November 2010
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Indian Philanthropy in Education

"The real power of money is the power to give it away". This quote has been preached once and again by our industry leaders, however, when it comes to putting it into practice, there's always a missing link - contribution for a real need. Philanthropic donations may fill pages of records of social responsiveness, for instance the recent activities of Anand Mahindra and Ratan Tata, the titans of Mahindra and Tata groups, threw light on their affinity towards their alma-mater Harvard. Mahindra donated $10 million, and Tata within a fraction of a month realized to dot the same line doling out a whopping $50 million for Harvard. As an alma-mater a biased affection can be understood, yet is it justified considering the lethargic funding scenario in Indian institutes?

The apathy of private funding in Indian institutes is quite visible from the fact that there has been no significant generosity bestowed upon them since years. The most prominent fundings were the $5 million and $1 million donation to IIT Delhi and IIT Mumbai by Vinod Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and Avi Nash, Advisory Director of Goldman Sachs back in 2003. It is Infosys Chief Narayana Murthy, one of the noted alumni of IITs whose continuous contribution towards his alma mater has till date resulted in around $8 million contribution.

It was Murthy, who had once pointed out in IIT's CBS journal the high standards of the Indian institutes, whereby he acknowledged that merit is the only core factor to get admitted in them, unlike in many top notch schools of the West. "My son Rohan Murty wanted to do Computer Science at IIT. To do CS at IIT, you have to be in top 200 - he couldn't do that - so he went to Cornell instead. I do know cases where students who couldn't get into CS at IITs, but they have got scholarships at MIT, at Princeton, at Caltech," he reveals, which clearly pinpoints that institutes in India have a sole merit purpose. They are not guided by notions like "donate and get admissions reserved" - a trend which prevents them from being the family education hub of the elite class. Hence could this be the deterring factor for private donations, as top notch institutes of U.S. offer better degree options to a donor's family?

Scanning the pages of dole-outs by Indians reveal institutes like Harvard, Cornell being beneficiaries of these acts of gratitude earlier too. What everyone conveniently tends to forget is the importance of the home-grown universities which have maintained their high education standards amidst financial crisis. HRD Minister Kapil Sibal pointed out that the government continues to be the principal provider of funds for institutions that turn out elite cadres of engineers and management experts. This means that the IITs and IIMs are essentially driven by fee income from undergraduate students. For most comparable institutions anywhere in the world, fee income forms a small part of the funding pattern. For most of the part, it's non-fee income that drives the funding or in other words it's the generous private funding that builds them up.

There is hardly a rational contribution made by Indians towards the Western institutes. A deeper probe into Mahindra's donation shows his intent to make the humanities section of Harvard university more prominent, while at the same time he maintains that the support is in the honor of his mother, Indira Mahindra, a well known Indian author. Now, this turns on confusion as Indira Mahindra did not have any Harvard humanities background, hence, a better utilization may have been by funding the humanities department of an India based university. A grant of $10 million would have also helped in turning around the common apathy that people in India have towards a career in humanities. "This is a very sad, yet a true fact. People in India do frown upon people who take up further studies in social sciences and humanities as they don't see the value in it," says an Indian student in his blog post. Tata's contribution to support the broad range of executive education at Harvard, though is less ambiguous, yet fails to make an impact for a real purpose as Harvard stands among the top three institutes for management programs. Hence, a $50 million building with better facilities is just another addition to their campus with the Tata's name tagged on.

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