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Online fundraisers to study abroad not a ‘social media trend’. Education an unequal sector

Campus Voice is an initiative by ThePrint where young Indians get an opportunity to express their opinions on a prevalent issue.

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Judging of International Garden Photographer of the Year is now complete. Many Congratulations! Your entry has been selected by the judges and you have won one of the following awards.

This is what an email I received in 2015 said. The little me was excited and confused at the same time. I was excited that I cleared all the rounds but was confused because my rational mind thought, how can a 16-year-old achieve this?

I knew what I had achieved and had to share this with my parents. They saw the email and instantly thought it was a scam. They told me all possible email, phone and bank scam stories. I replied: “I have a good eye for the internet and can recognise scams”.

To prove this, I provided them with the legal royalty and copyright letters that were sent to me by the IGPOTY team. They got a clue that I did something good.

The problem arose when I presented them the offer letter, an invitation to workshops, winners exhibit and private ceremony, which was to be held at Kew, Royal Botanical Gardens, in the UK. The problem started when I had to arrange funds for the trip.

My parents could not confront me about the lack of funds so they sugar-coated it with scam stories and how I was young and will get other opportunities in life. I remember printing out documents, placing them in files, waiting and arranging meetings with my teachers, headmistress, vice-principal and principal to arrange for funds.

The only response I got from them was “Congratulations” “We are proud of you” and “We will look into it”.

After a week of running around, my Physics teacher, Mr Suresh, got hold of me and made me understand. “You didn’t represent the school, you participated individually. So, the school will not provide you with any help or funds.”

It was a simple statement, but it crumbled me like anything. How could the school mention my achievements in their annual report yet not help me out with funds?

‘Send my cat to a groomer — tap for donations’

Recently, I saw a post questioning students who have been raising funds for college tuition to study abroad and calling the exercise “disturbing”.

The post further mentioned: “Just study abroad when you are capable of affording it (yourself), I’m sure there are bigger important issues to donate to!”. Meanwhile, other people posted memes like “Send my cat to a groomer – tap for donations”.

While some consider it to be irrelevant, funds are essential in education. It is directly related to academic achievement and quality of education. It is a known fact that while the country has achieved universalisation of primary education, gaps remain. Access to education remains problematic for marginalised communities, girls and special needs children and dropout rates increase with grades for them.

Statements like “study abroad when you can afford it” are half-baked. The acceptance rate for international students combined with the competition and quality of the application matters. References, work profile, academic research papers are not easy to produce as this statement makes it out to be. A student with an offer letter means they are academically fit and deserve to be enrolled in the course.

Crowdsourcing for education funds is not a social media ‘trend’. It is a well-known method all across the globe. GoFundMe was one of the initial and leading platforms that helped a majority of students go to college. Students frequently use crowdfunding websites and social media to collect funds and amplify their voices.

A student from Kashmir, Maknoon Wani, has been offered to study at Oxford University but is currently struggling for funds. He also got offers from London School of Economics, SOAS and declined offers from Ashoka University’s Flagship Young India Fellowship due to the same reason.

Another student, Kay Hope Singh, a Sikh non-binary artist requires funds. The tuition for the summer school in Canada alone costs $8,500. They recently endured a series of traumatic events at work and were forced to quit.

Ansab Amir from Aligarh Muslim University has worked as a freelance journalist with The Wire, The Quint, Telegraph and the Polis Project. He has been taking care of his family and educational expenses through his writing. Now, he is trying to gather funds for Goldsmiths, University of London.

Problems increase with higher education. A billion students globally were affected by the pandemic.

The students face many difficulties while applying for colleges abroad and support themselves.

High-interest rates, student loan clearances, not having a good credit score, lack of support, loss of job amid the pandemic — these are some of the problems out of a pool of challenges faced by students.

Crowdfunding is not an ‘easy way out’ or to be compared with ‘pocket money’. It is the final option for a lot of students.

Anmol Bains is a student of Sri Aurobindo Centre of Arts and Communication, New Delhi

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