A significant portion of JNU students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Rather than cutting subsidies, JNU should attract more alumni funding through targeted programmes
Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) faced protests from students over updates to the hostel manual, which sought to increase fees.
The hike would increase rent for a single-occupancy room to Rs 600 per month (partially rolled back to Rs 200) from Rs 20, while double-occupancy was to rise to Rs 300 (rolled back to Rs 100) from Rs 10.
The bone of contention was the on-time security deposit for the mess that was to be Rs 12,000 (now cut to Rs 5,500) and the Rs 1,700 service charge.
While there was a huge debate on whether such subsidies should be given, the fact is that a significant portion of the students come from economically weaker backgrounds.
According to the JNU Annual Report 2017-18, of the total 1,556 candidates selected in that academic year about 40 percent (623 students) came from the lower and middle-income groups, whose parents' income was less than Rs 12,000 per month. Of these, 684 students came from rural areas.
A fee hike would mean a direct hit on these families since they would have to spend at least Rs 10,000-11,000 annually on educating their child. Apart from the hostel fees, students will also be required to pay electricity and water charges from now on.
On the other hand, it is also a fact that there is a huge gap between the income and expenditure of the university. The income in 2017-18 was Rs 383.62 crore while the expenditure was Rs 556.14 crore.
Academic receipts constituted merely Rs 10.99 crore of the income while grants/subsidies were Rs 352 crore.
The idea behind keeping the fee low at JNU was to ensure that students from all walks of the economy are able to avail the best quality education at an affordable rate.
What is affordable to someone living in Mumbai will not apply to a JNU aspirant from Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh.
However, the fact is that the income generated is grossly inadequate to pay for the expenses. But that does not mean that subsidies be done away with. The student diversity at the JNU campus is its biggest strength and a fee hike will have a direct impact.
At this hour while the university is looking to launch schemes for economically weaker students, the larger issue is that there needs to be a sustainable source of funds. The IIT Delhi model could be a good starter for JNU to utilise its rich alumni network.
IIT Delhi has launched an endowment fund through which it aims to raise about $1 billion by 2025. Till now, they have received Rs 250 crore already. This is not an impossible feat and JNU could very well emulate this model.
Set up in 1969, JNU has an alumni network of more than 80,000 individuals including social scientists, scientists civil servants, literary critics, media experts, foreign language experts, journalists, political leaders, social activists, technologists, managers and entrepreneurs according to its website.
A structured model of reaching out to all the past alumni could be used and fundraiser events held by JNU wherein chair professorships could also be used as a path to getting additional funds. Once a stream of funds is set up, it would be easier to get a regular flow of donations for various activities. Large corporates could also be encouraged to donate their CSR funds.
Enabling the poorest in the country to avail quality education is what the role of central universities is. Rather than cutting subsidies and making students pay, it is time that JNU took a smarter approach and explored alternate other modes of funding.