Few thoughts on JNU Fee Hike Protest

For the past two decades, the fee in JNU has remained stagnant at a paltry Rs. 10-20 for hostel rooms. For most of us, the case in favor of a hike ends there and requires no further attention. Unless, of course, one is convinced that providing quality education is the singular responsibility of the state, and funds for which have to be managed by the state itself without ever having to trouble the students. The experience, however, shows that this belief, while perfectly legitimate to harbour, hasn’t fare any better world over. The best of the Universities around the world gather at least a part of their expenditure directly from the fees payable by the students while making up for the shortfalls from public funds, endowments, and sponsorship.

Therefore, coming back to the protest, a slightly disturbing trend emerges. Most of the protesting students, when interviewed by various news channels, had a singular line of compliant running through – that attempts are being made to privatize the institutes of higher education. We are not provided of what is the necessary harm in infusing private capital to make up for the infrastructural gaps in the University. If it is taken that, for whatever ideological reasons, private capital is not acceptable to the students of a particular university then one of the obvious options available to the university is to bring the fees to the contemporaneous subsidized levels.

To expect the state to make for all infrastructural by citing budget expenditures on other projects is just wilful stretching of the rhetorical cord. Even if those allocations are sponged off from those projects, it would not translate into the funds being infused into the university itself. Unless, we are sure of stopping all other expenditures and infrastructural projects till we fix our hospitals, schools, and colleges, the argument of purely state-led funding for the institutions of higher education is defective.

Most of the emerging institutions of this country have steered towards raising their own funds. In the process, they are gathering a great deal of academic freedom to start off new courses and hire efficient faculty beyond the restrictive criteria that come with state funding. The rise of National Law Universities in India is the primary example. This also solves the other complaints of the JNU students, who are perpetually pained by the interference of the state in their administration and penetration of ‘Sanghi’ professors in their institution. Allow your university the freedom you have always favored by not leaving it in the mercies of government funding, and in return, reap the harvest of the traditions cherished by your university such as ‘dissent’, ‘freedom’, and ‘ideological conviction’. This also will allow them to have a cross-subsidy in terms of scholarships where students who can afford a higher fee provides for the students from economically weak sections of the society, ensuring equity, a principle that students of JNU themselves cherish and argue for.

The state, on the other hand, needs to have a statute that periodically raises the fees instead of make-shift committee decisions coming suddenly after 19 years. It gives an appearance of malice even if it was completely absent. One can’t expect an active student union not to further the interests of its electorate even if it appears unreasonable in the present socio-economic conditions, where Rs. 300 might not come across as unaffordable. The Union in itself is perhaps commendable in taking the cause of the student where most student unions enjoy post-election stupor. The best example of it – the Delhi University Student Union, where a quarter of the electorate blindly votes for the first candidate on the ballot, the other half doesn’t show up, and the remaining is stuck in regional and caste politics.

Image Source – Flickr@Joe Athialy – JNU protest in 2016

Anuj Aggarwal

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