It was a hectic day at the university. We finished class at 03:30 pm and hustled up to the canteen. Since our exams were scheduled for next week, we decided to inquire at the office after lunch. Little did we know that something sinister was being planned. Something was creeping without a whisper, without making noise as it attached itself onto the noticeboard. It camouflaged itself under a hoard of announcements and silently waited until one could catch a glimpse and comprehend what had been written:
“All the students are hereby informed that they should immediately submit the examination forms along with a fee of Rs. 1360/- in the office. Last date of submission is February 23.”
In the next 10 minutes, hordes of students gathered around the notice looking at each other in utter dismay while their speechless faces silently conveyed the depths of what they felt at that moment.
Many of my classmates were outraged after reading about the exam fee being hiked from Rs. 660 to Rs. 1360. Some froze in shock as they did not know whether to concentrate on their upcoming exam or to gather the courage and ask for the fee from their parents – many of whom are single, old, retired, and/or have to manage two or more children.
I imagined my father saying, “Enough of studying. I cannot afford to pay your fees. If you want to study, please find a job.” This isn’t his first time. After all, in a society that pressurises boys to study engineering to earn ‘big money’, I was already a misfit by rebelling and pursuing social sciences at a publicly funded university. But will the university continue to provide me with a decent education if I don’t have ‘big money’?
The University of Mumbai (MU) has received severe flak for hiking its examination fees at the postgraduate level. This is neither the first time nor the first issue where MU is in the news in a bad light. In 2017, the University introduced the On-Screen Marking (OSM) system that delayed results by four months and many students were declared ‘fail’. However, during the same time, it earned a massive revenue through re-evaluations and re-examinations.
Throughout the years, making money through students has become such an important tradition for the University that students have become immune to acts of financial exploitation which is indeed worrying, to say the least.
The university’s official circular gives a detailed explanation of what the University thinks is a reduction in fees. However, for many years, departments never charged Rs. 1500 and continued with a fee of Rs. 660 per semester indicating the complete failure to implement the policy uniformly at the departmental level. Now, departments have started increasing the fees arbitrarily that are not in tandem with the circular. While some departments charged Rs. 1500, others charged Rs. 900 while some charged Rs. 1650, and so on.
What is extremely unpleasant is a flat 73% reduction for one paper while a 10% reduction for three or more papers, when the institution and its departments are well aware of the fact that every postgraduate student has a minimum of four papers per semester. In all this mess, the administration has decided to increase the fees by 5% every year starting from 2019 stating that the institution does not get money from the state government for examination related purposes.
While results are consistently delayed, and students haven’t received their mark sheets – Is Rs. 1360 per semester justified in a state-funded institution that claims to be one of the oldest in the country?
The unruly hike in fees is not the only obstacle for the students. Several academic and administrative bottlenecks continue to maintain a symbiotic relationship that deliberately restricts students from benefiting from their access to higher education. And when questioned, we often get told, “You cannot demand an explanation, you can only ask for information!”
The Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) proved to be a loosely implemented scheme that didn’t emphasise much on the students’ right to exercise their choice. While it gave us the freedom to choose our courses, the professors, departments, and the admin easily discouraged us by passing the buck. Departments didn’t coordinate, full-time professors were on leave during academic hours, and lectures were delayed by two months.
A limited number of professors undertaking maximum amount of academic and administrative duty, while the University offered fewer jobs has skewed the professor-student ratio. The University still has poor infrastructure. While libraries are infested with mice, the campus is full of mosquitoes. The existing hostel and library facilities are inadequate for students from other states.
What started out purely as a student’s movement, and a space to collectivise students’ grievances was immediately labelled as a ‘department issue’. While efforts were made uniformly to reverse the hike, there were several instances where the university administration tried to curb the space for dissent.
We were casually told “Arey aap toh humare hi bachhe hai, andolan karne ki kya zarurat?” (You guys are like our children, why organise a protest?) When we met the registrar, we got an unsatisfactory response, and despite demanding an official pan-department circular, it has not yet arrived.
After repeated attempts, the acting Vice-Chancellor has agreed to meet the students on March 5, 2018, at 12:00 pm at the MU Fort Campus.
I appeal to all the students to come together to bring down this oppressive mechanism, collectively. While this is a deliberate attempt at excluding students from marginalised backgrounds, the administration of the University continues to play its divide and rule policy among departments so that the students do not question the status quo.
Education is not just a service, it must be a basic human right! Asking for justice while holding authorities accountable is vital. The students of the University of Mumbai have had their patience tested for a long time. This is the start of reclaiming our rights in a space that has consistently restricted student mobility and freedom.