Engineering, diploma institutes in South bristle at AICTE's new fee structure
The regulator wants to increase the minimum fee; this could hit rural students, for whom the low-cost courses are a good way to land a job after graduation
The new fee structure released recently for engineering and diploma courses by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) is facing fierce opposition from educationists across the country. A major bone of contention over this fee structure happens to be the minimum annual fee to be collected from students.
The AICTE had constituted a committee headed by Justice Srikrishna to review the existing fee structure and to fix norms and guidelines for charging tuition and other fees. The committee submitted its report in August 2021.
After that, the report was sent to all the states for comments; till date, only 11 have given their comments. Tamil Nadu, for one, has not sent its comments and also remains silent on this issue. After receiving the comments, the AICTE had constituted another sub-committee to review the states’ observations.
The Union Education Ministry has reportedly accepted the committee’s suggestions and it is expected that the new fee structure will be in force from this academic year. The fee structure was changed last in 2015, when the AICTE had fixed a maximum fee band.
The new fee structure will be in place for the next five years.
The new fee structure
According to the fee structure committee report, an undergraduate engineering student should pay a minimum annual fee of ₹79,600; the upper limit has been capped at ₹1,89,800. Similarly, a postgraduate student has to pay a minimum fee of ₹1,41,200 to colleges and the maximum has been capped at ₹3,04,000. For three-year diploma courses, the minimum and maximum annual fees ₹67,900 and ₹1,40,900, respectively.
“No institute will be able to offer the quality education at lower costs than the prescribed fees unless it can finance the deficit through other resources without compromising standards and quality of education,” the report stated as one of the reasons for hiking the fees.
‘A blow to middle-class aspirations’
Earlier, there was no minimum limit and, in order to attract students, private colleges used to reduce their fees. But now, the AICTE insists that colleges should not reduce the fees and should not collect fees below the minimum limit just to fill the seats. Instead, it has asked the colleges to increase their standard of education.
S Bharath, a Chennai-based educational counsellor, feels it’s not in the AICTE’s place to fix fee structures. “Its duty is to monitor the infrastructure of the colleges,” he told The Federal. “This is akin to the Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) fixing food prices.” The FSSAI, it may be noted, regulated the quality of food, not prices.
“This new fee structure will not only deprive opportunities to rural students but it will be a blow to middle-class aspirations. Because, after medicine, engineering courses are the second choice for them,” said Bharat.
According to him, the new fee structure is the outcome of pressure being applied by private colleges in the north. “A student can get quality education at a low cost in states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In the North, the fees are exorbitant. So, a lot of students come to the Southern states every year. Hence, the colleges in the North had filed a case in the Delhi High Court to fix a minimum fee threshold,” said Bharath.
Faculty pay and infrastructure
However, the minimum fee seeks to address the issue of faculty pay and infrastructure, which are often brought down to make the low-cost courses viable for the institution. “The minimum fees thus provide for the compensation for the minimum expenditure that an institute will have to make to maintain a minimum level of infrastructure and human resources,” said the Srikrishna committee report. “It is expected that the human resources are also paid salaries at least at the minimum level of scales.”
Commenting about the salaries paid to the faculties in engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, Bharath said the condition is abysmal.
An associate professor should have completed his master’s degree and have research and teaching experience to get a maximum salary of up to ₹40,000, while the minimum salary for an assistant professor starts from ₹18,000, he said. Under current AICTE norms, they would be paid as per the 6th Pay Commission recommendations.
“At a time when most of the engineering colleges have just started to implement the 6th Pay Commission, the AICTE has started to talk about the 7th Pay Commission, which is nothing but absurd,” he said.
Issue of filling seats
Agreeing with Bharath’s claim, S Mohamed Jaleel, founder and chairman, Sethu Institute of Technology, Virudhunagar, said the current faculty salaries are below the AICTE’s norms because many colleges are unable to fill seats.
“Supply is higher than the demand in Tamil Nadu. A couple of years ago, the AICTE decided to shut down the engineering colleges that have two-digit student intake. If that could have been done, we would have been able to pay salaries according to AICTE norms.
“The state has 2.80 lakh seats. But only 1.20 lakh seats are filled. Now, if the AICTE increases the fees, it will be difficult to run the colleges,” said Jaleel, who is also president of the Tirunelveli Anna University Self-financing Engineering Colleges Management Association, which took part in the AICTE fee fixation meetings.
Question of ethics
Talking to The Federal, KM Karthik, a former assistant professor with an engineering college and currently an educational activist, said that most of the engineering colleges in the state are following two kinds of wage structures.
“One is the accounted wage and the other is the actual wage we receive in hand. The accounted wage is based on the AICTE norms. But only a handful of colleges follow it. The actual wage is paid as per the discretion of colleges,” said Karthik, who filed a case in 2020 at the Madras High Court seeking to direct the AICTE to fix a minimum wage for engineering faculties at private colleges.
“It is immoral for the AICTE to cite faculty salary as a reason to increase the fees,” said Karthik, who is also founder of All India Private Colleges Employees Union, Trichy.
He added that if colleges started to collect fees from the students through banks, instead of their own cash counters, it would shed light on whether they are adhering to norms. “If that becomes accountable, then the faculty salaries will also become accountable,” he said.
He also pointed out that tier-3 colleges, which are located in rural areas, play a critical role because they help the economically weaker students to become engineers. Otherwise, these students lack the means to pursue higher studies in cities. If the new fee structure gets implemented that would be a death knell to rural colleges, Karthik added.
Notably, the annual fees fixed by the state fee fixation committee for undergraduate engineering courses is ₹54,000. If the new fee structure comes into place, a student has to pay nearly ₹80,000.
“A 10 per cent increase in fees is acceptable. But this is a 40-50 per cent increase, which is just not acceptable,” Karthik said.
A large number of rural students join polytechnic colleges after completing class 10. The fees are low and the diploma courses guarantee them minimum employment opportunities in an industrial state like Tamil Nadu.
According to the new AICTE fee structure, a three-year diploma course student has to pay a minimum annual fee of nearly ₹70,000. But in Tamil Nadu, the fee fixed by the state committee is somewhere between ₹2,000 and ₹3,000 per year, in state-run polytechnic colleges. Even in private colleges, the fees for three years would not exceed ₹30,000.
Educationists fear that the new fee structure would have a negative impact on the industrial atmosphere in the state.
KE Raghunathan, convenor, Consortium of Indian Associations, however, has another view on the issue. This is a ‘survival of the fittest’ kind of issue and only those colleges which are ready to balance the fee increase and the student’s intake can make a difference, he said.
“However, on the positive side, if the fee increases, the quality of the education will also go up. That will enhance the employability skills of the students,” he said.