TWENTY-YEAR-OLD LOKESH More from Jalgaon’s Yaval village was directly admitted to second-year engineering degree course last year after topping his diploma. More, who was confident of securing a plush job after completing his degree before the coronavirus pandemic struck, was forced to drop out of his course. Since the last two months, he has been working as a faculty at a nearby computer centre, uncertain of whether he will get back to studies in the next academic year.
“The fees for the next year are Rs 75,000, and I have no resources to pay that much. My father is a labourer. He cultivated about 30 tonnes of lemons on another farmer’s land and lost an investment of Rs 45,000 due to Covid-19. Most of the lemon crop was spoiled as it was not possible to sell them locally and transportation was shut,” More said. “I had a CGPA (Cumulative Grade Points Average) of 8.09,” he rues, adding that financial assistance will also be required to support his brother, who will be appearing for class XII.
With hostels in cities shut and family finances shrunk, many students from remote areas, like More, have dropped out of formal education for now. Some have joined their families in their villages for farming and trading activities, while many others have begun searching for locally available jobs.
“When I see my parents working on farms, studying for exams is not something that occurs to me. I am expected to partake in all big and small tasks here,” 28-year-old Rakesh Malke of Chandrapur’s Doma village in Chimur district said. Before the lockdown, Malke stayed at Nagpur University’s hostel, preparing for various competitive exams under the Maharashtra Public Service Commission alongside completing his Bachelors in Education (BEd) degree.
“Most exams under MPSC have been cancelled for the year, and hostels won’t probably start soon. For students hailing from villages, like me, the main aim is to secure a government job. We stay in college hostels by enrolling for a degree since villages don’t provide the right kind of environment needed for studying. Several of my friends are now stuck in villages, unsure of what will happen,” he added. For now, Malke’s plan to pursue a Masters in Education has been put on hold indefinitely.
Ambedkar Students Association member Ghapesh Dhawale says in Vidarbha, at least 50 per cent students studying law, pharmacy and Masters in Science (MSc) in Nagpur University hail from villages. “Since 60 per cent of them do not find allotment in hostels, they avail a scheme under the Ministry of Social Welfare that grants them assistance to rent rooms. Many such beneficiaries have not been paid, and most hostels are being used for Covid-19 duty. For them, there seems to be little way out to resume studies in the city now. Hostels should be started partially at least.”
A survey, conducted in July, by IIT-Bombay faculty B N Jagtap and educationist Anand Mapuskar had found that 82 per cent students of higher education in Maharashtra anticipated difficulty in funding their education in the academic year 2020-21. Of the 38,108 respondents, the difficulty in funding education has been expressed by 80 per cent female and 84 per cent male students.
Throwing light on the economic distress among students due to the impact of Covid-19, the report also found that 27 per cent students fear the chance of them continuing education in the academic year 2020-21 is low to very slim.
Abdul Kasir, an auto-driver living in Mumbai’s Saki Naka area, said he managed to collect money for the first instalment of his daughter’s fees for Bachelors in Financial Markets (BFM) with great difficulty. “Shaina had scored 75 per cent in her class XII and is a bright student. We want to do everything we can to continue her education. But if we are unable to collect money to fund the second instalment, we don’t know what we shall do,” he said.
There is a need for universities and the state government to collaborate to ensure that admissions of students take place under various available schemes by developing a smooth system that encourages more enrolments by students from lower-income backgrounds, said Mapuskar. “Universities have funds under ‘students’ welfare’ that remain unused to an extent.
Moreover, the lack of adequate infrastructure for persons with disabilities has made it difficult for them to enrol for admissions.”
Pro-vice-chancellor of Swami Ramanand Teerth Marathwada University, Nanded, Dr Jogendrasinh Bisen said, “We have sent out a circular to all colleges asking them to allow students to pay fees in multiple instalments. It’s true that pursuing online education is a challenge for students in rural areas for various reasons. However, reopening hostels doesn’t seem possible until November. Until we receive guidelines from the state allowing us to open them, we cannot help.”
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