The Supreme Court’s direction to IIT Bombay for granting admission to a student who was denied admission due to his inability to pay fees must be an eye-opener to the regulators. Apex Court has exercised powers under Article 142 and passed the order for creating a seat to admit him and called such instance of denying admission as ‘great travesty of justice because it happened despite the student’s attempt to pay fees. The seriousness in hearing a genuine case with a humanitarian approach by the top Court of the country deserves acclamation. The issue is not limited to the mere grant of admission to one destitute student, who could approach the Supreme Court after being unheard in the Bombay High Court. Also, such relief may not eventuate in all such cases of impoverished deprivation.
In one more petition on similar deprivation of a financially weak student from admission in IIT BHU, the Allahabad High Court Judge namely Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh ordered for creation of a supernumerary seat to admit the said student and oluntarily paid her fees himself.
This nucleates serious thinking on penury offsetting the merit of children who are termed the future. This is astounding at a time when a lot of hype is created around access and equity in education. Does it not germinate a few basic questions like, ‘how many talented students discontinue education on account of financial constraints?’, ‘how easy to get financial support in continuing education?’, and ‘are educational institutions capable of tapping talented students or merely operating mechanically to grant admissions following stereotyped format?’. Whatsoever may be the answer to these, the financial incapacitation of students leading to their dropping out of the formal education system is not ruled out. Sometimes, this happens even before the commencement of their journey in the certain course(s) or leaving it in between and moving on for some job to run livelihood of the family.
As per a survey of the National Statistical Office (NSO), one out of every eight students enrolled in school or college drop out of the education system before completing their education in India. This has also emerged as a serious concern in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and measures like reintegration by aligning the practical experience of dropout with the relevant level of the National Skills Qualifications Framework to facilitate mobility across ‘general’ and vocational education is prescribed therein.
With the gross enrolment ratio in higher education being slightly more than 26.29 for boys and 26.36 for girls, the lack of access to higher education is undeniable. In response to certain questions in parliament, the ministry has informed about falling dropout rates in IITs, IIMs, and other higher education institutions, which points to amelioration through student counseling, mentorship, and peer-assisted learning. However, poverty-stricken students failing to seek admission in a particular programme due to non-deposition of fees is highly worrisome and not coming into the glare. In most of these situations, students consider it as their destiny and remain deprived of opportunities. The moot point is that the availability of money for pursuing the dream of any child at the time of need depends on the financial health of the respective family and the child is not at fault for indigence.
These two instances of court interventions in facilitating admission in professional courses in the prestigious institutions of the country in the 2021-22 session sufficiently cue that the proclamations of access and equity are far from realities at ground zero.
Philosophically, the abilities and competence of anyone cannot be linked to their monetary strength and the money should never become a deterrent in capitalizing on the best brains for being trained to contribute for the good of humanity. One cannot foresee the potential of any child at the time of starting study in some course, nevertheless the loss of opportunity to study further to anyone could incur an irreparable loss as everyone has unique and unparalleled specialties & capabilities.
Undoubtedly, the Government has made enormous provisions for a tuition fee waiver, scholarships, and subsidized education to poor children from all cross-sections of society. But sometimes the extreme poverty and social conditions may make it impossible for students to be able to get admitted into a course in time and seek these advantages.
Looking at the other possible remedy for meeting out deficient financial resources to study further, bank finance comes to mind immediately. Still the process of getting bank funds could be quite cumbersome for those who find certain enablers for bank loans being not amenable to them procedurally. The bank loaning process needs reworking for impecunious students. In nutshell, the pauperized socio-economic conditions predominate the process of securing funds from different means, and there exists no remedy for battening socio-economic conditions. Therefore, the issue of any student getting deprived of the opportunity to study calls for honest introspection and finding a well-reasoned strategy to negotiate occasions of individual losing opportunity to study as per his/her competence on the want of money.
With the access to higher education being in public and private sector both, the former being public-funded type has greater responsibility in provisioning higher education to all deserving ones. The private sector institutions being self-financed type must also ponder upon keeping access to higher education for few such financially weak but talented students under their philanthropic initiatives.
Unequivocally, the collective efforts of the Government, regulators, and educational institutions will be able to catch hold of the best talents in educational programmes and nurture them with the best quality education, skills, and competencies so that every young mind can contribute for good of humanity at large. It may not be possible for every needy student to approach Court and seek remedy for the problems emanating out of lack of money with them. Also, India’s demographic dividend compels us to delve into all such poverty-centric socio-economic challenges and circumvent them through suitably so that the youth power can be best used for sustainable development and prosperity.