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If you still don’t understand JNU fee hike protest, read this story of Sunita

If you are Sunita’s parents, you will wish and pray that the protest does not end with rollback of fee hike just for JNU.

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Let us understand the entire JNU fee hike protest from the vantage point of Sunita. She is an average Indian young woman. She lives in a village, close to a district town. Her father is an average Indian farmer who owns a little under 3 acres of land (average landholding in India is roughly 2.8 acres). Her mother works towards raising the family besides looking after their buffalo. Theirs is a five-member family (Indian average is 4.45), including her grandmother and her younger brother, who studies in Class 10. She is exceptionally bright and has topped her college in BA. She dreams of becoming an IPS officer, like the ‘Madam’ she saw in her college function. She wants to do an MA in JNU to pursue her aspiration.


She is not alone or atypical. She is among the millions of first-generation learners who are entering higher education – poor, mostly rural and disproportionately more from marginal communities such as Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim or OBC. This is not necessarily for love of knowledge. It is just that they have discovered, rather belatedly, that degrees are a passport to fulfil their aspirations to enter the middle class. Last year, we had 3.74 crore students in higher education, the number is growing by about 6 lakh every year. Sunita would be among the 11 per cent of those enrolled for higher education who manage to go beyond a simple graduation and have a realistic hope of a half-decent job.

What would it take for her to fulfil her dream? The Preamble to our Constitution promises her “equality of opportunities”. So, she should be able to pursue her higher education based on her ability, irrespective of her gender, her location, her family means. But can she?

Also read: JNU protest over fee hike reminds me of how St. Stephen’s students called a strike & won

How fee hike affects household budget

Her family is not very poor, certainly not below the poverty line. She is from a respected farming family in her village. Besides working on their own land, the family keeps a buffalo that yields some much-needed extra income. Last year, their monthly family income was Rs 9,350 (National Sample Survey’s latest estimate of average per capita monthly expenditure in India is Rs 1,446. My estimate is based on the rural figure multiplied by 5 and adjusted for inflation from the base year). Let us say it has gone up to Rs 10,000 per month this year, or Rs 1.2 lakh per annum.

Now, let us see what would it take her to go to JNU (it could be University of Hyderabad for that matter) to pursue her Masters.

An average rural family like hers incurs about 50 per cent of its total expenditure on food. Clothing, durables, electricity and transport account for another 30 per cent. That leaves the family with just Rs 24,000 per annum for education, medicine, all other services and any contingency. Her brother’s education costs them Rs 3,600 per annum since he studies in the local government school. The family wants to send him to a nearby private school that would cost Rs 7,800 per year (Figures are from the latest NSO survey on Household Consumption on Education).

For a moment, imagine yourself to be Sunita’s parents and look at your budget. Let us say you have access to the government’s latest survey on cost of education. It tells you that it would cost her annually Rs 13,000 if she stays at home and goes to the nearby government college, and Rs 17,000 if she opts for the local private college. The cost will be twice as much if she goes out and stays in a hostel.

The annual cost for studying at JNU would have been around Rs 32,000, while for most other public universities it would be about Rs 50,000.

You can now see why a jump in annual fee from an estimated Rs 32,000 to Rs 56,000 for a JNU student living in a hostel might make a difference to your decision (that’s additional 20 per cent of your annual household budget).

Also read: IIT, IIM evaded faculty reservation for years. Modi now wants to undo exclusion

Not enough scholarships

And remember, we are not even thinking of a poor family. Sunita represents an average village family, better placed than more than half of rural India (That’s right: median of income distribution is lower than its statistical mean).

All this calculation excludes any additional courses or tuition or coaching that Sunita might need. She is of course not thinking of technical or professional courses like BTech or a Bachelor’s degree in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS), where her basic fee, excluding hostel, would be an estimated Rs 50,000 even in an ordinary public institution. You, her parents, have mercifully not heard about the run-of-the-mill private professional colleges that cost at least Rs 2 lakh a year, not to mention elite private universities that cost Rs 8-10 lakh a year.

What about a scholarship? So, you look up the National Scholarship Portal. Yes, she is eligible for a central government scholarship that could pay her Rs 20,000 per annum. But you missed the deadline by three years, as she needed to apply at the end of Class 12. In any case, it is awarded to only 82,000 students every year. If you combine all the higher education scholarship schemes of the various ministries of government of India, it comes to an estimated Rs 1,801 crore (about 2.6 per cent of its education budget) for about 1.4 lakh scholarships per year (less than 2 per cent of the students who enter higher education every year) in 2014-15.  If you distribute that amount to the total number of students enrolled in higher education that year, it amounts to just Rs 527 per student per annum. Private universities in the capitalist US provide more students with financial aid than our ‘socialist’ country.

How to fix this

What would Sunita’s parents do, if they were to frame the country’s higher education policy? I bet they would insist on the following four steps.

  1. The cost of education should be affordable for a family like hers. If we have to be true to the constitutional promise of equality of opportunities, then tuition and other fees should be kept as low as possible. The fee charged by private institutions too should be effectively regulated. Higher education cannot be used for profiteering.
  2. There should be a quantum jump in the number and amount of fellowships. At least 10 per cent of all top students irrespective of caste or community and at least top 25 per cent students from educationally disadvantaged communities must get full scholarship that covers actual tuition and living costs (an improved version of this scheme).
  3. Other students should get the benefit of a generous earn-while-you-learn scheme. Under this,students can work within the institution for up to 20 hours in a week and can earn enough to pay their mess bills.
  4. The existing scheme of bank loans for students should be radically revised. The government should provide the surety on student loans and interest should be capped at around 7 per cent that farmers pay on their KCC card, with further relaxation on timely payment.

These are not new or radical suggestions. A committee appointed by the erstwhile Planning Commission, headed by Professor Pankaj Chandra, who was then director of IIM Bangalore, had made more or less similar suggestions in 2012. There was no follow up by the UPA or the NDA regime.

If you were Sunita’s parents, you would be thankful to JNU students that they raised this issue. At the same time, you would wish and pray that this protest does not end with rollback of fee hike just for JNU. You would know that very often, as in the case of the MeToo movement, a real and pressing issue is brought to light not by the worst-affected victim but by the victim who can best articulate it. You would want to focus on the deeper issues that this protest has raised: higher education has become unaffordable just when the number of those who desperately need it is exploding. Our education policy must respond to this pressing need. Solutions are available. What is missing is political will.

If you are reading this piece, you are clearly not Sunita’s parents. But should we all not think like one?

Also read: It’s not just JNU, several institutes across India are witnessing student protests

The author is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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  1. JNU Alumini should come and Support the current lot of students just like IIT Alumini does for their ALMA Matter, So the Financial stress is out and Tax Payers are not burdened with this.

    Reservation should change from Caste based Criteria to Economic Condition Criteria and every person irrespective of his Caste. Should be given reservation /discounted fees based on his Economic Criteria defined. There Can be a 3 Tier Fee Structure Subsidised Normal Abnormal

    .Time Limit for completing the PhD should be defined say 5 years to 7 years not beyond that however hostel facility should be withdrawn after completion of 5 years. This will ensure that students pursue the purpose for which for which they have taken admission

  2. 1. JNU Alumini should come and Support the current lot of students just like IIT Alumini does for their ALMA Matter, So the Financial stress is out and Tax Payers are not burdened with this.

    2. Reservation should change from Caste based Criteria to Economic Condition Criteria and every person irrespective of his Caste. Should be given reservation / discounted fees based on his Economic Criteria defined. There Can be a 3 Tier Fee Structure Subsidised / Normal / Abnormal

    3. Time Limit for completing the PhD should be defined say 5 years / 7 years not beyond that however hostel facility should be withdrawn after completion of 5 years. This will ensure that students pursue the purpose for which for which they have taken admission

  3. JNU’s image is already tarnished by persons like Kanhaiya, Umar Gul. Now, we fear sending our children to JNU as we do not want them to get in touch with such elements.

  4. nation which is struggling to address basic primary education and this charm wants to make everything free until post graduation. considering present living and one can earn even by doing part time work the fee table of JNU is very much manageable for any one who really want to study and make a living. For people who want to spend the time and do politics for years together of course it is difficult to pay because they habituated only to take and not to give back anything to society.

  5. Why don’t the strong JNU alumni support these kids with Scholarship. Atleast we could have prevented this tragedy. Increase of fees is inevitable. Will increase again within 20 years. Was the issue raised among the alumni association. I am sure they can resolve this.

  6. I can comment and say one line , better do part time job along with your studies and pay your fee (Same like our Indian student managing their expenses in US/UK ) then only they can understand the value tax payer money and actual responsibility towards nation.

  7. Sunita once completing her education will convert to christianity and join Naxals in killing our soldiers. JNU should be moved to the vatican or china. India might as well fund LeT or Pakistan, JNU anti-India

    • Alas, JNU is no more an institution for poor and bright students like Sunita. It has become a safe heaven for anti nationals, communists. Sunita can be accommodated in other government institutions which don’t provide shelter to such anti nationals

  8. As I see it, nobody is against subsidy to deserving poor students. Unfortunately, all such systems are misused and undeserving takes all benefits leaving hapless poor students in the lurch. I am against this usurping of benefits by undeserving students. So best way, is to charge full amount from all students and then giving cashback to really poor students making it affordable to them. And make the system better to make it secure enough so that undeserving students do not take advantage of this help given. Infact, it is a general impression in rest of India (Other than JNU) that many undeserving students have taken advantage of this system at JNU and deserving poor students are not getting admission / residential facilities in JNU hostels. From all photographs of agitating students, I hardly see any poor student demonstrating.

  9. the issue would be – sunita may be seeking an education – but what are her parents seeking and voting for

  10. You made one accurate point. Most of your readers are far removed from the plight of Sunita’s family, which is nearly 50% of this country’s population. My question to all of them is if education is not a favoured destination for their tax money then what should be? A comparative analysis of the spend on education and scholarship among various countries would throw better light.

  11. First of all stop your propaganda that JNU having good intentions about free Hike if it only about fee hike then i will definitely support them but these Anti Indian students who only enjoy free services and chant Anti slogan against their one motherland India do not study just do only bad politics and also destroying other students career by manipulating them. ENOUGH THE PRINT YOU ALSO ANTI INDIAN.

  12. Lack of information and guidance is the main reasons, why students do not know how to use banks. Children in India should be encouraged to work part time and avail loan. Education loan always make them more responsible. The country can give free basic education and not higher studies. A topper can be exempted not % wise enemas.

  13. Are all students fall in this category (Sunita) why tax payers like me who are senior citizen and seriously ill bear the burden . Students may take loan and pay the same after completing their education they will get fair placement if they are competant. The suggested revision may be for really needy student . every student may not be really falling in Sunita category

  14. All students should be provided necessary minimum financial assistance as per their parent’s income to complete secondary and higher education. This assistance can come from endowment funds, loan, fees waiver, scholarships, work program etc. But actual cost of the higher education should be realized. HHigher education can not be fully subsidized by the government.

  15. I see that the anger with JNU has coloured the lens through which Indians look at the issue of education.

    The points made are valid in and by themselves. Take out JNU from the equation and then look at the issue. The colours will change because the anger with JNU will vanish.

    First and foremost, our education system is flawed at its very core. We churn out graduates who are unemployable. They lack basic skills and I speak with 25 years of Industry experience. Secondly, the current system of reservation based on ethnicity is wrong. It must be based on income – people with BPL Cards and SUVs were mentioned by someone in the comments. Third, primary education is the obvious first target for reform. And to provide free but great primary education, we not only need the infrastructure and funds but also great teachers. Which unfortunately we don’t have because teaching is not just a “Govt., Job” but is effectively the fall back option for all those that do not make it anywhere else. So, how do we expect our children to be taught well even with the best educational infrastructure?

    Fourth, the profit motive is not the demon in the room everyone cries against, but actually the savior whom we have not been able to recognise just as Tulsidas couldn’t. Why would anyone do anything if there is no profit? It is ridiculous! And remember that the average private school or college provides much better education than the Govt run institutions can. I do not include the likes of the IITs in that equation. I am speaking about primary, secondary and college education. Why? Because of the profit motive. A Govt teacher has no obligations, no performance appraisals, no punishment for non delivery. So, how do we accomodate the profit motive with affordable education? That is the Elephant in the room. How do other countries do it? Scholarships, work while learning options, genuine industry tie-ups for University lead research, and competition for scarce resources, student loans, etc.

    The average reservation candidate goes on to have an easy life in Corporate India where they are shielded by the laws and hence get away with no work or sub standard work. We talk of the future and our demographic superiority, but we screw up with our reservation policy. The resources are misused and do not reach the deserving. And, we, the tax payers, carry the burden.

    • Brainwashed american rightwing rubbish!
      “Why would anyone do anything if there is no profit? ” Lot of people do, you know. and not only saints! not all our lives are just “for profit”.
      “And remember that the average private school or college provides much better education than the Govt run institutions can. ”
      another patent falsehood. All most all top higher education places in India from IITs to St. Stephen/Hindu/Presidency/Ferguson collage to JNU or IISc or IISERS- they are one and all either fully government run/funded or govt aided. University autonomy YES, privatization NO!
      The whole long comment is full of lies and ultra free-market dog whistles.

      • Your opinion is partially correct. look at kendriya Vidyalayas. their teachers are either very good if they have been recruited through merit or average if their ethnicity is the criteria for their recruitment. A student, whether he is general category or otherwise, faces so many average teachers and end up damaging his learning process. Our your young students who come from various backgrounds are our national assets. it is a crime to deprive them of the best teachers and the best infrastucture.

    • Great write up Sir, pity, the commies will not understand even when we they see all over India Parent’s rushing their wards to private schools, where they have to pay more. 99% of Human Beings will do some thing only if it profits them, the 1% rest cannot make a difference

  16. Example of faking and cheating people with a professor like wise appearence by its owner, just like he told a false story of kashmir without any mention of pandiths.

  17. Cometh here a fake, a professor looking communist guy controlled media house, who has choosen to misguide people, using his professor like appearence of a fake, dumb.

  18. Completely disagree with the four steps suggested above.
    If this so called BA from JNU is a good enough course and makes students employable, then banks would be more than happy to lend and support. After all, a loan of 25k more. Which a good job should be easily able to cover.
    Plus i still can’t understand in India how BA makes one person capable to become an IPS officer.

  19. I agree you cannot generalise with one case of Sunita If you analyse the admission applications ad backgrounds of all the JNU students you will find that for every such deserving candidate there are tens (hundreds) of others who can certainly afford higher fees as are paid by other students. While there is a case for subsidising and granting scholarships on a case to case basis and the successful alumni of JNU coming forward and creating a corpus to fund the deserving students there is absolutely no case or justification for the agitation and such low fees

  20. Higher education cannot be used for profiteering: 100% agreed.
    “Resources” is not a cake to be devided amonst the deserving – resources can be built and multiplied and used to create more resources. Investment in higher education goes towards building human resource – the most precious of all resources. That is why places like Singamopre is investing like crazy in research and education.

  21. Why does “SUNITA of JNU” take up a part time job and aid her education expense. All most all our students pursuing higher education abroad do that.
    I would have supported the cause of “SUNITA of JNU” if she/he did not buy a smartphone,watch a movie in cinemas,ate out in restaurants,was seen more in library than on TV !!!

  22. 1. I have my sympathies with Sunitas who finishes her MA in 2 years. But not with Sunitas who complete PhD in 10 years enjoying Rs 10 pm hostel.

  23. Why this fire not beneath all those who are asking about tax payer money for JNU , have they ever raised their voice against life long pention ti one time elected corrupt parliamentarians, have these so called tax money conscious bhakt raised their voice on subsidised lunch dinner or breakfast in parliament canteen, have they ever asked parliamentarians or govt. Official who enjoy foreign tour and brings nothing for the country. Rather bhakts dance and keep clapping on a huge expensive tour who has gone for election campaign for other country’s president, what the nation got out of that tour , do these tax money conscious people had ever ask this out come of this huge expense on tour and security . Have they raised their voice on bailing out the money squeezed out of RBI and given to industrialist. Do will these fake patriotic ask why the unpaid loan of crores to industrialist has been waved off.
    Parrots only can chant, they cannot understand, so these chanters are chanting what ever is taught. To understand one needs analytical mind , JNU is full of those and are historically defending the basic rights and the constitution of the country. All students of the nation must understand, bhakti and chanting will never make future of any individual or nation, you should be analytical. JNU is on right path all students must support.

  24. There are farming families who roam in Scorpio, each member uses whatsapp and facebook from their android phones but holds a BPL smart card.

    Lol these authors should leave their ac cabin and come down to see the real scenario by their own.

    • I have a co worker whose parents own some farmland in Maharashtra, he is honestly salivating at the political situation, he says we take loans and never pay any installments back, because even if we pay back one installment we cannot claim to be poor and needy to the bank and our loans will not be waived off, whenever a loan waiver mela comes along, which is now every year. And we city slickers paying 30% income tax will continue to support this thievery.

  25. It’s amazing how much some readers hate the poor!
    I’d have expected more empathy among in a poor country like India for the innumerable Sunitas studying in jnu.
    This nation was built with the blood & sweat of millions of people who benefitted from a subsidised education.
    Now the same people criticise the system which gave them an exit from poverty!

  26. How about educationally backward students from southern states left behind? All these arguments should be applicable for students from all over India. How about splitting JNU Delhi campus into 3 to 4 and locating it at differenr regions? The fees charged by JNU are ridicilously low and encoourages prolonging the completuon of doctorate thesis to the perils of other yearning students.

  27. What a big bore this man, Yogendra Alagh, is!
    As others have pointed out, it is silly to take one case and generalize it. Sunita is not typical. Rich fat-cats of JNU can’t hide behind Sunita!

  28. The university should raise capital or attract investment so that it can fund students. University should bring sponsored students. It could be made like charge fee for few courses which bring in money and then use the profits for scholarships for other well deserved ones. Like china it’s better to mix socialism and capitalism to attain goals pragmatically than to stick to ideology and make others suffer.

  29. 20 rupees a month for a single seater room in a salubrious residential area, for years and years, pursuing a degree is secondary, when one degree complete, start another — all the while conspiring to do away with the Indian state, till that irresistible offer from a foreign-funded NGO comes along.

    Just too good. A tiny minority of ‘serious ‘ students, not interested in acquiring or pushing the boundaries of knowledge, only to take the civil services and other exams at almost zero living cost.

    A ‘special’ chai at a roadside dhaba will cost you more.

    Subsidizing higher education (20 bucks room rent, might as well just give it for free – double seater Rupee 1 per month; seriously, is this for real??), in such brazen way is denying funds for millions of poor kids who don’t even have a blackboard or a roof over their heads in so called govt schools.

    Quality universal school education is what the elite (Lutyens or Khan Market– take your pick) in cahoot with politicians and bureaucrats have since Independence continually ignored. Coz’ they are too scared of a really literate mass public who will expose them for the impostors they are.

  30. We do support Sunita like students who are genuinely affected not only at JNU elsewhere students should get fee concessions depending upon their family income etc., irrespective of cast & creed.
    But see how the JNU goons disguise as students most of them are repeaters enjoying tax payers money & involving in political & non academic activities more which will be bring trouble to Sunita like students. Definitely, the time has come to bring in certain norms & rules to instill discipline among the students. It is horrible to see how these goons are physically fighting with the law agencies under the influence of liquor not ruled out.

    All in the name of democracy, free speech both Left & Right wing guys not to be allowed to disturb the university. This kind of too much indiscipline encouraged by the especially the Left wing guys disguised as democracy has spoiled the entire JNU. Let the Govt. weed out these so called student leader goons who are spoiling the name of the JNU then only genuine students like Sunita will benefits, Govt is not the reason to withdraw or contain all the privileges & status to the JNU which has lost all the public sympathy now. Tx.
    Nagesh Rao

  31. Asking for a few rollback is fine but hooliganism is not. And JNU in the garb of freedom of speech have indulged in just that. There should also be a rider to the subsidy. Finish your studies within the stipulated period or out on your ear

  32. Very easy to take one case n generalize. What about resources which are limited.? Any organization not raising its cost for 30 years is a ridiculous thing and indicates stagnancy. Everywhere you earn n pay for higher education. Taking up any case without a viable solution is like being a devil’s advocate.

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