The protest by students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) against the rollback of scholarships for SC, ST, and OBC students will complete two months soon. The deadlock between students, administration, and the government — despite the formation of a committee by the University Grants Commission (UGC), a plan of action formulated by the institute, and directions of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes — continues.
The struggle for the institute is about ensuring its commitment to social justice amidst various financial challenges. However, these challenges were both controllable and uncontrollable, and it appears that TISS was mismanaged.
Here are four reasons why I think so:
“If they (the UGC) don’t give (funds), then I’ll again have to take my begging bowl everywhere to ask for funds,” this was the director of one of the most prestigious institutes of India in 2015.
At the time the institute was brought to its knees and had to take loans for even its basic functioning. This was due to to delay in payment of non-plan grants from the UGC, which was around Rs 50 crore in 2013-14. The Ministry of Human Resource Development then reduced its expenditure on the institute by 5%, which was meant to progressively reduce government funding to 50 percent.
The Post-Matric Scholarship scheme has faced a similar fate. This government has continued the legacy UPA-2 of starving the social justice department — which offers the scholarship — of funds which was the legal due. The Post-Matric Scholarship scheme has been one of the worst hit schemes by r such apathy, with the pending amount at Rs. 8,000 and Rs.3,156 crore for the SC and ST students respectively.
Contrast this with the Rs 3,775 crore that the government has spent just on publicity. The government wants the students whose forefathers did bone crushing work to build up this nation to beg, while it itself spends billions of dollars to make people realise the bliss of “acche din” that have arrived.
How do you respond to crisis? By creating some more.
This is how the TISS governing board has played by. From 2014, when the OBC-NC scholarship was cancelled and the issue of GOI-PMS became uncomfortable, TISS increased its fees.
Before the government decided that it is going to send scholarships directly to the students, they were expected to repay the waiver offered by the institute on upfront fee before enrolment. TISS claims some students didn’t repay the waiver, thereby creating a deficit, which has forced them to increase the fees. However, this deficit is calculated using the increased fee structure and not the actual expenditure needed.
An RTI reply revealed that the proportion of only OBC students decreased from 28% in 2013-14 to about 18% in 2016-17. This does not include students who were not able to enrol after clearing the selection process and students who had to leave because they could not sustain themselves.
This is a vitriolic design, as the fee has reached to such a standard that even when the PMS is released, it will be insufficient for the students.Whenever this issue is raised, the institute’s standard rejoinder is the financial aid available, which is no more than a mere joke for what the students actually need.
On one hand the administration talks about not having enough funds to deliver scholarships and on the other hand there is maddening expansion of centres, campuses and courses. New centres to study refugees, environmental health, development practice and research have cropped up in recent years. There is a plan to open an School of Economics Sciences at the cost of Rs 100 crore in 2019. Also, additional courses have been introduced, which needs more faculty. For instance in Tuljapur campus alone, 4 new master’s degree courses have opened up in the past six years.
This expansion is done on the pretext that more and more people will be able to avail the world class education of TISS. However, one should ask: Without scholarship, what “kind” of people are being desired here?
Finally, is the deficit of Rs 20 crore (a figure cited by the admin out of nowhere) too big for an institute which spent more than Rs 5.5 crore per month just to pay salary of its staff (including around 350 professors) in 2016-17.
Tata, which has 6 out of the 17 members in the governing board (where 1 co-opted member is associated with the TATA Group and 5 are nominees of Tata’s trusts), has been the missing piece in the whole story.
Similar to the factory owner who goes on to a holiday when a strike breaks out, the trusts did not even bother to make a statement or have a dialogue with the protesting students. The same Tata trusts donated Rs.220 crore to the Harvard Business School, the highest sum in the school’s 102-year history. It evades any logic why similar generosity is not being shown towards the marginalised students of TISS. While it is a personal choice where to donate or not. However, it also shows what values and priorities the donor stands for.
Besides, some people are creating parallels between begging and asking the trusts to intervene in the crisis. When the government gets involved, the same people get concerned about the “taxpayers’ money”. But it should be remembered that TISS is owned by the trusts and provides a lot of goodwill to the Tata Group while also fulfilling its CSR commitments.
The struggle is not against someone but against the mismanagement of the institutes. If the trusts doesn’t want to intervene, the institute should be handed over to government at the cost of the “Tata” in in the name “Tata Institute of Social Sciences”.
The fiasco is a brutal reminder of Vemula’s words, “My birth is my fatal accident”. This is how it comes to be. The regime gets envious seeing the Dalit-Bahujans getting education and rushes to seek vengeance. As far as TISS is concerned, it is our institute, and we will let no administration, government, or trust to tamper with its basic principles of social justice.
The author is a part of the Youth Ki Awaaz Writers’ Training Program.
Note: The title of this post was changed on April 20 for clarity.