Thursday, 7 July, 2022
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JNU protest over fee hike reminds me of how St. Stephen’s students called a strike & won

India’s public universities must ask why Ratan Tata, Indra Nooyi and Narayan Murthy find value in donating to Ivy League universities and not to ours.

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When it comes to public institutions of higher education, fee hikes are always a volatile matter, a simmering volcano.

Look at the ongoing Jawaharlal Nehru University protests for instance. The fee hike has raised the ire of students and faculty alike and propelled them onto the streets. The reasons for such sensitivity are not so hard to understand, of course, if you want to understand them.

Given that a significant percentage of the student population in these institutions hails from the lower end of the economic spectrum, a fee hike without recourse to a financial support system does cause hardship. It has also come to be accepted over time that the government must bear the burden of financial support for these universities and colleges. Precisely for these reasons, institutions like JNU tend to handle the issue of fee hikes rather gingerly, if at all.

In fact, the University of Delhi has not raised its tuition fees for several decades. And tuition fees cannot be raised by colleges. But individual colleges have got around this by raising money from students from time to time under different categories like special library facility, sports complex or broadband internet.

And for nearly five decades, the Delhi Transport Corporation could not muster the resolve to raise the monthly fees from a measly Rs 12 for providing unlimited rides to students of Delhi University on their buses. So, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the JNU administration seemingly did not handle the issue with the delicacy and sensitivity that it mandated.

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A simmering volcano

I am reminded of my student days at St. Stephen’s College in the 1970s. The Principal at the time had instituted a steep mess fee hike without any consultation with the students. The matter triggered an emergent meeting of the college student’s union. I remember the vehemence and the anger on display at the meeting.

The issue united the day scholars – who were unaffected by the hike – and the resident students. As a result, a call for strike was unanimously approved amidst loud cheers. The depth of the anger amongst the students could be gauged by the fact that this was probably the only time Stephanians had ever gone on a strike in the history of the college. As a consequence, after a week of the students’ strike, the hike was revoked.

Mess charges at St. Stephen’s were not hiked for a very long time after that eventful strike. Many Delhi University colleges have managed to work around such problems by charging fees under other heads, which seem to give something more than classroom learning to students so that they bear such costs up to a point. And here too, I am aware, many subsidies are put in place by these colleges and several agencies including state governments for various categories of students.

Also read: Are JNU students justified in protesting steep but long overdue fee hike?

Finding value in education

There are several layers to the issue of fee hikes.

Publicly funded institutions of higher education do not seem to have in place a differential system of charging fees based on the capacity of the student to pay.

At the same time, I have long held the belief that even if such a rationalised fee system were to be put in place, it would yet leave the account books in the red. Institutions such as Harvard University charge hefty fees. Many students at Harvard University, or at almost every major university in the US, end up taking burdensome loans to pay for their tuition and other costs. The total student debt in the United States is over $1trillion, and yet only 22 per cent of Harvard’s revenues came from tuition fees in 2018. So, how does Harvard University balance its books?

It happens through huge investments from its constantly growing and large corpus fund. This serves as an indication of the value that society at large sees in Harvard University.

The inference that needs to be made is that the business of providing quality education cannot and should not rely on a revenue model based solely on student fees. The unfortunate part is that as the number of our publicly funded universities and colleges rises, governments find themselves stretched more and more.

If at the same time, state revenues falter due to economic slowdowns then it becomes really difficult for the government to provide adequate financial support to universities. I must also add that many of our universities are hopelessly inept at managing their finances.

Also read: How China makes it possible for a German to study ancient Indian math in its university


This brings us to another aspect of the issue at hand. There seems to be an acute inability on the part of all publicly funded universities to raise significant financial resources from non-governmental sources and agencies.

This is perhaps because Indian society does not see much value in what these institutions provide. It is time that these universities gave deep thought to the need to provide tangible benefits of high value to society outside of producing graduates so that society sees value in supporting them.

Our publicly funded universities must ask why worthy individuals such as Ratan Tata, Indra Nooyi and Narayan Murthy find value in donating significant sums to universities abroad, and not much to our home-grown ones.

The author is the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Delhi, a distinguished mathematician and an educationist. Views are personal.

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  1. The simple truth is that one of the College’s that afforded poorer, underprivileged but Good Students a chance to get a high quality Education at fees that they could manage is sought yo be converted into a college where only the affluent can afford to study! The ‘poor’ but deserving Dalits and the poor deserving minorities who aspired to study in a College which could equip them to excel in their careers will now have to go to the mediocre colleges which will be within their budget… In my opinion, that’s the general idea – to deny high quality Education to those who are not belonging to the affluent and influential classes.

  2. University is not a cricket stadium, and media is not cheer leader. Don’t encourage anarchy and indiscipline in the universities and colleges. If lakhs of students across country have no problem in meeting their expenses, why should a few thousand students of JNU be treated differently. Don’t encourage free loaders. All kinds of bums will pass themselves as “students”. It is good idea to link subsidies to the students to their economic status.

  3. Unionism brings indiscipline in the class room environment. We should check and evaluate how public moneys being eaten by not only a certain section of teachers who love to monitor the situation by misleading immature, but by the employees also,who don’t want to perform as prescribed by regulators. This is too unfortunate to note that universites like JADAVPUR, SHANTINIKETAN,RABINDRA BHARATI have turned in to the safest heaven for molester,drugs peddlers and group of scoundrels, belong to out side of the premises. The funds allowed for research never been spent in truth and spirit.

  4. One mark of folks wet behind the ears is that they constantly refer to “their” college. Rest of us are so old that we do not even recall where the toilets in the hostels were located. The problem with wet ears is they tak but do or done nothing to date, As a matter of principle, must do first, then preach and talk about matured subjects. Teasing girls in college do not appeal any more to the readers of print.

  5. Can somebody please explain me how the monthly expediture of student of jnu raised to 42,000 with exact area of price hike or can somebody send me the fee hike details.

  6. Quality Education &High standard of living is something, acutely in short supply in our country. The privileged either access foreign shores or live in gated communities. Good affordable quality education is something that India needs urgently. But how to finance it ?Poor quality education leads to poor income , poor income cannot buy good quality Education , some vicious cycle.

  7. Our elite class including corporate personalities are educated in either American or British Universities and all of them have close relationships with these universities. We are developing a third-class English medium education system and most of them including teaching staff are of below standard with no value in the international market and that is why students are going aboard for foreign degrees. The corporate sector is more interesting to develop its universities in collaboration with foreign universities.

  8. Haves want entry barriers for underprivileged so that their progeny can prosper. If price of metro tickets are high privileged can travel with comfort. Self and group interest are always projected as national interest.

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