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IIT-Bombay hunger strike: How students forced the institute to soften its stand on fee hike

Students ended their weeklong hunger strike on Friday only after the administration assured a review of its decision. Now all eyes are on the August 19 meeting of the Board of Governors where the proposal to rollback fee hike will be taken up

IIT Bombay, Fee hike, fee hike IIT BombayAccording to the students at the institute, the fee for MTech and PhD programmes has increased by 39 per cent and 45 per cent respectively. (Express photo by Pallavi Smart)

Students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, on Friday withdrew their week-long relay hunger strike against fee hike. This happened following an assurance from the institute that the decision to increase fee will be reviewed. The administration softened its stand after initially justifying the hike in public statements.

Here’s an overview of the hike, its impact, the institute’s stand and what made IIT-Bombay relent to the students’ demands:

Demands of the students
Last month, the premier institute had declared a new fee structure for the 2022-’23 autumn semester, which showed a significant hike in the total amount of the fees, particularly for the post-graduate (PG) and PhD students.

The protests first began on July 20 in the form of email, signature campaigns, subsequently  moving to placards. Students began a relay hunger strike on August 6 demanding complete rollback of the decision.

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The fee hike
The increase in fee was applicable to the undergraduate (UG), PG and PhD courses, but varied in terms of percentage of hike for each, depending on the fee structure earlier.

The last hike was in 2017, after which it was decided to review the fee-structure every three years. The board of governors at IIT Bombay — the institute’s highest decision-making body — went on to approve a 15 per cent fee increase in 2020, but it was never implemented due to the pandemic. The management also decided that it would allow an additional 5 per cent fee-hike every year there on.

Therefore, as per the administration, the total fee-hike for the 2022-’23 session would have been 25 percent (15 percent, 2020 and 5 percent each for 2021 and 2022).

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Impact on students
Although the tuition-fee component of the fee structure of the currently enrolled PhD and the PG courses was the same, but there was an increase of about Rs 7500 in other components such as hostel fee, gymkhana fee, security fee, medical fee, among others.

New admissions, though, would have seen a hike in tuition fee, alongside other components, with the PhD courses seeing an increase from Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000 and the PG courses marking a significant climb from Rs 2,500 to Rs 25,000

Although the fee for the current undergraduate students was also increased, it was relatively small considering the higher fee for BTech programmes at IIT-Bombay.

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“The tuition fee, which is the highest component, is already around a lakh for UG students, taking their overall fee-structure way above 1 lakh. A hike of around Rs.7000 is not really a burden in comparison,” shared an undergraduate student, adding that “it will now be important to see if tuition-fee increases for new UG admissions.”

IIT-Bombay’s response
The administration had held discussions with students to hear their concerns, and four members from the elected student body were added as permanent invitees to the fee committee.

A decision was first taken to reduce the hostel amenities component from the semester mess advance, as well as defer fees for students with economic difficulties, including those whose stipends are delayed by the sponsoring agencies, upon requests. Students have been allowed to pay the semester mess fee in advance and in two installments.

Additionally, the institution said it would work on scholarships for postgraduate students with financial difficulties, along the lines of the various scholarships present  for undergraduate students.

Administration’s standpoint
The administration had cited a fund crunch, especially for infrastructural development, to justify the fee hike.

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In the official statement issued by the institute on Sunday, it said, “The bulk of IIT Bombay’s funding comes from the government, with fees being only 8% of revenue. While tuition fees can never cover our overall costs, it is the expectation that the hostel related fees will at least be comparable to the hostel related expenses incurred.”

It went on to say that it was “essential to cover actual expenses, allowing other sources of income to be used to provide better academic facilities for all our students, adding that it needs “to take the loans which the administration badly requires for expanding infrastructure, rather than subsidizing operational expenses of hostels.”

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It added: “ Higher educational institutes now need to take a loan to pay the cost of all new hostel and academic building construction, which is to be repaid in 10 installments, with interest paid by the Ministry of Education. Given the sharp increase in the number of students, IITs need to build more hostels and academic buildings,” the statement read.

A representative from the IIT administration’s side said: “Instead of the traditional practice of the government grants for all public funded educational institutions, the IITs, like other premier educational institutes, are now expected to take loans under the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), especially for infrastructural development. Under this new policy, once a loan is granted to IIT, the principal amount has to be repaid by the IIT while the ministry of education takes care of the interest”.

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Institute relents on student demand
On Friday, however, the institute finally softened its stand and assured considerable reduction in fees, including the increased tuition fee for post graduate (PG) and PhD students, which had seen the highest spike.

The relief came after a fee committee considered the representation made by the student body relating to the demands of protesting students and recommended a sizeable reduction in the fees. According to the administration, these recommendations will now be presented before the board of governors for a final decision. The meeting is likely to be held on August 19.

According to students, the tuition fee for new admissions in PG and PhD courses, which was hiked from Rs 5,000 to Rs 30,000 and Rs 2,500 to Rs 5,000, respectively, would now be reduced by half.

As per the proposed recommendations (accessed by The Indian Express) by the fee committee, the new concessional fee for PG and PhD admission would be Rs 15,000 and Rs 3,750, respectively.

What next?
Now all eyes are on the board of governors meeting on August 19. The students have said that their strike will be intensified if the proposal is not accepted by the board of governors.

Meanwhile, an official statement from the IIT-Bombay administration said that the reduction in fee is likely to have an impact on infrastructural projects of the institute. “The repercussions may not be understood immediately, as this is expected to hamper the institute’s plans in the longer run, especially the infrastructural development. The institute has to generate funds to repay the loans taken for infrastructural development.”

First published on: 12-08-2022 at 09:23:05 am
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