Authorities to blame for not hiking fees for so long.
While authorities at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) have sought to quell the students’ anger over the 100-200-fold hike in hostel fees by reducing the hike by half in the case of poor students, they would do well to put out the actual numbers on what it costs to run a hostel and to provide an education. Indeed, that applies not just to JNU, but to all colleges/universities that are run or funded by the government since students are paying just a small fraction of costs; all education is subsidised the world over, but it cannot be subsidised for everyone, by this amount, and certainly not by the same amount irrespective of how rich or poor the students are. As a result of not charging the right fees, the government itself is strapped for cash, and that is why few colleges/universities can afford better facilities for their students.
Hiking the hostel fees for a shared room from ₹10 per month to ₹300 in JNU, and from ₹20 to ₹600 for a single room, and adding a service charge of ₹1,700 per month—the service charge has now been changed to the actual cost incurred—is huge, so the students’ anger looks justified, but keep in mind Delhi University or Ambedkar University charge anywhere from ₹2,500 to ₹3,000 for the same thing. And, even this probably has an element of subsidy. Indeed, the authorities in JNU are also to blame since, despite the yawning gap between costs and fees, they didn’t do anything for so many years. Interestingly, while both kerosene and diesel subsidies have traditionally also been seen as a holy cow since both are supposedly used by the poor, the Vajpayee (for kerosene) and Manmohan Singh/Narendra Modi governments raised prices by a flat amount every month to dramatically reduce the kerosene subsidy, and to completely eliminate the diesel one; and there wasn’t much of a protest either.
While there is no official estimate of costs of hostels, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) has estimates of teaching costs that are made by various colleges themselves. For JNU, the estimate given to NAAC puts the recurring expenditure per student at ₹5.8 lakh in 2016-17, and at ₹1.7 lakh if salaries of teachers/staff was not included. What is charged as annual fee, the university’s accounts show, is 1% of this on average. For Delhi University’s Hindu College, it was ₹76,000 in 2015-16 with the salaries included; for Ambedkar University it was ₹175,000 in 2012-13, and students paid 13% of the costs as per its accounts. While no one advocates charging the full fees for all students, surely, as in the case of the relatively new Ashoka University, fees can be linked to the incomes of parents; and those above a certain income bracket must certainly pay the full cost. Only then can India have better-funded universities that can produce more research, and provide better facilities to both students and teachers; till universities remain under-funded, the chances of India ever having more than four to five universities in the top 500 in the world are bleak.