*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.
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.
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.