After LSR suicide, DU’s struggling students open up about financial stress of digital divide
The death by suicide of a second-year undergraduate student of Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College last week after her struggle to continue classes online has brought out into the open the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on several students in top colleges struggling bridge the digital divide.
Students and teachers across Delhi University’s campuses on Wednesday pointed to hardships arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing bright students from the economically weaker sections to seek financial assistance to either pay their fees or get access to online education.
A final-year BSc (Mathematics) student at a DU college, and a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district, said she has barely been able to attend class this academic session.
“My father, who works as a sweeper in a factory, managed to get me a phone when I got admission into DU two years ago. The phone has become the only mode of education for me and three of my siblings. I can’t attend classes regularly because my siblings also use the same phone. This is my final year and I am extremely stressed about studies,” she told HT, asking not to be named.
According to a survey conducted by the Left-affiliated All India Students Association (AISA) in May, around 42% students across DU were not able to access online classes amid the pandemic due to a lack of devices, poor internet connectivity, and inadequate finances, among other reasons.
The undergraduate student from LSR, who died by suicide on November 3 in Telangana, was among the students who had responded to a student-led survey in the college in September, saying she did not even have a laptop to attend her classes.
Apart from the stress of catching up on her online classes, her parents said the student was stressed when the college announced that second-year residents would have to vacate the hostel because of a college policy introduced in 2019. Unnimaya R, general secretary of the LSR students’ union, said the college’s revised hostel policy, as per which only first year students can use the hostel accommodation from this year, would affect around 120 students — of whom 50% belong to marginalised backgrounds.
Students across campuses related with the hardships faced by the undergraduate student.
DU colleges charge different annual fees ranging between Rs 4,500 to Rs50,000.
Some minority colleges, including St Stephens and SGTB Khalsa, also have higher fee structures.
A second-year BA (political science) student at a prominent college in DU’s North Campus college said: “My father runs a small salon in Uttam Nagar. He remained out of work for months due to the lockdown. His income is minimal even now. He is struggling to even pay the rent of his shop. My brother had also lost his job. It was not possible for my family to pay the annual fees of Rs12,000 this year. I had filled the fee concession request in my college, but it is taking time to process.”
A 22-year-old MA (social work) student at DU, requesting anonymity, said her parents were not supportive of her decision to opt for further studies in 2019 after her graduation.
“The Covid-19 crisis caused us to lose our only source of income and my family had to take loans to survive. There is no way they can support my education. It was impossible for me to submit my semester fee of around Rs13,000,” she said.
A group of students from St. Stephen’s College independently initiated a fund-raising event on Monday and have so far received requests from over 150 students across colleges seeking assistance to pay their fees and to acquire devices to attend digital classes. The MA student mentioned above is one of them.
Officials across DU colleges said they have been receiving distress calls and emails from students requesting fee waivers, scholarships, free laptops, and devices. Anju Shrivastava, principal of Hindu College, said they have received more than the usual number of requests seeking financial assistance this time. “Every year, we invite applications offering financial assistance to students. This year, we received 300 requests, which are more than the usual number. Many students expressed difficulty in paying the fee as their parents had lost jobs during the Covid-19 lockdown and the college responded to these requests,” she said.
Miranda House principal Bijayalaxmi Nanda said her college has received 181 requests from students asking for fee waivers. “Our teachers and other interested donors will contribute to the Principal’s Fund for Needy Students, which will be used to help students. This is why we decided to extend the deadline for fee submission, so students could get the time needed for necessary assistance,” she said,.
Jaswinder Singh, principal of SGTB Khalsa College, said they have received around 200 such requests. “We have divided the fees into two or three instalments for students according to their convenience,” he said.
Experts said that efforts have to be made by faculty members and institutes instead of expecting your students to come forward and ask for help in order to avoid such incidents in the future. Educationist and former Dean of the Faculty of Education at DU Anita Rampal said that going forward, colleges have to find ways to help students in need. “Due to the Covid-19 crisis, more and more students are in need of financial assistance. Educational institutions have to be more proactive in checking in with their students and getting in touch with alumni and sponsors to help them for at least a year because students will be at the risk of being pushed out of the system due to the economic crisis arising out of Covid-19.”