JNU fee hike comes as a body blow for poor students
JNU hostel manual seeks an increase in hostel fees from Rs 20 per month to Rs 600 for a single-seater, and from Rs 10 per month to R. 300 for a double-seater. While the mess charges stand to be doubled, an additional service charge of Rs1,700 for sanitation and maintenance has been introduced.
In school, as a student of humanities, Ankit Singh (19) had harboured a fascination for Russian history and language. Despite a severe medical condition, which prohibits him from using most public transport services, he decided to travel all the way to Delhi from Gorakhpur to study Russian at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
Halfway through his first semester though, Singh faces a serious dilemma—he might have to choose between giving up on his education or his medical requirements.
“I have personally written to the JNU administration, requesting them to roll back the fee hike proposal. I will not be able to study if this goes through,” Singh said about the revised hostel manual that has students up in arms.
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The manual seeks an increase in hostel fees from Rs 20 per month to Rs 600 for a single-seater, and from Rs 10 per month to R. 300 for a double-seater. While the mess charges stand to be doubled, an additional service charge of Rs1,700 for sanitation and maintenance has been introduced.
The JNU administration said a revision was long due as they had not increased hostel fee in the last three decades, and the new service charge is for maintaining campus infrastructure. JNU registrar Pramod Kumar said last week, “JNU is incurring an expenditure of more than Rs 10 crore per annum for payment towards the service charges. These charges are not paid by UGC.”
Opposing the move, the JNU teachers association quoted the university’s 2017-18 annual report, which shows approximately 40% of students in JNU come from families with a monthly income of less than Rs 12,000. The hike is expected to hit them the most, the association argued, with the possibility of many dropping out.
Singh belongs to a family of five, with his father being the sole earning member with a monthly income of Rs 4,500-5,000. “A large portion of the money goes in medicines for my twin and me. Both of us suffer from cerebral palsy,” he said. He explained that the only reason he chose to study in JNU is because education is cheap here and it would be easier for him to prepare for the civil services without coaching because of the library facilities.
Similar stories of poverty and the desire to come out of it through education can be heard from several quarters of the varsity.
Aarti Kumari, 18, from Jaldega village in Jharkhand said she had to battle out a lot of criticism from neighbours and relatives when she decided to move to JNU to study French this year. “I come from a very small village where there is little scope for girls to be educated. Most girls my age are married off. My parents were very keen on educating me. Looking at my financial conditions I had to choose a university which is cheap,” says Kumari. Her father, the sole earning member in the family, is a barber with a monthly income of approximately Rs 15,000.
“If the administration goes ahead with the hike, I will have to drop out and look for some job or go back home,” she says.
The fee hike will significantly affect female students, said Indu Kumari (25), an Mphil student in Women’s studies. “There are so many female students in JNU who continue with their studies only to avoid being forcefully married off back home. That has been possible since education is cheap here. For a lot of people, the increase to Rs500-600 might not seem much, but you need to consider where we are coming from,” she said.
Albert Bansala (25), a PhD student of complex systems, says that in his field, it is almost impossible to get a job anywhere without a doctoral degree. A native of Meerut, Bansala has only a grandmother back home who is dependant on a monthly pension of Rs13,000. “If I have to drop out at this stage because of the fee hike, the only option I have is to go back home and join some coaching institute as a tutor,” he said.
“We need much more accessibility and support for diverse students. It’s unprecedented how in the last few years we have been getting a diverse community of students trying to access higher education in universities. The problem is that we have not invested enough in good quality public institutions of higher education and we don’t even have the numbers and kinds of teachers who can support this diversity. The students of JNU are rightly and unanimously protesting against this, not only for themselves but for the millions who will be deprived of a rightful opportunity to access good education,” said Anita Rampal, former professor of education, Delhi University.
JNU was known for its unique admission policy -- “deprivation points”-- under which students from backward districts and poor socio-economic status were given some relaxation in entrance exams. The university had in 2017 removed the feature for those seeking admission in MPhil and PhD. They are still there for undergraduate and post graduate students.