Are Educational Institutes Elitist?

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

Kalyani Jagadhane

Playing a bit on the former US President Benjamin Franklin’s quote, we begin the article saying that, an investment in education always pays the best interest. However, what if this investment is an unbearable financial burden that most of the individuals can’t even afford to make?

The harsh reality is that the above question can no longer be something that the ‘What If’ YouTube channel can release a video on because it’s a done deed. Education has already become a money-skimming sector and quite a powerful one at that.

For the schooling of a mere toddler, a fortune to such a degree is expended. While our topic will speak of higher education, this "expensive" piece of information certainly puts things in another light and sets a background for the entire globe’s perspective on higher education.

Starting from Southern Asia, the sweep of privatisation throughout India touched almost every sector in the country including education. As if on cue, the private institutions jumped in the competition declining the importance of government schools. The fee-structure offered by those expensive universities for the most sought-after courses such as engineering, medical, management studies, etc. is baffling.

It costs USD 2,000 to 3,000 (INR 2,00,000 to 3,00,000 approx.) for only undergraduate studies. For masters in medical, the price ranges from USD 1,054.57 to USD 13,182.09 (INR 80,000 to 10,00,000 per year), while an MBA from a reputed university can cost you from USD 7,909 to USD 25,045 (INR 6,00,000 to 19,00,000) for the entire course. Phew! (Don't get too relieved, there's more of this coming ahead).

Numbers aren't the only thing that scares us though. Mr Anand Kumar, an Indian mathematics educator, provides education to a set of thirty underprivileged students every year and prepares them for the revered Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) to secure an admission at the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and lead them to a brighter future- all free of cost.

As selfless as his work is, not all people think so. The for-profit and private coaching institutes found this to be a never-healing wound on their reputation, and have sent death threats, made attempts for murder- of Mr Kumar and his non-teaching staff, only because he delivers qualitative education to poor students as against the coaching institutes that charge lakhs for the same. While he still continues his work, the threats to his life continue, even more after his biopic 'Super 30' was released (Highly recommended).

For Mr Kumar, unfortunately, education has come costly (He continues to fight nonetheless and this helps us understand exactly what a dangerous and opportunist outlook some people hold towards education as a sector.

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the most reputed public universities of India, recently made vast modifications in the fee structure- from USD 357.33-423.50 to 727.89-794.07 (INR 27-32,000 to 55-60,000)which resulted in many protests by the students.

(JNU students protesting the fee hike)

The university works to provide qualitative education at costs that make higher schooling accessible to even the financially challenged. However, with its recent changes in tuition fees or even an attempt to do so, one wonders that if a country like India, which upholds values as socialism, puts a price on something as essential as education, what could be the situation all around the world?

The United States, without a doubt, provides the best-in-class education with the Ivy League universities being the jewels of its crown. Obviously enough, in exchange for this invaluable education, the Ivy League charges a hefty tuition cost i.e. USD 56,631 (INR 42,92,374) at an average for undergraduate studies and USD 47,573 (INR 36,05,819) at an average for graduate tuition and fees.

And this speaks only for the top universities. The table below shows us the other universities and their fee structures.

With fees so high, no wonder the American high-schoolers actually say ‘No, thanks’ to this Pandora’s Box, rather than open it and unleash the ultimate hell: the never-ending loans. And the statistics support this.

Through a recent survey taken by MagnifyMoney in the US, where out of total 3,069 students- almost 1900 pupils with loans would consider dropping out of school before graduation to avoid taking on more debt.

Students giving a pass over education only because it’s unaffordable does not speak well. No wonder, “We'll send the smartest one to college” is one of the most-used lines on American sitcoms.

Going slightly to the East, the United Kingdom is another popular choice after the States for higher education. The tuition fees are comparatively lower than from the US, and at the same time, the country offers similar value-based education. Still, an individual studying in the UK will have to pay an average of US $17,000 to 25,000 (INR 12,20,387 to 17,94,687), other living expenses not being included. Researchers have said that only 10% of students in English universities are rich enough to avoid any big debts, while others suffer.

Throughout some Asian and Middle-Eastern countries as well, higher education comes at a large price. Especially at major educational hubs such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, where undergraduate schooling easily exceeds the average US $5000 (INR 3,76,892.57).

We know what you all are thinking. The truth, especially when supported with statistics, is an undeniable mood-killer. However, the ugly truth might have a silver lining after all.

Well, some ten countries can’t really be the representative for the entire globe (Tell that to the G-10 countries). This is why, to strike a balance, when we juxtaposed other countries with the aforementioned examples, we discovered an exhilarating reality.

Nations in Western Europe such as Italy and France fall in a very affordable range of USD 190.40 to 4473.97 (INR 14,357.21 to 3,37,689.22) at public universities while the German public colleges charge no fees at all (Yes, the non-EU/ non-EEA being included. Yay!). The Dutch have set their bars slightly higher than their generous next-door neighbour with the fees being USD 784.28-2,352.83 (INR 59,139.03 to 1,77,426).

The Eastern neighbours of the Deutschland- Poland and Austria offer higher education at USD 126.96-2031.28 (INR 9582.77 to 1,53,318.27).

Not that only the European States are the only ones not treating education as a commodity. A representative of the Latin America, Mexico charges USD 232.28 (INR 17,532.18) and at the same time, one of the Four Asian Tigers, Taiwan provides higher education in the range of USD 1,000 to 4,500 (INR 75,478.65 to 3,44,182.64). And these are not the only ones, there are many others that accompany the above-mentioned examples in this.

All this makes one think: how is it that education, with only some variations in teaching, can be charged so exorbitantly at some places while economically at some?

College is a service, not a product and hence no doubt it doesn’t come cheap. Running a successful university comes with its responsibilities: Meticulous planning regarding government grants, student loans, student exchange programs, salaries of teaching and non-teaching faculty, maintenance of the enviable infrastructure, introducing new programs, initiatives to elevate the ranking and status of your university, and so on.

Therefore, the universities charging bulky fees have reasonable defences for their decisions: That they provide and promote excellence through their institutions. That they must maintain the virtues and merits of their institutions. That the fees are just a small investment to the huge returns students would be receiving in the future. That out of those fees, a large amount goes out to support international and deprived students. That the fees are utilised to have more and more representation from diverse cultures, nationalities, and genders, which may simply be impossible without the funding.

Mr. Radhakrishnan Pillai, a renowned Indian expert in management and consulting, has stated that, "if you have a choice between someone who will provide you with the noblest skills at a hefty price and someone who will grant you tolerable skills at a lower cost, you should always opt for the former one." While his statement justifies the stance of the high-profile universities, it is also true that if one wishes and deserves the best-in-class education but doesn’t have a single buck to pay for it, should they have to give up on that dream?

It cannot be ignored that a large number of students remain behind because of the high costs that they may not be able to pay, either because of certain regulations or because of them not fitting in a particular criterion. And if middle-class students find it difficult to get an education, one can only imagine what this must be doing to the millions of innocents spread throughout the world who cannot study only because they lack the resources.

It remains a shame that something as materialistic as money can prove to be an obstacle to acquiring education. Education is not a luxury, it is a right, and everyone, no matter what political or economic or social boundaries, should have access to it. Just as the Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai says,

"Education is neither Eastern or Western. Education is education and it’s the right of every human being."


1. Mr. Pillai's statement wasn't used for universities, it has only been referenced here. From his book: 'Corporate Chanakya'.

2. The spending of rich NY parents:

3. Cost of UG studies in India:,to%20up%20to%202000%20USD.

4. Cost of medical (MBBS) colleges in India:

5. MBA colleges fees in India:

6. Anand Kumar:

7. The fee hike at Jawaharlal Nehru University:

8. Ivy league fee structure:

9. US tuition in other universities:

10. MoneyMagnify US survey and pie-chart:

11. Cost of studying in the United Kingdom:,live%20inside%20or%20outside%20London).

12. Only 10% of English students avoid any big debts:

13. Cost of undergraduate education in Seoul, Tokyo, and Hong Kong:,are%20known%20to%20charge%20higher,year%20in%20an%20undergraduate%20program.

14. Fees in Italy:

15. Fees in France:,same%20amount%20as%20for%20Europeans.

16. Tuition in Germany:,many%20other%20countries%20in%20Europe.

17. Fee structure in the Netherlands:'re%20from%20the,%2C%20Master's%2C%20or%20PhD).

18. Cost of higher education in Poland:,academic%20year%20for%20Bachelor's%20degrees

19. Fees charged in Austria:

20. Tuition in Mexico:

21. Fee structure in Taiwan:

Please note that apart from India's MBA programme, all educational fees mentioned here are charged per annum.

Also, the article has been written while keeping domestic students in mind. International students are not being referred to, here.

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