From the Viewsroom

JNU fosters inclusivity

Preeti Mehra | Updated on November 22, 2019

The hostel fee hike will hamper access to the disadvantaged

It is very easy to criticise and mock students of Jawaharlal Nehru University when you have the might of the state and ruling party MPs behind you. The students who have been protesting the steep hike in hostel fees for close to three weeks now have been variously pilloried as ‘liberal freeloaders’ who exploit the hospitality extended to them to carry out “anti-national/anti-social activities” from the safety of the university campus. Typically, on social media, a video grab of a 23-year-old woman student protester was shared as that of a 43-year-old whose daughter allegedly also studies in JNU. It proved to be fake and part of a larger misinformation campaign.

JNU has been similarly blackened and projected as a university that harbours “urban naxals.” And the fee hike was projected in some quarters as an instrument that would not only cut operational losses but also discourage the ‘non-serious’ from seeking admission. Such an assessment is not only unfair on the students but also undermines the very purpose served by JNU all these years.

For the record, the University was established in 1969 by an Act of Parliament and was meant to be inclusive and the fee structure for study and hostel facilities was so designed to make quality education affordable for even the economically and socially marginalised including SCs, STs and OBCs. According to official figures, 40 per cent of students enrolled in the University come from families with monthly income below ₹12,000. For such students the revised hostel fee may well be a big drain on their families, with many prospective students having to opt out of higher education. To put it bluntly, in one stroke the hike renders JNU exclusive to only those who can afford to pay.

But what about the argument that the University is a drain on taxpayers’ money? Well, in 2017-18 JNU received ₹352 crore as grants/subsidies while its expenditure exceeded incomes by ₹173 crore. However, this shortfall is nothing compared to the education cess lying unutilised in the Consolidated Fund of India. The CAG data for 2017-18 reveals that ₹94,036 crore of secondary and higher education cess collected remained unused. This cess can very easily be used to bring relief to universities experiencing a shortfall of funds. Perhaps, JNU needs official support and the government needs to give a patient hearing to the faculty and students rather than unleash the police on them.

Published on November 22, 2019

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