Cash-strapped TISS in Mumbai seeks help from alumni, firms for educational aid | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Cash-strapped TISS in Mumbai seeks help from alumni, firms for educational aid

The Union government expects Tata Institute of Social Sciences to meet at least 70% of its expenses on its own

mumbai Updated: Mar 17, 2018 12:40 IST
Musab Qazi
Musab Qazi
Hindustan Times
TISS students protest in front of the institute’s main gate in Mumbai.
TISS students protest in front of the institute’s main gate in Mumbai.(HT File)

After facing flak for cutting educational aid to students from socially weaker sections, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has begun approaching alumni and corporations to shore up its finances.

For the past 24 days, a group of TISS students has been on a strike, demanding that the institute restore all fee benefits for the current and upcoming batches. The institute has estimated it needs to generate at least Rs5 crore annually, if it is to continue offering fee waivers to students. The authorities have planned to grow its corpus fund and sustain the waiver schemes with the interest money generated from it.

“If we build a large corpus over a period, the waiver schemes can be sustainable,” said Shajahan PK, dean, students’ affairs, TISS. “We are appealing to our alumni and corporates,” he said. The institute earns Rs40 lakh a year from its corpus.

The Union government expects the institute to meet at least 70% of its expenses on its own.

While a faction of the institute’s students’ union called off the agitation after the authorities agreed to restore hostel fee waiver for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST)
students from 2016-18 and 2017-19 batches and set up a ‘Joint Scholarship Committee’ to work towards finding more resources for the upcoming batches, another faction continues to protest.

These students want the institutes to commit to dining hall and hostel fee waivers for all the upcoming batches and extend benefits to the Other Backward Category — non-creamy layer (OBC-NC) of students as well. The Union government has set up a committee to evaluate the financial health of the institute and recommend measures to alleviate the current funds crisis.

On Friday, members of the committee met with the protesting students, who suggested that the University Grants Commission (UGC) increase the funds for TISS. The UGC representative on the committee offered to take the students’ and the institutes’ concerns to the ministry of social justice and welfare, which disburses scholarships.

The institute has been in the red since 2015, when the government stopped providing post-matric scholarship (PMS) to SC and ST students. The officials said the dining hall and hostel fee waiver was discontinued last year, after the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) raised a flag over rising deficit of the institute. “The deficit kept accumulating over the years,” said Shajahan, adding that currently TISS has a deficit of Rs20 crore.

Sreejith Murali, who did his MPhil from TISS, and is now pursuing a PhD at IIT-B, said the Union government as well as the state have not been spending sufficient money towards scholarships for socially backward students. He said the central government has arrears and pending claims worth Rs6,824.51 crore under PMS for SC students.

However, he also blamed the institute for increasing its intake and planning new campuses, even as it struggled to cover expenses. “The institute knew its ship was sinking, but they kept increasing enrolment. In fact, the intake for MPhil was increased by almost 100%, despite the fact that the government stopped providing fellowships to scholars who didn’t clear the National Eligibility Test,” said the TISS alumnus.

TISS officials blamed the delay in disbursing scholarships through direct benefit transfer (DBT) mechanism, where scholarship money is deposited into the students’ bank accounts, for the rising deficit. “Many a times, the money is deposited after the students leave the institute,” said Shajahan.

Until 2015, the Union government would provide anywhere between Rs7,000 and Rs12,000 in scholarships — a mere 15% of annual tuition fees charged at TISS. The institute waived off the reminder of tuition fees as well as dining and hostel charges for SC and ST students. Similar benefits were extended to OBC-NC students, although there’s compulsion to do so, said the officials. The institute has around 4,700 students, including 550 from SC and ST groups and 232 from OBC that are eligible for scholarship. Students from scheduled groups receive scholarships only if their family income is below a certain limit.

After the government stopped its scholarship, the institute immediately withdrew the tuition fee waiver to OBC-NC students. However, the institute started offering upfront scholarship between Rs15,000 and Rs50,000, depending on the needs of individual students. “We understand that it’s not enough,” said Shajahan.

The institute has now proposed to charge Rs28,000 in annual tuition fees from OBC-NC students at the time of admission, instead of Rs78,000 charged from open category students. The remainder of the fees can be paid over the duration of the course. SC and ST students will still have to pay Rs9,500 as hostel fees. The institute has estimated it requires Rs12 crore to meet the expenses incurred by restoring fee waivers to the current batch. “We have no idea where the money will come from,” said the dean.

While there are seven deemed universities funded by the Union government besides TISS, students at the institute are particularly feeling the pinch because of its relatively higher fees. “TISS offers professional courses, which are not recognised by university Grants Commission (UGC) as such. As a result, it doesn’t receive funds meant for these courses,” said Murali.

He said while the institute should explore other sources of income, it should leverage its relationship with the government to get more funds. “TISS conducts several training programmes and conducts projects, such as Rashtriya Uchchatar Shikshan Abhiyan (RUSA), for the government. It should lobby with the government officials,” said Murali.