GUWAHATI, FEB 26: The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) has withdrawn all financial assistance for all categories of students asking all students to pay Rs. 50,000 per semester for hostel and food. As of now, students from SC/ST communities were being awarded a waiver of tuition and hostel fees in the institution. A similar waiver was being awarded to OBC students, has already been revoked a couple of years earlier, leading to a significant drop in the percentage of OBC admissions. Given that the institute introduced a 75% fee increase for MPhil and MA students across categories in 2016, the existing financial burden on a student is extremely significant, in the absence of financial aid. The present attack if it goes through, shall make the institution completely inaccessible for all except the significantly rich and socially powerful section of the country’s population or push students into the trap of education loans at a time when even minimally decent employment has become very hard to come by.
Hitting back against the various kinds of stop gap strategies being adopted by the TISS administration, such as giving students extension to pay their fees, threatening them with eviction and forcing them towards education loans, the students of TISS have declared 100% strike across campuses from 21st February onwards with all classes and field work coming to a full halt demanding the restoration of access to education for students from marginalised backgrounds in their university.
The students of TISS have struck at a much deeper question. The fact of the matter is that the Central government has consistently and massively been cutting funds for higher education over the past some years. The funding for the UGC, which provides grants for all public universities was cut by 55% in 2016-17, when the Occupy UGC protests happened in opposition to the termination of Non-NET scholarships for MPhil PhD students. It has since then seen continuing decrease in allocation. On the contrary, this Union budget introduced Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) which will give LOANS to our universities, that the universities will have to repay by further increasing students’ fees and cutting down on waivers and scholarships. No wonder, the UGC is already asking all Central Universities to raise 30% of their costs through increasing “user charges”, i.e. student’s fees.
The students are witnessing in TISS is just a beginning, a precursor to what any and all of the country’s public Universities are going to face. JNU has increased almost 200% hike in entrance examination fees. Various colleges across DU have been witnessing massive fee hikes, and some of them are even pushing for financial autonomy. Ambedkar University, Delhi charges near about 25,000 every semester, while the IITs charge more than 2 lakhs annually. We saw how massive fees hike was imposed in Punjab University last year, strongly contested by students. While some of these institutions maintain the pretence of inclusiveness and “social justice” by a handful of scholarships or fee reimbursements for SC/ST students, none of these pretences can last while the Government decides to starve higher education of funds.