AT A Delhi University (DU) Academic Council meeting last week, an agenda item riled its teachers. In its plans to start a school of journalism and introduce diploma courses in cyber security and law, and transnational studies, the university had proposed that they be self-financing courses. It led to a furore that saw teachers, cutting across party lines, uniting in opposition — a rare occurrence.
The opposition forced a rethink: the university eventually passed the courses at the School of Journalism as general courses, while keeping the two diploma degrees as self-financing ones.
What are self-financed courses?
Education in government institutions in India is subsidised to a great extent, with the University Grants Commission (UGC) funding universities and colleges — in some cases up to 95 per cent. In these courses, the fee collected from students is not what drives an institution.
In self-financing courses, however, the idea is to have a higher fee structure that can bear the cost of salaries of teachers — and sometimes infrastructure — during the course of the educational degree. Of about 60 undergraduate courses taught in Delhi University, only a handful — Computer Science, Bachelor of Management Studies, and Bachelor of Financial and Investment Analysis — are self financing, but even these are not in all colleges where they are taught. A college can teach the same course under the general scheme or under the self-financing scheme.
What led to the current controversy?
In its proposal to start the School of Journalism, Delhi University pegged the semester fee at Rs 30,000, which translates to Rs 60,000 per annum. In contrast, at the Lady Shri Ram College for Women, which runs the most popular journalism course in DU, the per annum fee is Rs 27,190 — less than half of what the proposed fee for the new school would have been.
The cost is one of the biggest aspects played up by critics. According to a 2008 study by Dr Sudhanshu Bhushan of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, the average fee per student in regular courses is Rs 1,759, while average fee per student for the self-financing courses is six times higher, at Rs 10,428. The study also found that primarily, students from financially stable families hogged the self-financed courses.
What is the opposition?
For teachers and educationists who oppose the move, one of the biggest criticisms of the self-financing mode is that it ‘excludes more than it includes’. They say the higher fee structure ensures that only those with the means and access will be able to afford the course. In the process, the most marginalised stand to lose out. “Self-financing courses reinforce gender discrimination. We have seen that people with limited means are reluctant to spend on a woman’s education. They might sell off the little land they have to fund their son’s education but will not do the same for their daughter,” says Saikat Ghosh, Delhi University Academic Council member.
Others have spoken about the unfairness of the system. As per Delhi University rules, syllabus is uniform across all its colleges, and so is the qualifications and method of selection of teachers. “Why then, should a student pay more for the same quality of education in one college as opposed to another? In some colleges, Computer Science (honours) is a self-financing course but in others it is not despite the quality being the same. The government is just washing its hands of the responsibility of educating an entire generation,” says a professor at the university who did not want to be named.
Is it a precursor to autonomy and privatisation?
For over half a decade, the government has tried to lure universities with the tag of autonomy to change the country’s education milieu. The push has only grown stronger over the past year, with the UGC telling colleges that they will be granted the right to restructure their syllabus, hire teachers and conduct decentralised examinations if they opt for autonomy. At DU, six premier colleges have been seeking the autonomy tag. Teachers believe that autonomy is the first step towards privatisation of education that will exclude especially the economically disadvantaged, and women.
In DU, courses passed by the academic and executive councils in 2014 have still not started, due lack of funding from the UGC, which has said that these courses will only be approved as self-financing ones.