June 2006


In a characteristic display of the Indian governance system's boundless stupidity, the Income-Tax department has asked colleges and universities to hand over the names of those parents who have been paying upwards of one lakh rupees ( approximately USD 2222 ) per annum in tution fees for the past four years.

I am no commerce student, but it doesn't take an Amartya Sen to divine the consequences of such action. Colleges and universities, especially the private ones, are going to lower their stated tution fees, while raising the bar for capital donations paid under-the-table. This way, parents get away with a lighter receipt, while the academic corporation gets to 'over-under-declare' their income.

The educational system is already ailing. The prevalent practise of hush-donations ensure that the financial conditions of academic institutions are formally discussed in terms of how little they make compared to how much they need – a farcical argument at best, given that we have college founders who have, in ten years time, built educational empires that span seven campuses, each providing engineering, medical and management degrees. All the more, these institutes also, on account of their stated siutation, receive funding from the University Grants Commision (UGC) – taxpayer money. Which eventually adds up to the parent already being forced to pay thrice to put his kid through college – taxes, tution fees and donations. And for doing so, they become the new targets of the I-T department, never mind the politician's son who owns a Walther PPK that cost his father a whopping forty lakhs (USD 88,888), or another who drives a twenty-five lakh rupee (USD 55,000) bike. Our bureaucracy's dedication to serving public interest is rather overwhelming.

Instead, I think it would be a better idea to provide a much larger tax-break for education fees – better yet, make college fees tax free. This ensures that the parent has an incentive of getting a receipt for every rupee he spends, which in turn allows the I-T department to get a clearer picture of just how much money colleges and universities make, and tax their profits accordingly. More importantly, it encourages parents to invest in their wards' education – an already strong sentiment amongst Indian families worldwide.

But perhaps the most important advantage such measures might bring is the ability to openly discuss how our educational institutions spend the money they make. I am not really interested in spending money for my kid's college education if the administration ends up pooling all that cash into a gigantic front lawn that costs upwards of one crore rupees (USD 222,222) per annum to maintain. I'd rather my kid has access to better equipped libraries, twenty-four hour open laboratories and reasonably clean, well-lit and ventilated classrooms.

Not to mention qualified teachers who love who they are and what they do.

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The exams are finally over, and amongst other things, I will return to writing this blog again.

I didn't expect things to turn this way. I thought that the final exams would be a precursor to an alleviation of mental pressure and plenty of free time. Instead, I find myself bracing for a final project review, followed by a job hunt that might take some time to be realised. And once I get a job, there's always skill gathering to do, not to mention extra classes/work on the side. And all this must be planned too, if I'm to make something of myself.

If anything, the game's risen. Conquer one mountain, only to conquer another…