Fergusson College recently hiked its fees for the academic year 2019 – 2020 for the various courses offered under the grantable scheme, which receive financial aid from the government. The decision did not go down well with a section of the student community, which staged a protest and even went on a two-day hunger strike, forcing the college administration to defend its decision and promise to support students from underprivileged backgrounds. The Indian Express explains the many challenges faced by the college due to its autonomous status and why it had to revise the three-decade-old fee structure.
The revised fees for grantable courses
The college had not revised its fees for all the courses under the grantable scheme in at least three decades.
Three years ago, the University Grants Commission granted autonomous status to Fergusson College, giving it the power to decide its fee structure, among many other operational powers. However, the college didn’t hike its fees until the current academic year — 2019- 2020 — for courses under the grantable scheme.
As per the revised structure, the fee of Bachelor’s in Arts (BA) courses, under the grantable scheme, has been revised from Rs 5,270 to Rs 9,245 (general category) and Rs 2,610 to Rs 6,585 (reserved category). Similarly, the fee for B.Sc courses was increased from Rs 6,570 to Rs 11,025 (general category) and from Rs 3,890 to Rs 8,240 (reserved category).
The types of courses offered
According to the UGC’s norms, there are three modes of college education — Regular Mode (grant scheme), when the colleges or universities run their courses with some financial support from the government, Self-financing Mode (Non-grant), when university or colleges don’t get any financial support from the government, and thus charge higher fees for such courses, and correspondence or distance-learning courses, when the student doesn’t have to attend regular coursework.
Autonomy: The advantages and disadvantages
An autonomous status presents new opportunities and new challenges for the college. The biggest advantage is that the college gets the freedom to design its own syllabus, in accordance with UGC norms, and introduce newer courses. Students also have greater flexibility while opting for interdisciplinary subjects. For example, Fergusson College offers French and German as additional languages for BSc students, and recently introduced a Master’s programme in Data Sciences.
However, the college also has to shoulder many new responsibilities, almost all of which involve heavy expenses. Earlier, many of these expenditures were borne by the Savitribai Phule Pune University, the parent affiliated university. But all funding support received from SPPU stands withdrawn since the college was granted autonomous status.
The college authorities also pointed out that since 2005, the state government has stopped financial support for non-salaried funds to the college, which adds to the many challenges the institution is currently grappling with.
The new responsibilities include designing the syllabi of its courses, conducting examinations and carrying out centralised assessments of the three examinations conducted during the academic year, known as Continuous Assessments, appointing Board of Studies (BoS) for every subject and appointing an Academic Council. For the BoS to function properly, the college needs to hire external faculty and subject experts from other colleges or universities, or members from UGC. These members hold several meetings and take part in workshops at the time of designing and introducing syllabus revisions, or while introducing new coursework.
Managing examinations and carrying out assessments also require manpower from other colleges in the form of moderators. All of these tasks involve additional expenditure, and students’ fees are nowhere enough to fund them, say college authorities. In fact, they point out that the fees paid by a student does not cover even 10 per cent of the costs for laboratories and other facilities utilised by a student while pursuing a course.
As salaries of teachers under grantable and non-grantable schemes are decided by the Sixth Pay Commission, a significant amount of money is spent on salaries too. Maintaining a campus sprawling across 60 acres and monitoring operations of over 200 CCTVs also requires significant manpower, and the personnel to do so are often hired by the college from service provider companies.
Lessons for colleges seeking autonomous status
With some colleges from the city, including College of Engineering, Pune (CoEP) and Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce (BMCC) and SP College, also vying for autonomous status, it is imperative for these institutions to have enough resources to handle the additional expenses that come with the status. The colleges will also have to work together to pool their resources — in the form of faculty, subject experts and adviser members — required in various capacities.