Open University boss sounds cost alarm

August 23, 1996

Singapore. India can offer distance education at one-fiftieth of the cost of United Kingdom Open University cour- ses, the OU's vice chancellor Sir John Daniel has warned. Sir John questioned the assumption that Europe and North America can remain competitive providers of higher education to the rest of the world.

Speaking at a Singapore conference on universities in the 21st century, he said: "My back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that the Indira Gandhi National Open University in India operates at a cost per full-time equivalent student that is about one-fiftieth of the cost of the UK Open University."

India's competitive prices are variously attributed to exchange rates, low salaries, government subsidies, and economics of scale.

Binod Agrawal of the Taleem Research Foundation in Ahmedabad claimed that student fees are kept down by state subsidies and the real costs of India's seven open universities are much higher than Sir John's comparison suggests.

But Raskesh Khurana, a professor at the Indira Gandhi university, played down the role of subsidies: "We are recovering 80 per cent of operating costs from the fees."

He said that the university can offer bargains such as an Pounds 80 masters in business administration because the development cost of courses can be spread over large numbers of students.

The university also relies on many modestly-paid helpers.

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