New Delhi: A proposal to raise fees for courses at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) has been shelved ahead of the Bihar assembly elections, but more scholarships may be offered to students from economically weaker sections once the hike is enforced.

An IIT professor, who declined to be named, said the human resources development (HRD) ministry deferred the sensitive fee hike proposal at a meeting of the IIT Council, which is headed by HRD minister Smriti Irani, on Tuesday. However, a decision on it may be taken in the next two months—“especially after the Bihar elections", the professor said.

Elections to the Bihar assembly are to be held in five phases running from 12 October to 5 November.

The council has indicated that the ministry is in favour of providing financial hand-holding to needy students after the fee hike takes place.

“A committee of directors would examine ways to enhance loans to students, and maintain and enhance scholarships to needy students, especially those from the SC (Scheduled Caste)/ST (Scheduled Tribe)/economically weaker sections," the HRD ministry said in a statement after the IIT Council meeting.

The official statement, however, did not elaborate why needy students need more financial hand-holding or more scholarships when they currently pay just 10% of the fees that IITs charge “well-off" students.

IITs are seeking to increase course fees to recover recurring costs from student fees. At present, IITs charge up to 90,000 per year as tuition fees from its “well-off" students.

SC and ST students (22% of the total student strength) as well as those belonging to economically weaker sections with a family income of less than 4.5 lakh per annum need to pay only 10% of the fees. IITs last raised tuition fees from 50,000 a year to 90,000 a year in 2013. IITs spend over 3 lakh on each student every year.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Council set up two committees—one to reduce the impact of coaching in the admission outcome at IITs, and another to devise a way to introduce a single entrance exam for both IITs and the National Institutes of Technology instead of the current two-tier joint entrance exam (JEE).

“The current system of admission through a two-stage entrance was reviewed by the Council. It was decided that the system would be examined in depth by a group of eminent persons to determine whether it needed modification. Their recommendations would be provided by the first week of November 2015," the ministry said in its statement.

“The Council proposed a funding mechanism for IITs that would appreciably enhance government investments for building world-class infrastructure," the HRD ministry said in a statement after the meeting in Mumbai.

Irani told the meeting, comprising all IIT directors and their chairperson, that efforts would be made to build “IITs into robust and autonomous institutions, and... global centres of knowledge".

A 2011 report by the government-appointed Anil Kakodkar Committee, called Taking IITs to Excellence and Greater Relevance, suggested a hike in tuition fees to pay for increasing running expenses at IITs and allow the institutes greater financial autonomy.

The ministry said on Tuesday that a Peer-group Assisted Learning (PAL) system will be put in place in order to help students meet the challenges of an intensive, rigorous and focused educational system. “Under this, bright senior students would hand-hold the weak students; IITs would work out further details," the statement said. IITs will also strive to admit foreign students with a preference being given to students from South Asian and African countries to bring diversity in the campus.

India has 18 IITs, with three more set to start operations from 2016.

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