Baljeet Kaur always imagined the gates of Punjabi University, in Patiala, as the door to emancipation and realisation of her dreams without any compulsion and fear. She had deposited the fees after collecting enough money earned by giving private tuition. However, her hopes for a bright career are dwindling after the university hiked the fees massively across courses with students alleging an increase of 3%-109%. Students of self-financed five-year integrated courses have been impacted the most with entrants paying as much as Rs 50,000 per year.
“The university administration is making up for the underfunding by the Punjab government by the monumental fees hike,” Kaur told Newsclick over the phone. “My parents had no idea about the exact amount of fees. Being a private sector employee, my father could not fund my studies. I still give private tuition to arrange the fees. Post lockdown, we expected respite from the university administration as joblessness spiked. However, the fees hike was a double blow.”
Terming the levy of 18% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the students “preposterous”, Kaur said, “If we analyse the GST slabs, such a huge tax is levied on luxury goods. Since when has education become a luxury? How will the weaker sections emancipate themselves from the clutches of poverty and hunger?”
The students maintain that the new self-financed five-year integrated courses have only been repackaged to cover the losses of the university arising out of years of underfunding by the Punjab government. “We asked the administration several times what do the new courses offer. The pressure to recover the losses is such that 210 students were admitted to the first year of social science with classes being held in auditoriums,” Kaur said.
Similar hikes were introduced in the hostel and examination fees. “Several students dropped out after the fees hike. The students spend Rs 10,000 per month excluding their hostel expenses. Protesting the new fees regime is only our alternative,” Kaur added.
Rahul Garg, a second-year MA (Philosophy) student, said that six new self-financed courses in mathematics, visual arts, languages and science were introduced. “The fees has been hiked from Rs 23,000 per annum to Rs 50,000 with students of physical and chemical sciences paying Rs 1 lakh. Several students belong to families of small farmers. How will they educate themselves if they are demanded a ransom like this?”
Garg added that the “university argues it is already incurring losses amounting to Rs 150 crore and has loans totalling Rs 250 crore taken for building infrastructure. The students cannot be forced to pay for the losses if the Punjab government has abdicated its duty to fund education for years”.
Amrit Singh, from the Students’ Federation of India, who is leading the fight for the students, said that the university “needs Rs 30 crore per month alone to pay its salaries whereas the government granted Rs 117 crore in the previous years. Therefore, it is depriving its employees of the basic right to salary. Secondly, the centres for research in advanced studies closed down due to a lack of funds. Third, the situation is so grim that the university offers Rs 15,000 to assistant professors hired as guest faculty despite facing an acute shortage of professors”.
Vice-chancellor professor Arvind had not replied to the questions asked by Newsclick till the time of the publication of this story.