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JNU Students’ Protest Is Symptom of Larger Structural Problem: Rapid Privatisation & Commercialisation of Higher Education In India


For past few weeks, JNU students’ protest against massive fee hike in hostel facilities has been widely covered in media. Depending on the kind of media outlet people watch, the opinion on protest is sharply divided. Contrary to highlighting real issue impartially, many media houses which have fame of finding “Nano Chips’ in post denomitisation notes have as usually tried their level best to misinform, profile and manufacture outrage against students’ protest.  But many media houses have done equally commendable (rare) jobs of doing proper reporting from the ground dispelling propaganda and crafted narrative against students protest. Many false narrative (like JNU hostel fee is only Rs 10,  JNU students are burden to  tax payers money,  no fee hike etc)  were  generated and widely circulated in social media.

So let’s us examine all these claims circulated in social media and try to dispassionately examine it.

Claim I : There is no massive Fe Hike. Or Fee hike has been withdrawn and protest is just disruptive act by JNU students. 

Nothing can be far from truth than the statement that there is no massive fee hike in JNU. It is true that JNU administration has agreed to reduce fee from earlier proposal but still the massive fee hike remains intact. Also any discussion on Fee hike has to be contextualised with this fact that JNU has 44% of students whose family income is less than Rs 14,000 per month.  The following table shows the current annual hostel fee and the new hostel fee structure( for both BPL & non BPL students).

Current Hostel Fees New Hostel Fee structure
For ‘Eligible’ BPL students Others Students
Rs 36, 240 per year Rs 52,740 per year Rs 69,480 per year

Looking at above table it is obvious, that fee hike is massive, even for BPL students. After this fee hike JNU will be the most expensive central university of the country. So where is withdrawal of fee hike?  How will 27% of JNU students whose family’s annual income is merely Rs 72 000, pay Rs 52,740 hostel fees?  So the news of withdrawal of fee hike is complete eyewash!

The following chart shows major sub components of hostel fee which has been hiked massively and is not highlighted properly in media outlets.

Breakup of hostel fee

Not only room rent is increased but service charge  and utilities charge (water + electricity) which was zero have been increased exponentially.

Claim II: JNU is burden on tax payers’ money. Or Why should JNU get subsidy!

A closer examination of this argument reveals that the implicit assumption that only middle class and rich pay taxes  and their tax money should be used to fund students ( poor) of JNU.  So let us decipher this all time favorite propaganda (somewhat effective) of anti poor lobby of this country.

Every time you give reason for funding of public education and making higher education more affordable for all section of society, the ruling elites, middle class and bhakts bring their favourite “tax payers money” wala argument. The bhakts knowingly or unknowingly assume that only the rich and middle class pay taxes in this country and rest are leeching/wasting on this ‘hard earned’ taxpayers money.

Most people get defensive when ‘proper utilization of taxpayers money’ arguments is brought by organised hordes of bhakts. The ‘taxpayers’ argument implicitly assumes that the poor and the socially marginalized section of the country don’t pay any taxes.  This is often brought against the the subsidy which is supposed to benefit the poor. However, this is factually incorrect.

First, let me put this once for all that EVERYONE PAYS TAXES. The poor cannot avoid tax obligation. As share of their income, the taxes paid by the poor is high, relative to the rich. Landless labourers, the unemployed youth, unorganised workers- everyone pays taxes. Even a beggar, destitute, vagabond pays taxes. It’s called Indirect Tax which no body can avoid paying. Direct tax (dominantly paid by the rich) can be avoided but Indirect tax can’t be avoided. In every item the poor buy from the market, the indirect tax are already embedded in its price. The share of indirect tax in total tax revenue is 48%. Out of Rs 1919009 crore tax revenue collected in the year 2017-18, Rs 912251 crore was collected as Indirect Tax which is mostly paid by the poor and the working class who comprises a major share of consumer. Working class also pays direct taxes.

Secondly, the rich and middle class are known as TAX CHORS (tax defaulters)! The rich avoids paying their fair share of direct tax by using various loopholes existing in the direct tax laws. Annually they avoid paying 5-6 % of GDP of tax. All black money consists of unpaid taxes of the rich, for instance the exposure by Panama Papers. So basically they are the real Tax Chors! The major evasion in direct tax by the rich, elites and middle class are major reason for resource crunch faced by any government. Indeed Kelkar Committee(2002) has euphemistically called it “missing middle”!

Thirdly, the rich get huge subsidies every year. Every year the government gives 7% of GDP as tax rebate to the richest section of this country. Total expenditure of government in overall education is just 3.9% of GDP. Even government own Economic Survey 2016 estimated the total amount of the subsidy to rich as high as Rs 1,00,000 crore. The total revenue forgone (both direct and indirect tax) was Rs 785674 crores in year 2018. The annual budget of UGC in 2018 was 4600 crore. Even a simple Loan forgiven (Rs 2,14,000 crore) by the government banks to the rich corporate houses in past five years alone could have funded UGC for 46 years! Why no outrage over loss of such huge revenue??

Fourthly, funding higher education is investing in human capital. It upgrades human resources, increases technology developments and promotes faster economic Growth. But contrary to established historical fact, why investing in education is projected as wastage of tax payers’ money?

Lastly, the recent CAG report shows that government has failed to utilize Rs 2,18,00,000 crore tax collected in the name of education cess. So, how can anyone say government does not have money for education?

So please get rid stupid notion of funding of public education as wastage of “tax payers” money and stop taking as if only the rich and middle class pay taxes. Even if government uses taxes collected from the poor (indirect taxes), it’s sufficient to fund public education. So what should be proper the utilization of taxes not sole pejorative of rich and middle class as poor too pay taxes in this country.

Claim III:  It will have no impact on poor students.  

Contrary to the claim that the proposed fee hike will have no impact on students, if we closely study the data the new fee hike will have severe adverse impact on students coming from economically and socially marginalised communities.

The bar chart below shows the expected number of poor students who will be forced to dropout from JNU due to the fee hike. Also the reservation for ST SC OBC on hostel allocation is not there in new hostel manual. The figure shows that new fee hike in JNU will result in daylight murder of Social Justice! Around 607 and 848 students belonging to ST and SC respectively will be most likely to dropout if the new hostel manual is put in place. As a percentage of total dropouts, ST and SC dropout percentages come around 17 and 24 respectively. 

Methodology for calculations of figures:

First, out of 8082 students of JNU, 40% falls under the poor category, i.e. their monthly income have income less than Rs 14000. So roughly 3232 students are poor from different social groups.

Since we don’t have the data on social group wise distribution of the poor students in JNU, I have therefore, estimated using the following method: It is assumed that the distribution of poor students admitted in JNU is the same as country wide distribution of the poor according to social category wise. The distribution of poverty according to social category has been calculated using Thorat’s (2010) article published in EPW (Ethnicity, Caste and Religion: Implications for Poverty Outcome). In Thorat paper poverty figure is given for poverty within each social category not across social categories. I have calculated the later figure. My estimation of distribution of the poor students in JNU is the following: SC 28%, OBC 45%, ST 18.8, SFC – 15.6%.

The larger structural reason behind the current students protest is  rapid privatisation of higher education: 

In terms of arguing the rational for protest of JNU students and students of many universities including IITs, and medical institutions, we should be careful not to view these events as isolated cases of some institutes of country. What these institutes are witnessing is a reflection of a much deeper larger structural change which higher education is going through under the neoliberal era.  There has been rapid foundational shift in terms of viewing education not as a fundamental right but as a mere marketable commodity. Under this Neoliberal worldview educational institutions are shops, teachers are service providers and students are the investors. So the enlightenment vision of education as medium of bringing social transformation is reduced to making oneself marketable commodity in the job market.

The extent of privatization of  higher education can be judged from the following fatigues. Out of 39931 colleges in India only 22% are public funded. 78% is already privatized in India! Share of private colleges in 82% in Andhra Pradesh, 80% in Telangana and 78% in UP, 77 % in Tamil Naidu. Colleges are important as 80% of enrollment in higher education has been done under UG level courses (BA, BSC BCOM). Most of these colleges are out of the reach of the poor and socially marginalized communities which total upto 85% share in India’s population. Share of PhD in total students enrollment in higher Education is only 0.5 %. Also out of 993 total universities in India, 385 are privately managed universities. There were only 181 private state universities in 2014 which increased to 303 in 2018. While on the other hand, only 4 new central universities, and 55 new state public universities were increased in the same period. Such is the extent of privatization of higher education.  So the construction of new public funded universities is progressing at snail pace but private universities are growing at very fast rate in India.

Market logic is clear. If one seller is providing better quality service at cheap rate (public funded universities) than its competitor ( Private Universities), then the first seller will capture the market and out compete its rival seller. So extending this logic to education it becomes obvious that until cheap and quality public funded education remains active, the growth of new private college/ universities will be severely constrained. So the destruction of public funded education remains inevitable.  Best way to destroy public funded education is make them as expensive as the private universities by cutting its fund and making public funded universities ‘self revenue generating entities’.  Hike in students fee part is reflection of  this larger structural change which higher education is passing through in the recent period. Privatization of public funded colleges/universities  will severely impact students from the poor and socially marginalized communities. So the fight against fee hike has to be contextualized as larger fight against privatization and commercialization of higher education. And this is the fight which we cannot afford to loose!!!