Education is the key to prosperity and development As India moves forward into a knowledge economy, everybody from the politician to the labourer knows how important it is for his children to get a good education. However, education costs money, especially higher education.

Cost aside, the large numbers of students across the country who try to get in to a good institute of higher education know how tough the competition is. There are too few seats and far too many seekers. For the economically backward the choice gets even narrower.

It has been proved time and again that private institutions do a better job of providing quality education. Government schools remain populated with the poorest of the students and even though they follow the standard syllabus that other private schools follow, they seldom pass out with any skills that can help them face the future challenges in pursuing further education.

As a result most of them are unable to cope up with entrance exams that could give them a chance at higher education. Even if they do pass the merit barrier, they fail the barrier of its high cost.

Even as the government rules higher education with a heavy hand, the demand for it far outstrips the supply. Filling this gap is the unaided private institution. Most run as commercial enterprises with profiteering and capitation fees dictating admissions. However, though there are exceptions most of them are providing quality education.

The Supreme Court of India in a recent judgment banned the imposition of reservations in unaided private institutions. The political class was greatly frustrated by this verdict. Politicians need the vote bank of the poor and the disadvantaged who remain a majority in the Indian population. Political leaders even sought to pass a legislation to circumvent the judiciary.

The question that we need to address is — can the state force reservations on private institutions?

It is important for the government to recognize the need to only regulate education and not control it. The state lacks funds in filling the gap between demand and supply for higher education. There are students willing to pay fees in dollars to third-rate foreign universities. Private investment seems to be the only answer in improving education facilities within the country. By imposing the quota raj it would be dispelling interested investors.

The answer to providing the poor and the underprivileged better access to higher education would be to regulate the education sector with an accreditation body. This body should undertake the work of rating private institutions according to their performance. Institutions should be de-recognized for exploitation or discrimination of students. They could be directed to reserve some percentage of seats for the economically weak but meritorious students. The focus should be on regulating their quality and not their fees. The free market is the best controller for fixing the price of education. If an institute charging high fees is not able to produce good students, it will only lose its reputation. Institutions can sustain their high price tag only if they deliver the land of return they promise to their students. Institutions that reserve certain efforts in promoting education among the socially backward should be given financial incentives.

If a student hope to add marketability to his skills and earn money by doing a professional, course it is but natural that the institute teaching him the skills will also want a part of the money.

Instead of reservations, the government should focus on equal primary education for all, so that the work force of tomorrow is at least well equipped in other life skills.