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Subsidizing higher education in institutes like JNU

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Mr Gurcharan Das in his renowned book ‘India Unbound: From Independence to Global Information age’ talks about his childhood which he spent in United States of America. He proudly remembers that he used to ‘distribute newspapers’ as a child to earn his pocket money. He calls it his first step towards becoming self sufficient and carving his own identity. But such examples are rare in India. In India people rather fight on the funeral day of their father/mother for their claim on the property left by the deceased and that happens more often than not across all communities. An unnecessary sense of entitlement grips us all, let’s accept it. And when it comes to government, we are worse.

The simple formula which we seem to follow is ‘the more, the merrier’, specifically when it comes on someone else’s expanse. We Indians have grown up seeing government as ‘Mai-Baap’. And from here starts the mess.

Jawahar Lal University (JNU) is indeed a good academic institution. I remember during my graduation, 2012-15 in Physics Department of Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi, almost all of my friends who were really interested in pursuing research wanted to do M.Sc. from JNU. Seats are limited and opportunities are huge. People prepare for years and then only could get in there. Obviously, JNU as an institution commands a huge respect not only in my heart but also of millions in India. Even in the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) annually released by Ministry of Human Resource Development JNU has consistently been in the league of top universities.

Many Nobel laureates like Mr Amratya Sen and Mr Abhijeet Mukherjee are from JNU only. Then one may wonder why it remains in news for all the wrong reasons? Without jumping the gun let us understand JNU first.

It is a research oriented institution mostly offering Post-Graduate (PG) and higher education courses like PhD. For example, it does not offer Under-Graduate (UG) programmes except in Language, Literature and cultural studies. Out of 4359 seats in M.Phil/M.Tech/Ph.D, 1442 seats fall in kitty of ‘school of social science’, the highest among all fields, whereas only 193 seats are there in the ‘school of life science’. Figures don’t differ much in PG courses either. Basically, we can sum up that JNU as an institution is very diverse in terms of academic pursuits being pursued by students but in terms of numbers its majority primarily comes from the field of social sciences that is history, political science, philosophy and many other fields which basically involves study of human behaviour in a scientific manner.

Around 5,000 students live in 405 Hectares huge campus of JNU as residents in highly subsidised hostels. Till now, the hostel fee was around Rs 27000/- per annum including the mess charges. Room rent was Rs 10 when shared and Rs 20 when taken alone. Food for a month was available in Rs 3,000/-. By all measures, JNU has been the most subsidised university in India in the light of its location being South Delhi which is known for its expansive room rents wherein getting a 1 BHK accommodation can easily cost you Rs 20,000/-.

Recently, there has been a hike in hostel fee and if the new fee is implemented then the hostel fee for a year would cost somewhere around Rs 50,000/- a year. Room rent has been increased from Rs 10 to Rs 300 and additional monthly service charge of Rs 1,700/- has also been added. Even after the hike, the hostels remain highly subsidised considering what one might have to pay to live and eat nearby JNU premises. After consideration, more than 40% of students who come under Below Poverty Line (BPL) have been exempted from this hike. But protests which broke out post hike announcement are not abetting and a stand-off has got created between the JNU administration and protesting students. But the bigger debate this nation as a whole is facing is whether the limited resources of state should be used in subsidising higher education?

It is a fact that no society can progress without education. It enables a person to live a better life and to become capable of making choices for himself or herself. In the budget of 2019-20, India has decided to spend 4.6% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education that is Rs 94,853 Crore. About Rs 38,000/- Crore will be used to fund higher education in institutes like IIT, IIM, JNU and DU. Rest will be spent on school education. Now, the debate comes back to where shall we be emphasising more: School education or Higher education?

It’s a simple fact that a decent schooling changes a lot for a person. Having received that, one is able to get an employment which is able to sustain him or her along with his or her family. And the window to grow never closes. One can further still study and strive to grow. One can still prepare for government exams like civil services. One can even join the ever growing private sector and hone skills to get the desired place. But not having a decent schooling kills all opportunities for a person. All he or she is left with is some manual work like being a casual labourer or helper somewhere. The window to grow closes to a large extent.

Hence, for a resource starved and developing country like India school education shall be paramount. Schooling must not only include formal education but also of inculcating skills which may enable one to get decent employment immediately after school if the need be. That would require drastic change in school infrastructure across the country. Computer labs with internet, science labs and skill development centres would have to be developed in almost all village schools. That simply means increasing the expenditure on school education.

Higher education is pursued by the people who have already acquired certain qualifications. Like if someone is pursuing PhD in History, he or she already has a master’s degree and they, with some genuine effort, can always fund themselves. They can give tuition classes or do some part time work. In today’s digital age, one may get associated with organizations to do work to fund their academic endeavours. Saying we do not need scholars and researchers would be ignorance to say the least but trying to subsidise things for them at the cost of school education, considering huge pressure on resources due to large population, would be a disaster because the kids in school are not in a position do fund themselves and he/she is in a more vulnerable situation where helping him/her is much more important otherwise they are doomed for lives.

Hence, huge subsidy like the one being provided in JNU in particular and in higher education in general in a developing country like India is, unfortunately, neither affordable nor pragmatic.Thomas Hobbes famously says, “Leisure is the mother of Philosophy”. Philosophy happens to be one of the branches of Social Science and as we have already seen more than 50% students in JNU are from social sciences department. These subjects are not employment oriented generally and are pursued on state patronage since time immemorial. There is no denying that JNU would never have become hub of social sciences with a particular political affiliation without the encouragement of the then regime.

‘Left wing’ hegemony in field of social sciences was created strategically by the then ruling establishment to counter and malign the nascent ‘right wing’ which was always tried to be nipped in the bud by using these ‘ideological assets’. These left leaning ideologues, peculiarly in faculty, were erstwhile regime’s ‘assets’ to be used whenever the need be. It is a well known fact that these ‘left-leaning’ social science students, initiated in left wing by the comrades in the faculty, are feeder of almost all protests all around Delhi-NCR and are commonly referred to as ‘free loaders’. These students are disturbing manifestations of the unfulfilled desires of the ‘comrades in faculty’ who rather than guiding these students towards academic excellence push them to these protests to maintain their political clout.

With shrinking territory of ‘left wing’ politics in India , there is an obvious anxiety in these ‘left ideologues’. Institutes like JNU are last remaining citadels of left hegemony and these ‘ideologues’ are fighting hard for their survival. It might seem to one that students are protesting for hostel fee hike but in reality these issues are temporary in nature and these protests are manifestation of the anxiety of the ‘comrades in faculty’ whose end in all likelihood is near considering their incompatibility with the present regime and their well known hostile attitude, people would not call it ‘intolerance’, towards other political thought processes.

Chaos in campuses of public universities, largely dominated by left, would only increase in the coming days. We are obviously hearing a thing or two from DU and BHU too. Issues differ but chaos is constant in all public universities. But as they say, lamp burns the brightest before getting extinguished!

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