CHENNAI: The placement season began at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) with the start of the new semester on Monday and the final-year students at the premium institution are now looking forward to landing a well-paid job by December. At the same time, a campus debate is raging over the recent hike in fees imposed by the premier institution.
The debate has been framed between two questions: Should state education be hiked so steeply? And should state-subsidised students be protesting so much when they are wooed with high salary packages by premier companies at the end of the course?
Looked at as bare figures, the hike at IIT Bombay is steep. Hostel rent has increased from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000, gymkhana fees from Rs 750 to Rs 2,000, medical premium from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 and mess advance from Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000.
Apart from this, two new overheads have been introduced: A mess establishment charge of Rs 1,500 and a contribution of Rs 200 towards the accident insurance fund. The total hike ranges from Rs 4,750 to Rs 7,250 depending on whether the student is an undergrad, an M.Tech student or a PhD scholar. It also depends on caste.
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According to the official IIT fee document for 2017-2018 Autumn semester, the total fees for an undergrad student including the tuition fees and the hiked non-tuition fees was notified to be Rs 1,17,000 per semester.
Protesting students have created a Facebook page—Students Against Fee Hike - IIT Bombay, to present their case. For instance, the page showed that dues at the end of the semester on the hiked ‘mess advance’ would amount to anywhere between Rs 4000 and Rs 5000.
Mess Advance for the entire semester includes three components — mess charge per day, maintenance charge per month, and transportation charge. The post showed how at the end of the semester these accumulated charges go beyond ‘Mess Advance’ and the students end up paying more.
These premonitions sparked off a protest campaign, spearheaded mostly by post-doctorate students. More students couldn’t join the protests as the semester break had been ongoing, said an active member of the protest.
Administration responds, protesters not convinced
Despite the small number of protestors, numerous rallies organised by them, two letters signed by hundreds of students addressed to the director and registrar of IIT Bombay and a call for hunger protest prompted the administration to respond.
On July 7, the administration published a white paper explaining the rationale of the non-tuition fee hike and advised students to call off their protest. The white paper titled “A Perspective Note on Non-tuition Fee Increase at IIT Bombay from Academic Year 2017-2018”, said that despite the increase in non-tuition fees, the institution would still carry over a 20 per cent deficit on the 2016-2017 expenditure and that there was a need for the institution to increase its fees based on a diktat issued by the government that all autonomous institutions have to be largely self-financed.
The document revealed that there are two different components to funding of IITs by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). First, there is MHRD Plan support — which goes towards infrastructure and capital expenses. Second, there is the MHRD Non-Plan support, which when clubbed with the internal earnings of the institute, takes care of the operational expenses and pays salary/pensions.
According to the report, 10 per cent of the non-plan grant is reserved for operational expenses, and the remaining 90 per cent goes towards salaries. The operating expenses of the institute are taken care of by the sum of the 10 per cent of MHRD non-plan grant, student fees and ‘other earnings’.
However, the students were not convinced.
A PhD student of the institute who spoke to the New Indian Express on the condition of anonymity, said, “There is no proper split regarding some of the overheads that they have mentioned. For example, the expenditure incurred on students has been explained but not the expenditure on the gymkhana.”
Indeed, the explanation laid out in the white paper seemed to be selective. While the cost of examinations was broken down to the exact money spent, the gymkhana expenditure was given in percentages. When the students confronted the administration regarding this, they promised to come out with a better breakup of components.
The PhD student who spoke to the New Indian Express also questioned the new “mess establishment charge”. He said that while salaries of mess workers are paid from the ‘mess advance’, there is a new ‘hostel establishment charge’. “Where is that money going?” he asked.
The IIT Bombay administration did not respond to queries by the New Indian Express on this matter.
Of the 16 hostels in IIT-B, 14 are run by contractors. The PhD student said Hostel 10, which is a contractor-run hostel, started leaking within a year of its construction. “Why was the repair charge borne by the students when it is clearly a construction fault?” he asked.
He also complained that there should be a single overhead for maintenance rather than several major components for vague maintenance purposes.
But how justified really are the protests?
In 2016, Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) decided to increase the IIT course fee from Rs 90,000 to Rs 2,00,000 per year saying that the government was spending Rs 6,00,000 per student per year.
However, B Punalkar, the former registrar of IIT-B, in an interview to Insight, the official publication of IIT Bombay, said the subsidy per student worked out to “at least Rs 4.5 lakh per student per year”. Punalkar also said MHRD paid about Rs 210 crore a year to IIT-B and that the total income from student fees was only Rs 50 crore.
So if we sum that up, the cost of studying for an undergraduate engineering degree at IIT Bombay without government subsidy would have been anywhere between Rs 20-28 lakhs for four years and eight semesters. Whereas with subsidy, students have to pay only Rs 8 lakh. If you factor the current proposed hike, it would work out to Rs 9.36 lakh. Still highly subsidised.
Comparatively, at the Birla Institute of Engineering and Sciences (BITS), Goa campus, a student would have to shell out Rs 3 lakh more for a four-year undergraduate engineering B.Tech degree.
In the global arena, a premier institution like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology charges its undergrad and graduate students $24,070 per semester, which roughly translates to Rs 15 lakh per semester. In the UK, it costs a local student an average of 9,250 pounds per year to study in a university like Oxford. That roughly comes to Rs 7.5 lakh per annum.
Social media responds
The protest against the fee hike in IIT-B started in May when the institution announced the higher charges and gained traction in early July when the media started reporting on it.
While news debates were organised to argue the validity of the protests, social media users severely criticised the students.
One reader responded to a blog post on NDTV written by one of the student protesters: “Gymkhana fee is only Rs 150 per month, which has been increased only by Rs 250. (The) figure is quoted in percentage to confuse readers. i.e. 167 per cent.”
Another response read, “If they want subsidy, let every student studying in IIT sign a bond to serve within India for at least 10 years after completing their graduation.”
Another said, “The average (salary) package in IIT Bombay was 11 lakh in 2016. There are enough opportunities for placements and if someone still doesn't get a job then you were not good enough and please do not expect taxpayer to pay for your lack of hard work.”
Other comments were similar in nature, with the occasional troll taking a dig at the protestors.
A section of the Facebook page Students Against Fee Hike, IIT-B, where social media users reviewed the page and the ‘cause’ also revealed a similar stance.
A comment in the review section read, “The group subsumes that the people who decided about the hike have no student interest in mind. These are the same set of students who would go to any length in taking loans for a fancy degree from the USA.”
“I understand the anger of the tax-payers,” said the PhD student. “If I was in their place I would have been angry too.
“But let me give you an example. Say you are working for an organisation and just a week before your salary is credited, HR comes up to you and says a part of your salary has been given to charity. How would you feel?”
The scholar said most PhD students in IIT Bombay have left their jobs to pursue their passion, and most have to send a part of their stipend home. Thus each minute increase in the fee hike matters to them.
The PhD student is the eldest of five siblings. He is paid a stipend of Rs 25,000 per month. He sends Rs 15,000 to his father and Rs 3,000-4,000 to a brother who is studying medicine. He had to borrow money from his friends to pay the current semester fees.
“If I had known that the non-tuition fee would be hiked, I would have joined IIT Kanpur or IIT Kharagpur where it is not that costly,” he added.