JNU fights for all of the nation, for equal education


The tendency of the short-sighted, next-election-fixated political leaders to manipulate inclusion, in the Schedules of SCs and STs and lists of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEdBCs), of castes and tribes which do not fulfill the objective criteria started way back in the 1950s. But in recent times, this tend

On November 18, hundreds of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) hit the streets in Delhi protesting against the manifold hike in the hostel fee and changes in hostel rules brought about by the JNU administration to enforce restrictions on students and providing for severe punishment, including rustication, for those participating in any form of protest on campus.

Delhi Police personnel used force to stop the protesting students from marching to Parliament. A number of students, including women and the differently abled, were injured, some quite seriously, when the police resorted to water cannons and lathi charge.

The police action drew sharp criticism from various quarters, with Opposition leaders raising the issue in Parliament, accusing the government of “suppressing the democratic voice.”

The protest broke out last month after the JNU administration announced the hike in hostel fee, apparently without consulting the students. While the annual hostel fee for a single-seater room was increased from Rs 2,740 to Rs 30,100, that for a double-seater was hiked from Rs 2,620 to Rs 26,500.

If the mess bills are calculated at the rate of Rs 2,500 per month, students would have to pay between Rs 56,500 and 60,100 per annum from the next academic year.

The students say that such increases at a university where more than 40% of them come from families earning less than Rs 12,000 a month, many of them subsisting below poverty line (BPL), would mean that the poor will have to leave the university as they cannot afford it. Instead, they ask, isn’t it the duty of the government to ensure that no one is denied higher education for lack of money? Isn’t it the duty of the government to spend more, rather than preside over dwindling allocation to education in general and higher education in particular, and ensure that everybody, poor or rich, gets equal opportunity to study in public universities?

The JNU administration has agreed to a partial roll back of the hike, proposing to give special concessions to those coming from BPL families, but the students remain firm on their demand of a complete roll back, insisting that there should be “one fee for all categories of students.”

The ongoing JNU stir has drawn massive support from various quarters, including students and teachers from a number of other higher education institutions in India and abroad as it has brought into focus a much larger issue — whether education at public-funded institutions should remain universally subsidised for all categories of students or not – amidst the Centre’s plans to shed its responsibility for education by making these institutions more and more self-financing.

The 64th National Sample Survey highlighted that 21% of students who complete school education cited financial reasons for not pursuing higher education.

Will the 10 top public-funded higher education institutions, including Delhi University and four IITs (Bombay, Delhi, Kharagpur and Madras), which were declared as Institutes of Eminence (IoE) to enable them to have complete administrative and financial autonomy, remain accessible for students from low and middle-income families?

Will not the central government-funded institutions taking interest-free loans from the new Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) to develop their research laboratories and other infrastructure gradually tend to pass on the financial burden to students to meet the pressure of generating revenue from “greater internal resources” as proposed by the HRD Ministry in its five-year vision plan?

The Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA), up in arms against the IoE tag to the university, describes the government’s education policies as “a push towards privatisation of education.”

“A reading of the documents concerning the IoE tag shows that deregulation of these institutions is accompanied by provisions which make them dependent on the market to finance the activities that they are tasked with,” DUTA president Rajib Ray said.

The apprehension of the students and teachers with regard to the government’s education policy is not unfounded.

“The IITs are now taking loans from HEFA for their infrastructure. IIT Delhi needs to repay about Rs 580 crore to Canara Bank over the next 10 years. Same is the case with IIT Bombay and others. There is a great need to increase our internal revenues,” IIT Delhi Director V Ram Gopal Rao said a couple of months ago in defence of the IIT council’s “in principle” approval for an unprecedented hike in MTech tuition fee.

The IIT Council gave its approval to a proposal to bring the fee structure of the MTech programmes on par with that of BTech fee at its meeting presided over by HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal in September. The highest tuition fee for MTech, which varies from one IIT to another, is currently about Rs 62,000 per semester. That for the IITs’ BTech programme is about Rs 2 lakh. The council’s decision has been put on hold in the wake of students’ protests.

The BJP had promised in its 2014 Lok Sabha poll manifesto that it would increase government spending on education to 6% of GDP from 3.84% in 2013-14. Five years down the line, an increase in the total government expenditure on education to 6% of GDP remains a long-cherished dream.

While the total government expenditure (Union and state governments together) on education went up to 4.43% of GDP in 2017-18 from 3.84% in 2013-14, the percentage share of the Union government has declined each year, falling to 0.44% of GDP in 2018-19 from 0.66% in 2013-14. As many as 10.48 crore men and women out of the total estimated population of 14.22 crore in the age group of 18-23 years are not in the fold of higher education as per the All India Higher Education Survey (AISHE) data for 2018-19.

To increase the gross enrollment ratio from 26.3%, the government needs to establish more universities and colleges. But the HRD Ministry finds open and distance learning (ODL) as “the best way” for expanding access, and is gearing up to promote ODL programmes. That that would lead to loss of both access for a major population as well as quality for all seems lost on the government.