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BITS Fee Hike: KM Birla Meets Students For Negotiations, Many Not Satisfied With Outcome

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What had started on May 6, 2018, as a series of protests demanding a rollback of the fee hike in BITS Pilani campuses throughout the country yielded results on July 7, 2018, as the aggrieved students received audience from the Chancellor Kumar Mangalam Birla, and put forth and discussed their problems at length.

These protests had started in May 2018 with a demand for the rollback of the mammoth fee hike of 15%. Students had staged protests in the campus, even during their exams. Students also wrote open letters and took to social media platforms demanding the rollback. When the administration promised to find solutions, the students had halted the protests.

The administration, instead of responding with solutions, sent students show-cause notices. After students realised that the admin wasn’t going to take concrete steps to resolve the issue, they called for nationwide protests demanding the intervention of the Chancellor KM Birla. They had also handed over letters of intent to KM Birla, post which they were invited to speak with him and had the above-mentioned meeting.

Nine student representatives met him in his Worli office on July 7. “The meeting, which was supposed to last only for an hour, went on for more than four hours. We, the student community are grateful for his timely intervention in this issue. The student representatives elaborated upon the fee hike problem in a short presentation and the Chancellor, while making a note of the same, discussed each and every point exhaustively. We were asked to compile the Minutes of the Meeting and take an agreement to the Chancellor’s office, post which we had more negotiations. After the four hours of meeting, we indulged in further deliberations with his advisors for about 15 hours spread over the next few days. It took us so much time because they didn’t want to promise anything that they couldn’t deliver”, said Sidhartha Namburi who was one of the students who had spearheaded the campaign.

The discussions and deliberations bore a few assurances in the form of a more transparent fee structure, better scholarships, medical facilities and the like. The main demand of the students was the rollback of the fee hike. “We’ve agreed that rollback of the fee hike already announced for this year is not possible as the institute finances have already been planned accordingly”, said Namburi.

Another important demand was that of ‘One Batch One Fee’ model; this was also a hashtag the students of BITS Pilani used throughout the protests.

“In the new proposed model, the total fee for a student’s duration of study for the incoming batches would be explicitly mentioned at the time of joining. This amount will be distributed over the duration of the student’s enrolment in such a way, that it will be much easier for the students to pay a lower amount in their first year and gradually, pay the total fees. This will help the student plan their finances and procure loans accordingly,” said Namburi.

The administration plans to release the fee structure to be paid by the 2019 batch by the end of July.

“I believe we compromised on our demands, but going to a negotiation table that has to be the essence of a deal. We had a lot hope from our administration after seeing their apathy, hence this renewed trust on the Chancellor is a welcome change. This was a successful protest and all of us here at BITS are satisfied with the outcome and hope these concrete efforts lead us towards a better future”, added Neil Sarkar who will now begin his second year at BITS and was a part of the negotiations.

While the student representatives called the meeting fruitful in this Facebook post, there has been a mixed response about the same. A section of the students are disappointed at the lack of a concrete response from the Chancellor’s office. They believe things have been left in the open and to time, again.

“We started this protest to roll back the fee hike but if you read the report of the talk, that thing is lost somewhere or has been given some other face like the OBOF model. We were not even ready to leave the auditorium without getting all our answers and, now, apparently, we have compromised a lot. I wanted to see some full proof data and not mere promises by the Chancellor. I think these points may lose their credibility in the long run by my knowledge of how things in India work. However, I have complete faith in Namburi Bhaiya and other representatives when they say that efforts and improvements are concrete words. Let’s hope he is right”, said a student on the request of anonymity.

While a lot of people are happy and have immense faith in their student representatives, they are uncertain about the new OBOF model which assures a pre-determined fee structure, on account of its illogical premise.

“I am quite satisfied with the work that the student leaders have done. It’s commendable. But just like a lot of other BITSians, I am also wondering if we got a good deal. It made quite less sense to inform us beforehand about what we will pay for the four years (at least useless for the batches that have already taken the loan). I am not very satisfied with the logic that parents will have an income increase every year. But, even if they do increase the fees, it’s only valid to increase it by the same percentage as inflation”, said a third-year student.

“The one problem I found with the fee-structure they have proposed is that when you look ahead, you tend to keep risks in mind. So, say, if you have a 10% hike, you’ll always have a 0.5% extra margin in the fee for risks and errors, and this will not bring a reduction in the fee structure. So, rollback is anyway not possible. My problem is that the things they have proposed are not very concrete. They are not really things we can go back and ask the administration to do”, added another final year BITS student who requested anonymity.

While the credibility of the proposed OBOF model received mixed responses, the students were also promised other essential facilities.

“There has been a mixed response about the outcome of the meeting, but there are various other important takeaways from the meeting, which are going to help BITS go a long way in its development. Though there is going to be a fee-hike, we are being provided with more facilities which we were not getting before. The meeting also assured the students of increase in scholarships from the current 21% and the promise that they will try their best to get it to previous levels (they had 50% scholarships back in 2005); if not, there’ll definitely be an increase in the same. They also promised to revamp medical facilities, especially in the BITS Pilani Campus. This was a manifesto point since the last ten years; it never got implemented, Pilani being a rural area. But, Birla Sir promised 24×7 Pharmacy and Emergency Facilities as well as an upgradation to the existing medical facilities provided on campus”, says Namburi.

The students have officially called off the protests, after the meeting.

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Image used for representation.
Image source: Ravi Choudhary/HT | Abhijiit Bhatlekar/Mint via Getty Images
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