[Editorial Analysis] Autonomy and Patience

Mains Paper: 2 | Education

Prelims level: Institute of Eminence

Mains level: Issues relating development a management Social Sector/Service relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


• The debate essentially centres around one question: Should institutions of excellence be about good students, with little focus on infrastructure, or should they be about world-class facilities that only a select few can afford?

• In other words, is education a merit good or should education policies follow the public choice theory?

• Economist Richard Musgrave, the merit goods concept states that policies dealing with services like education and health should focus on people’s needs rather than their ability to pay.

Factors responsible for educational institution development

• The theory has influenced the privatisation of pension, healthcare and higher education in the US. None of these theories are perfect.

• Most of the English-speaking world has followed in the footsteps of the US, while the non-English part of the developed world has kept the idea of merit goods alive.

• Both schools accept that privately funded education can never become the backbone of a nation’s education system.

• It can, however, reduce the social burden by providing quality education to a willing few.

• Such institutions can also provide benchmarks for public sector institutions.
• In the US, for example, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Brown and other Ivy League colleges set the standards in higher education.

• However, it took Harvard University some 300 years to become what it is today. Stanford University took more than 50 years to establish itself among the top global universities.

• There are no shortcuts towards the creation of world-class universities.

Way forward

• However, the pressure of revenue generation, along with the demands of profitability, has pushed many a private sector educational institution from deviating from its original lofty goal.

• We should ask if we are ready to give these institutes the environment, time and resources to work on their original vision.

• Simultaneously, the government needs to ensure that merit goods like quality higher education do not end up at the mercy of public choice theory.

• Philanthropists need to understand the long-term nature of higher education goals.

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