InjusTISS: The case against privatisation of education

By Prarthana Mitra

Student body agitations have a long history and troubling recurrence in India. The last decade has seen the country’s youth unite against campus violence, gender crimes, administrative and syllabus changes, nefarious political agendas and other instances of injustice against students. While most student-led revolutions tend to die an early death due to state intervention and administrative crackdown, they nevertheless serve as symbolic reminders for some legitimate demands that remain unfulfilled to this day.

Scholarship(s) in jeopardy

An article published by Qrius earlier this month discusses why academic research in India lags behind with a citation rank of 14 as opposed to China’s 11. Higher education in India has been in grave danger for a while. An insidious trend seems to have the best of Indian institutions by their throat, sweeping the rug from under their feet by rampantly slashing funds, seats, grants and scholarships.

After similar incidents in JNU and IIT Bombay, Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) announced in February, their decision to withdraw the fee waiver offered under Government of India Post-Matric Scholarship (GoI-PMS) scheme, citing fund deficits as the reason. Hundreds of students from marginalised communities have benefitted from this scheme in the past.

The GoI-PMS scheme is the right of every SC/ST/OBC student coming from an economically marginalised family and denying it goes against the institute’s own ethos of promoting and protecting dignity, social justice, equality and human rights for all.

“Be educated, be organised, be agitated”

Following the sage words of Dalit rights icon BR Ambedkar, the students of TISS across all campuses in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Tuljapur, and Guwahati took a stand against privatisation of education and what is clearly a ploy to make education more exclusive to the privileged classes. Thus began a month-long agitation for an immediate retraction of the administration’s mandate on current GoI-PMS students to pay tuition, dining hall and hostel fees.

Since February 21, the students have remained resolute in their demand for a clear course of action for allocating financial concessions in the future, instead of cutting needy students out completely. The student body has also rallied for adequate representation of the SC, ST and OBC minorities in the administration.

The need to free education from corporate stronghold

According to sources from the organising committee, the enrolment rate from the OBC category had plummeted by 9% after financial aid for OBC students was withdrawn in 2015. The recent rule potentially targets 500 SC and ST students across all the campuses and a similar drop in the years to come.

Solidarity came pouring in from all corners of the world, including premier institutions and student unions in India, Ivy League institutes like the University of Cambridge, and even TISS’s own Teachers Association, which made it difficult to quell the voice of dissent. Politician Yogendra Yadav said on Twitter, “The struggle by students of TISS raises issues that go beyond their institution and concern constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity.”

Course of movement despite apathy from authorities

To save the country’s premium institute of social sciences from becoming an ugly irony of itself, and to further prevent education from becoming exclusionary and elitist, the TISS Students’ Union had approached the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs but to no avail. This spurred hunger strikes, Chalo TISS movements, peaceful marches, panel discussions- inviting support from all quarters and including a strong media presence.

Amidst disagreement between factions and several general body meetings, the University Grants Commission (UGC) on March 16 released arrears worth Rs11crore to TISS Mumbai after the student agitation gained national attention.

However, the protest is far from over and students will continue to agitate until all demands are met, according to Yashwant Zagade, PhD scholar who played an active role in the movement. That includes “increasing and regularising full disbursement of the scholarship sanctioned by the MHRD, to the state governments that often fail to disburse the full amount to the students’ accounts,” he said.

The demand for an increase in the scholarship amount, by extension, demands that policymakers rethink the existing criteria for the same. “Only those SC & ST families with an income below 2.5 lacs and OBC families with an annual income of less than a lac are presently eligible for the GoI-PMS scholarship”, says Zagade which “becomes problematic for families who are struggling to raise more than one child”. The movement, therefore, has a long battle ahead, and can ideally end only when such concerns cease to plague marginalised scholars of the country.

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