JNU fee hike: Should Subsidised Education be made Available to Both Rich & Poor?

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Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), among the most prestigious central universities in the country, recently announced a fee hike from the next academic session. This would nearly double the annual fee for the hostel students–from the existing annual fee ranging from Rs 27,000 to Rs 32,000 to between Rs 55,000 to Rs 61,000. The announcement of fee hike was met by met by huge protests by students. Following the protests, the JNU administration announced a partial roll back of fees. But the students are in no mood to relent with continued protests, boycotts and demonstrations.

The argument put forth by the students is that a large section of the students, being from economically underprivileged backgrounds, would not be able to afford the expensive education.

JNU becomes the most expensive central university after the fee hike:

The proposed fee hike makes JNU the most expensive central university in the country. While earlier the most expensive central university was Delhi University– with annual fees upto Rs 55,000–with the present fee revision, JNU will become the most expensive among all. Other universities like Banaras Hindu University and Aligarh Muslim University have annual fees below Rs 30,000.

Reasons and repercussions of the fee hike:

The JNU fee hike has brought to the fore the discussion on the pros and cons of providing subsidised education to all students in the country. While a section of intellectuals, experts and policy makers underline that subsidised education should only be provided to the economically marginalized sections, others support such education for all.

In the midst of the protests and debates, university authorities clarified that the JNU fee hike was in consonance with the increased expenses over the years, and that the fee had not been revised for the last 19 years. To ensure that the underprivileged students did not suffer because of the revised fees structure, the JNU administration promised scholarships and other programmes of financial assistance. Meanwhile the union ministry of Human Resource and Development (HRD) has constituted a three-member committee to look into the issue. It is expected to resolve the matter amicably.

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Government spending on education:

The government, in the current financial year, has provided 4.6% of the GDP for education. Educationists, however, say that the spending on education has to be at least 6% of the GDP to provide subsidised education to marginalised students. Another lacunae underlined by experts is that the government focuses on providing funds for subsidised education to premier technical and scientific institutes, like IIT and IIM, while those providing education for social science subjects are neglected.

According to various reports, more than 50% of central government funds were provided to institutes like IIT, NIT and IIM in 2018. This was despite the fact that a majority of students, both at under-graduate and postgraduate levels were enrolled in humanities courses.

JNU is among the premier universities providing higher education in a wide array of social science subjects. As such, the fee hike had rekindled the debate on the government focusing on technical and engineering education at the cost of humanities and social sciences. Educationists say that while premier medical institutes, IITs and IIMs are being provided a lion’s share of the subsidised funds, those focusing on social sciences are being provided with lesser subsidies, which has now resulted in the present standoff: the JNU fee hike.

What’s the way out? Solution to the fee hike

Government provides subsidised education from taxpayers money, and the fee-hike reflects paucity of funds with the government. As tax revenue cannot be enhanced with immediate effect to fund the shortage of funds, it becomes imperative to search for other options. Some educationalists suggest a two-pronged method to provide affordable education without losses to the state exchequer. These are:

  1. Implementing a course fee which is at par with open market rates, or the cost of education at private institutions. The redrawn fee structure, would be collected and used by the state, to provide subsidy to economically weaker students.
  2. Well-off students themselves forgoing the government’s subsidy on education, and also sponsoring the fee of economically marginalized students.

Conclusion: Though there is no clear cut answer for the question whether subsidized education should be provided to all, discussions to churn out-of-the-box solutions to bridge the gap between access to education and shortage of funds need to be initiated by the policy makers.

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