Pooja Chaudhuri Chaudhuri
The only fiction I enjoy is in books and movies.
Tata Institute of Social Studies (TISS) campuses across the country are in a state of unrest for the past one week. Since February 21, students and teachers from TISS centres in Mumbai, Tuljapur (in Maharashtra), Guwahati and Hyderabad are protesting in solidarity against what they construe as “privatisation of education.”
Since last Wednesday, classes, field work and submissions have been disrupted or, in some cases, boycotted, as the students’ union called for a bandh across TISS campuses.
The protest is against the administration’s decision to withdraw fee waiver offered by the institute to SC and ST students eligible for the Government of India Post-Matric Scholarship (GoI-PMS).
This is what the GoI-PMS under the ministry of minority affairs says – “The objective of the scheme is to award scholarships to meritorious students belonging to economically weaker sections of minority community so as to provide them better opportunities for higher education, increase their rate of attainment in higher education and enhance their employability.”
Removal of the fee waiver would mean that students from economically weaker backgrounds would have to pay hostel and dining charges upfront. GoI-PMS requires students to apply to the central government for scholarship and the sum is credited to their bank accounts. This provision was applicable to existing students as well.
“The financial aid was mentioned in the prospectus at the time of admission and it was unfair to ask students midway through the course to pay their fees,” said Fahad Ahmad, general secretary of the TISS students’ union, reported The Indian Express. The students’ union is demanding that the 2016-18 and 2017-19 batches be exempted.
Students have termed the scraping off of the fee waiver as “privatisation of education” and have spent hours protesting via slogans and songs.
TISS TULJAPURIn solidarity with #TISS MUMBAI
Posted by TISS For Everyone on Sunday, February 25, 2018
Posted by TISS For Everyone on Tuesday, February 27, 2018
The main gate of TISS Mumbai is blocked since February 21 and the back gate is being used to let non-residents in and out of the campus.
At least 50 to 70 students have been sleeping at the gate each night since the protest began. Many have avoided using the mess and are bringing food to the gate instead.
TISS Hyderabad students have started a hunger strike today to urge the administration to listen to their demands.
The hunger strike starts in TISS Hyderabad#injusTISS #day7 #chhatraektazindabad #TISSadminmurdabad
Students of TISS Mumbai blocked the administration block today to demand that the Registrar visits TISS Hyderabad students on hunger strike.
Students of TISS Mumbai are blocking the administration block to demand that the Registrar go to TISS Hyderabad to…
Students fear that the ones belonging to marginalised communities, who find it difficult to afford to pay fees even if it was subsequently reimbursed, will be further discouraged to apply to the institute.
“TISS Guwahati will face the maximum brunt of the withdrawal of fee waiver among all other TISS campuses. We have the highest number of SC/ST students and the highest number of GoI-PMS scholars,” said Sayam, a student of TISS Guwahati, to The Logical Indian.
“We don’t even get to talk to the Mumbai administration because we are off campus. We don’t have any autonomy. We don’t have any financial autonomy, our administration does not have the autonomy to take any decisions. Even for trivial needs like getting xerox copies requires us to get signatures from the Mumbai administration,” she added.
The SC and ST students of the 2016-18 batch have been exempted from paying the hostel fee, but they will still have to pay the dining hall charges to the amount of Rs 62,000 per annum. The management has permitted students of this particular batch to pay the amount after completion of the course. However, their original degree certificate will be withheld until payment in full is made. The institute said that students who wish to apply for further studies will be returned their certificates.
Students of the 2017-19 batch want a similar exemption, but the authorities have not agreed. Instead, the management has said that it would try raising funds for those who cannot afford the dining hall charges.
For students belonging to the OBC category, the withdrawal of exemption has been in place since 2015. As reported by The Indian Express, students had earlier filed an RTI that revealed the number of OBC students has fallen to 18% in 2016-17 from 28% in 2013.
On February 20, the Students’ Union of TISS Mumbai wrote to the institute’s acting director Shalini Bharat regarding withdrawal of the fee waiver after talks and mediation with the administration failed.
“This gives us no choice but to voice against policies that will not only leave marginalised students across TISS campuses to fend for themselves, but also mar institute’s reputation and its claim to social justice,” the students wrote.
Their primary demands are:
TISS Registrar responded to the students and staff on February 22. “I wish to place before all, the facts of the situation to clear any miscommunication in the matter,” he began.
The Registrar wrote in a notification that the fee waiver was extended when the institute was small, and this was not mandated as per rules of the GoI. Increase in size of student population and the cut in non-plan budget over the last decade “has made it unsustainable for the institute to offer such suo moto facility to the students.” The administration said that it has been making efforts to generate resources to meet the fund deficits.
He maintained that TISS wasn’t violating any laws as dining hall charges and hostel fee are a part of compulsory payable charges, as in other universities across India.
The notification further said that the institute received grants directly from the respective state governments and accordingly the payments were disbursed. “However, the government of India in 2014-15 introduced the Direct Benefit Transfer Scheme as a policy. This has resulted in the money being transferred directly to the students’ accounts, and the role of the institute is restricted to only certifying the bonafides of the student applicant.”
“It is observed that not all students who are eligible to receive the scholarship actually apply for the same,” the registrar continued. “Besides, many students do not declare the receipt of scholarships and fail to pay the applicable fees/dues. Thus, the institute is unable to recover the amounts disbursed to the students by the government after having incurred the expenditure upfront.”
The students responded by saying that in public universities across India and in central universities, the charges for dining hall and hostel are incomparably smaller than the fees in TISS, and the sharp manner in which it has been increased in the past three years.
“From a total of Rs 18,000 (Rs 12,000 dining fee and Rs 6,000 for hostel fee) in 2013-14, these two heads amount to Rs 31,000 (Rs 16,000 + Rs 15,000) in 2016-17,” the students wrote to the faculty and staff.
“At the same time, it is to be noted that the dining hall fee is a deposit fee. Students are charged as per their consumption and this amount is adjusted with their actual costs. In other universities (take for example, HCU), GoI-PMS students are given a waiver on the dining hall deposit amount (it only amounts to Rs 5,000 in these universities),” they continued.
To the registrar’s allegation that “many students do not declare the receipt of scholarships and fail to pay the applicable fees/dues,” the students replied that the deficit between the aid received from state government is not the responsibility of the GoI-PMS students.
TISS already has a recovery system in place if students do not pay their scholarship amounts – they are liable to forfeit their degrees. Moreover, the students claimed “lack of transparency” on the changes in application rates, recovery of scholarships and expenditure on students.
As the students continued their protest, the Registrar warned of “action as per rules” and asked the students not to obstruct campus gates.
Colleges across the country are standing in solidarity with TISS students. Hyderabad Central University (HCU), colleges affiliated with Delhi University (DU), Jamia Millia Islamia, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Aligarh Muslim University, Ambedkar Students Association of Pondicherry University, Dalit Indian Student Organisation, and even the Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom have extended support to the students.
In March last year, TISS made news across the country after it handed termination letters to 25 faculty members and announced the closure of three of its centres. The contracts of these professors were to end on March 31, 2017 (they were five-year contracts), but many expected the contract to be renewed, as was the norm.
Many of the professors are research assistants to students. The move was unprecedented and evoked outrage among the student and faculty bodies.
Additionally, it was announced that three TISS centres would be closed.
The TISS administration – led by Director S Parasuraman – argued that the move was inevitable due to lack of funds from University Grants Commission (UGC).
A faculty member had told The Logical Indian then that the current situation of the Institution is “so desperate that they are even unable to afford the maintenance bill.”
The Tata Institute of Social Studies was established in 1936 and became one of India’s premier institute in social sciences, human development, public policy and economics. Students in TISS are often from marginalised groups, like tribals, backward castes, and sexual minorities. 90% of its funding comes from the UGC (under the HRD Ministry), and the remaining from Tata Trusts.
TISS’ struggles with funding are not unknown. There has always been widespread criticism from the institution’s faculty and alumni over the lack of sufficient funding from the UGC.
In the Union Budget 2017-18, the outlay for education was increased by 9.9%. While this might sound good, the Rs 85,010 crore allocated to the HRD ministry is 0.23% less than the department’s share in budget since 2014-15.
The amount Indian students spend on higher education in just the US is more than the entire budget for higher education of the country. India also spends the least on education among its peers. Only 3.2% of its GDP is spent on education.
Financial woes of government-aided universities have put reputed institutes like TISS and, in turn, its students’ careers at stake. If our colleges are starved of funds, the future of India’s youth, especially the ones from financially weaker backgrounds, remains uncertain.
The students’ protest at TISS should be a wake-up call for the government to overhaul loopholes in the country’s education system. If it truly believes in India’s ‘right to education’, the sector needs to be made accessible and affordable for all – one where privatisation is grossly antithetical to the students’ needs.
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