For the past few weeks, students of Jawaharlal Nehru University have been agitating against a hike in fees. The university authorities had decided on a 300% increase in the room rent and security deposit for hostel accommodation. The students are of the view that if the subsidised rates are withdrawn, many of them who belong to the economically weaker sections will have to leave the university as it would become unaffordable. That may indeed be true as about 40% of the university’s students come from very humble and rural backgrounds. Many of them have benefitted immensely from JNU’s subsidised
fee structure to climb the ladder of success, which would otherwise have been out of reach.
But there are two issues here. The first is the merit points JNU gives to EWS category students while seeking admission. The lower the family income, the greater the weightage points the student gets. But the income levels for getting the merit points were fixed by the university about four decades ago and since then there has been no revision. Income levels have risen sharply over the years. The second issue is the fees. The room rent of `20 and `10 for a single and double room, respectively, was last revised in 1973, which is 46 years ago. If the university authorities have decided to revise the fees to match the current income and price levels, it may not be entirely unjustified.
It is possible that the revised fees will hurt the genuinely needy students. In that case, the university could consider introducing a differential fee structure wherein the EWS students continue to pay only the subsidised fees while the others pay the revised amount. The experience of subsidies in cooking gas, diesel, petrol and even rice is well known to all. As the university’s own data shows, a majority of the students belong to fairly high income brackets, making it possible for them to afford the hiked fees.