JNU Alumni protest fees hike in Kolkata, gets support from several Universities

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Kolkata: Students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have been quite vocal and determined about the fee hike proposed by the University management. Students enrolled with the university have not just taken on the streets of Delhi or formed human chains, demanding for an immediate fee roll back, but have given out a call to all the students across India, seeking their support. In response to the call by the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student Union (JNUSU), seeking support from fellow students across India, former students of JNU organised a rally on Wednesday afternoon in Kolkata.

Much to the surprise of the organisers, a healthy number of participants hailing from different cross-section of the society made it to the protest rally, which was flagged off from Raja Subodh Mullick Square to culminate at Entally’s Ramlila Maidan.

Speaking to eNewsroom, Subhanil Chowdhury, professor of economics at Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata, said, “I am a former student of JNU and I have seen for close vicinity how the subsidised educational fee allows thousands of brilliant students hailing from the often forgotten section of the society get access to quality education. Hike in fee in public education system, will deprive 40 per cent of JNU students of their right to education. I understand the importance of the JNU movement, where the students have been creating pressure on the government to roll back the fee hike and hence, I am here to stand in solidarity with the demands being made by the students of my Alma Mater.”

“At a time when countries like Norway are making education free, our country is hell bent on increasing the cost of education. If the fees are hiked, where will the poor students go to? Is this a deliberate attempt to make quality education accessible only to the rich and elite class? Are the poor or those who have the courage to dissent to be kept deprived of education? The constant attempts being made to corner JNU students or to saffronise them, is not a healthy sign. I understand the importance of public education and subsidised fee,” said Tanweer Ahmed Khan, secretary of Maulana Azad College’s alumni association.

It was not just Chowdhury, who made sure to be present at the rally on a working day, but several other faculty members, students, student union leaders and even alumni association members of various government colleges and universities of Bengal like Presidency University, University of Calcutta, Jadavpur University, Maulana Azad College and more chose to stand in solidarity with the former students of JNU.

“At a time when countries like Norway are making education free, our country is hell bent on increasing the cost of education. If the fees are hiked, where will the poor students go to? Is this a deliberate attempt to make quality education accessible only to the rich and elite class? Are the poor or those who have the courage to dissent to be kept deprived of education? The constant attempts being made to corner JNU students or to saffronise them, is not a healthy sign. I understand the importance of public education and subsidised fee,” said Tanweer Ahmed Khan, secretary of Maulana Azad College’s alumni association.

Echoing a similar sentiment was Sudipta Bhattacharya, professor of economics at the Viswa Bharti University. He said, “The problem that the JNU students are facing is universal for all Indian students and in not just limited to JNU campus. Students across India enrolled in autonomous universities are having to face a similar issue. Almost a week back, similar protests were seen in our university campus, back then the students were demanding for the admission form price to be reduced. We as the general public need to understand that there is a constant pressure on autonomous universities and colleges to generate their own funds to keep the institutions running.  Fee hike is definitely not the best way to make institutes to arrange their own funds.”

When asked that there are many, who are not okay with tax-payers money being spent on JNU students, Chowdhury, said with a dry laugh, “I am cent percent sure that the people saying so, lack the acumen to crack the JNU entrance examination. They have an issue with the taxpayer’s money being spent on education, but are fine with it being spent of statues and foreign trips of politicians.”

“The government needs to understand that autonomy granted to universities and colleges doesn’t boil down to financial autonomy. It means that the university or college is free to take its own decision without the state interference, with respect to their curriculum. On the contrary, we have been witnessing an increasing trend where autonomous educational institutes are being forced to mobilise their own funds. University Grant Commission, has been made redundant, to create space for Higher Education Funding Authority (HEFA), which now has created provision for the universities function not on grants but on loans which it has to recover from its students, which can be done only by hiking the fees,” explained Bhattacharya.

When asked that there are many, who are not okay with tax-payers money being spent on JNU students, Chowdhury, said with a dry laugh, “I am cent percent sure that the people saying so, lack the acumen to crack the JNU entrance examination. They have an issue with the taxpayer’s money being spent on education, but are fine with it being spent of statues and foreign trips of politicians.”

Interestingly, according to a February 2019 CAG report, INR 94,036 set aside for secondary and higher education cess along with INR 7,298 crore for research and development cess have remained unused. So, where did this money go and why is it not being used to meet the expenditure of premium institutes of India like the JNU, IITs and IIMs, are questions that need to be raised not just on the streets but also at the Parliament.

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