institution. The expenditure is Rs 38,180 and Rs 72,712, respectively, for technical courses. As per the income data available from another NSO survey, the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 45% of the regular workers, 60% of the self-employed and almost all casual workers earned less than Rs 10,000 a month. Most families will not be able to set apart a part of that income for the higher education of children. The PLFS data also shows that the proportion of the population (15 years and above) with a graduate or a higher degree is much lower for the socially backward sections than for others. Muslims fare worse than the Scheduled Castes in this respect. 

The figures show that there is the need for effective steps to enable more students, especially those from the weaker sections, to access higher education. Subsidised education is one option. It should be noted that even the existing subsidies are inadequate. The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) model of cheap education has helped many, and the criticism of high subsidies should be seen in this light. The spending on education, which is only 2.7% of the GDP, needs to be raised and productively deployed to make education more inclusive and participatory. In the present socio-economic situation in the country, the state has to play a much bigger role to attract students from the bottom rungs of society to higher education. No comprehensive development is possible when 90% of the population does not get education that goes beyond school-level. The country should also reckon with the huge loss of skill and talent that this reality entails.    

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