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“I Don’t Have A Source Of Income To Pay My College Fees”: The Burgeoning Cost Of Education In The Pandemic

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

*Trigger Warning: Covid Trauma, Death*

Education has always been expensive in a globalised world, but even more so during a pandemic. Along with the mental pressure of having to battle a deadly virus, Indians have to deal with financial pressure and subsequent anxiety.

The pandemic has financially drained the Indian middle and upper-middle class. According to a survey, 32 million people have been pushed out of the middle-class group due to employment uncertainty. They are often faced with adversity in these testing times. The significant reduction in earnings has disabled them from keeping up even with the monthly electricity, rent and other bills. 

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It is during these times that certain private colleges are charging an exorbitant amount of fees. This has put immense pressure on families that sometimes have only one earning member per family. Certain private colleges have turned a blind eye to the problems faced by the students and their families. They have continued with their regular scheme of fees without issuing even the slightest bit of deduction. 

Colleges should not charge more than the students’ tuition fees because they practically have online-only classes. Many students think it is not justified to charge students for the facilities they are not using, such as the library, sports ground, canteen, etc. Some colleges have given ridiculous explanations about electricity bills, infrastructural cost and maintenance fees.

The colleges even go to the extent of pressuring the students and the parents to pay the semester fees on time, which would result in serious consequences and an ultimatum if not paid. Private colleges are still looking at their profit margin even during a pandemic. Last year, students from colleges based in Delhi had written to the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister highlighting the fee structure of colleges under GGSIPU (Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University).

The second wave has been more deadly than the first one. Therefore, it is not difficult to find at least one sick member in each family. Some of them have to be admitted to hospitals and in ICU wards. Given the scarcity of beds, private hospitals are charging a huge amount to the patients’ families. They have no option but to comply. The medical expenses are an additional burden that they have to bear.

The bills keep adding they do not know how to pay them off. “My family is facing a serious financial crisis because one of my family members got hospitalised, we had to pay a huge amount, yet we couldn’t save him,” said a student who wishes to remain anonymous. 

Some families have lost the only earning member and are clueless about how they will make ends meet. “In this pandemic, my father passed away and I do not have any source of income to pay for my college fees,” says another. 

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The students not only have to sit for compulsory examinations when the situation is tragic, but they also have to cope with the financial expenses. Owing to this expense, students in the middle and lower strata of society are considering giving up on their education. They are taking up whatever odd jobs they can get with little pay to support their family.

Many of them had plans to pursue degrees post graduation, but they have no option but to give up given the circumstances. In certain families with more than two children, it is becoming an increasing burden for the earning member to keep up with the rising expenses. 

“Due to the lockdown, there is a layoff in jobs and businesses are down, therefore paying 22K for each semester during Covid-19 is difficult for us,” said Mayank Jaiswal, who is currently pursuing his bachelors in commerce from The Bhawanipore Education Society and College.

Sharp downfall in income, exhaustion in savings and medical expenditures are some of the reasons stated by students facing such a crisis. The students have written to the authorities but have received very little help from them. They want the college to either waive off the fees or provide them with some aid or assistance. 

Governments in several states and union territories have capped the fees private schools can charge, but similar steps towards colleges are yet to be taken. 

The sheer lack of empathy for students has been reflected by these colleges. The mental exhaustion and agony caused by this constant pressure are harmful to the well-being of students and parents as well. Some students are staging online protests because in several states lockdowns have been imposed. Therefore, protesting against it physically would be life-threatening for the students. College authorities are tone-deaf to their appeal for financial assistance and waiver. 

India is going through a humanitarian crisis. It is unfair for the management head of private colleges to seek their profits even during a situation that leaves a trauma on the students’ lives. Instead of charging such a high amount, they should either waive it off for students going through a financial crisis or charge them just the tuition fee.

The students are already facing mental trauma. There is a lack of accessibility to online education existing already. Some have had to purchase laptops, good mobile sets and costly data packs to attend classes. To assume that everyone’s financial condition will remain unaffected because they belong to a privileged background is wrong and fallacious.

Some colleges are stating that they have to pay the non-teaching staff dependent on the college for employment. While this can be a reasonable cause, it is not convincing enough for the students who have time and again asked for a breakup of the fees structure. 

The students are helpless at this point in time. Even after approaching multiple authorities, they have not received a helpful solution. Will students be successful in mellowing down the authorities decision to go ahead with their regular fee structure, or will it be the same? That is something we have to watch out for. 

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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