Fee hike at IITs impact students

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On July 19, a group of PhD students gathered close to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay’s main administrative building to demonstrate against tuition increases. The per-semester price for postgraduate and research programmes has increased significantly for 2022–23, ranging from 53% to 170% depending on the category.

Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle (APPSC) IITB member and PhD student who requested anonymity said, “All we are asking is why the institution is pressing students to shoulder the burden of the withdrawal of subsidy, leading to a round 50% fee jump for masters and PhD scholars.” At the open house, it was revealed that the Higher Education Finance Agency has approved IIT Bombay for a loan worth Rs. 1,000 crore (HEFA). Students wanted to know how much IIT Bombay still owed in terms of repayment.

In order to fundamentally alter how higher education institutions fund their expansion, the education ministry and Canara Bank established HEFA in 2017. Infrastructure loans from HEFA have taken the position of capital grants from the budget; however, unlike grants, the principal amounts must be repaid from the institution’s own income. Since public universities are not-for-profit organisations, the HEFA loans have put a strain on their budgets, including those of the IITs.

Although IIT Bombay experienced the most unrest due to the fee increase, including a hunger strike, the problem is not exclusive to that institution. Students from the old and new IITs in Delhi, Guwahati, Mandi, and Gandhinagar have reported fee increases for new applicants and enrolled students starting this year that range from 20% to 50%. A PhD candidate from IIT Delhi questioned how he would cope with the increase. “We receive a fellowship of Rs. 35,000, which has not increased in four years. The most recent increase was in 2018. But all of the fees—including those for the mess and hostel—are rising steadily, he continued. The historically underrepresented Scheduled Castes and Tribes students have been particularly hard-hit by the fee increase (SC, ST).

Fee-hike across IITs

IIT Bombay’s semester fee for newly accepted postgraduate students in unreserved seats and those from Other Backward Classes has increased by 170.79% in 2022–23. (OBC). Just the tuition price has climbed by 500%. The rise for SC and ST students is 53.21%. According to data supplied by APPSC IIT Bombay, general and OBC PhD scholars have increased by 60.30%, while ST and SC scholars have increased by 53.21%. The fees cover a variety of items, including tuition, assessments, gymkhana, medical care, rent, power, establishment costs, a fund for dormitory facilities, and more. The increase is 39.21% for general and OBC students who are already enrolled in master’s programmes and 53.21% for SC and ST students. The increases for PhD holders are 45.15% (general, OBC) and 53.21% (SC, ST).

Similar to this, students at IIT Delhi who entered M.Tech or M.Res programmes in August 2022 after passing the national-level Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) had to pay Rs. 45,850, an increase of 86%; students who did not pass the GATE or have a teaching assistantship had to pay Rs. 1,06,600, an increase of 98%. There have been increases of 56% and 131% for full-time and part-time PhD students, respectively. “New hostel prices have increased by 300% with the addition of extra amenities like air conditioners. According to a third-year PhD student at IIT Delhi, “they are now demanding extra Rs. 20,000 in the name of convenience fees for AC maintenance, power, and the mess prices for these new dorms have also increased by 18%, per semester.

The cost increase at IIT Mandi, on the other hand, is approximately 15%–20% for students who are enrolled and 50% for new admissions, according to a PhD student from IIT Mandi. The cost of all postgraduate programmes at IIT Gandhinagar and IIT Guwahati has been steadily rising for about a year. When asked about the fee increases through email, none of the IIT directors—IIT Delhi, IIT Guwahati, IIT Mandi, and IIT Gandhinagar—responded.

HEFA loans, subsidy

IIT Bombay hosted an open house to talk with students about the hikes. The institute’s board of governors had recommended an annual increase based on the rise in expenditures, according to a presentation made there by the administration, and IITB “needs to boost its capital funding capacity and funding to academic units.” Additionally, IIT Bombay had to use its own funds to pay back its HEFA loan, which it took out to develop dorms, student activity centres, and academic buildings. This equates to an annual payment of Rs. 100 crore.

According to a statement released by IIT Bombay on August 7: “Fees make up barely 8% of our earnings; the majority of IIT Bombay’s funding comes from the government. While tuition rates will never be enough to cover all of our expenses, it is anticipated that the fees associated with the hostel will at least be on a level with those expenses. A requirement to repay the loan in 10 instalments with interest paid by the ministry of education was also included.

According to the PhD student from IIT Delhi, students were notified that dorm and mess prices would increase in January. They added that a few months later, in June, they were notified that housing and food would not be subsidised at all. “The administration informed us it can only grant 10% subsidy, not 30%, and students had to absorb the additional amount on hostel and mess costs,” they alleged. “As a result, we now deserve a housing allowance. It’s almost like we’re tenants, one PhD student remarked. According to the management at all IITs, they did not raise tuition during the Covid era, so they are now, according to Arghya Das, general secretary of the Democratic Research Scholars Organization, based in Kolkata.

The second excuse given is inflation. The amount allocated for IITs increased by Rs. 609 crores in the Union Budget 2022. The “new allocation is significantly smaller,” according to Das. Additionally, all new IITs’ development will be covered by the budget. He claimed that the fee increases are a symptom of the government’s departure from the field of education and its encouragement of institutions to “find their own way.”

Paying researchers

Scholars who are protesting claim that the government should be raising fellowships every year but is instead raising fees. IIT Bombay researcher: “Given the current pricing system, whatever they are receiving in honoraria, the institutes and the government are taking back.” The fee increase has also sparked discussion over whether researchers should be paid at all given that they contribute to knowledge creation. Another person questioned, “Why are PhD scholars charged such hefty fees when they are working on research?” “You cannot take money from the scholars on the premise that you are paying them the fellowship,” a second-year PhD student from IIT Delhi stated. You are developing a human resource that contributes to society’s advancement.

“The system is shifting toward requiring PhD scholars to acquire funding for work first and then pay fees later. It’s illogical, a third-year research student from IIT Bombay added. “Since we are the knowledge creators, the charge component must originate from the government. And in publicly supported universities like IITs, fees must be kept to a minimum. IIT Bombay cut the semester mess advance (SMA) by 1,800 rupees for graduate students and 1,500 rupees for undergraduates. The organisation sponsoring the demonstration, IIT Bombay Students Against Fee Hike, claimed that “This reduction is only a rectification of the unlawful and wasteful double collection decision.” Another concession made by the institute was the permanent invitation of four elected student body members.

According to a statement from IIT Bombay Students Against Fee Hike, the hunger strike, which had been in progress since August 6, was put on hold on August 12 as a result of a partial rollback of the fee increase and a commitment from administration officials to take students’ demands into consideration soon. However, on August 19, following the Board of Governors meeting, an email outlining the costs was delivered to all of the students. According to the email, “The fees for UG/PG/PhD (on-roll/new entrants) have been changed and will be implemented shortly based on the permission of the competent authority.” Additionally, it said that any additional academic expenses that students paid for the semester will be returned in “due course of time.”

‘Othering’ students

Students from SC and ST communities, for whom the tuition and campus climate were already a strain, will be particularly hard-hit by the fee increase. Although lecturers are helping certain students by contributing to their tuition, a second-year Adivasi PhD student at IIT Mandi noted that this is not a sustainable approach. Another tribal student at IIT Guwahati who is pursuing a master’s degree had just planned to leave the school but instead obtained some funding from a non-governmental organisation. “I was planning to leave because I couldn’t afford the expensive costs, but now an NGO is helping me pay them. No one backed me when I spoke with the professors in my department and the department chair. We’ve hiked our semester price by 25%,” they declared.

At least five Dalit and Adivasi attendees, according to a student who attended IIT Bombay’s open house, claimed to always feel overburdened at the university. One commented at the open house, “We are continually made to feel like we don’t deserve to be here, and the fees issue has made it worse for us to survive on the campus.

IIT Bombay stated in its statement that “students who have economic difficulties…will be provided with an opportunity to seek and get a postponement of fees.” IIT will work on scholarships for Masters students who are struggling financially, similar to scholarships for undergraduate students.

Mayank Tewari

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