Economists of most hues have for long, proposed that governments have no business funding higher education, and so must focus on primary education while leaving the pursuers of higher education to bear its costs. Among them are highly rated leftist economists like Amartya Sen. The current UPA government, advised by the left-dominated National Advisory Council seems to agree with this school of thought.
Nothing, I repeat, nothing could be more dangerous to the economic future of this country.
India is today acknowledged as an emerging economic power, led by her strengths in 'high-technology' areas. How did we, a 'poor' country, manage to get such strengths? Simple - it was because of the innate Indian respect for higher education, and the opportunity provided by successive governments by keeping costs low. If we have the world's second (or third) largest pool of talented man-power, it is mainly because of our 'cheap' higher education. Imagine, would Kalam have completed his bachelor's if he had to pay the equivalent of 25,000 US$ for a year? Would Amartya Sen have gone to Presidency college if he had to pay 20 lakhs for a degree?
Not to forget the point about equal opportunity. While our leftist ideologues cry themselves hoarse over equal opportunity, how can they forget about equal opportunity in higher education? Why should higher education be the preserve of the rich (which will be the result if the government withdraws from higher education)? What our leftist pals seem to say is: "It is OK for me, (put the name of your favourite idealogue here) to get affordable higher education, but it is not OK for others". Animal Farm, anyone?
Primary education is extremely important, yes. But so is higher education. It is higher education that will give students the skills to survive in tomorrow's world - where jobs will be based on creativity and high technology, not on mass-manufacturing. It is research funding that leads to technological innovations and breakthroughs, not mass-manufacturing. But, when were the leftists interested in technology anyway?
Finally, the background to the leftist argument. The scarcity mentality. "Oh! we are a poor country, and we have too many people. So, we can't afford higher education, we can't afford nuclear power, ad infiniteum". I am no economist, but I am sure that a fraction of the money the government spends on itself or a fraction of the black money in India will suffice to finance higher education for our masses.