When Mussolini and Hitler gained control over Italy and Germany respectively, altering the existing education system and academic arenas was an integral part of their Fascist Domestic policy, for they knew that the tool of learning would enable them to control the minds of individuals and make them puppets in their hands. Such is the power of education – it can make or break a society. Moulding the intellectual capabilities of people, right from their days of academic learning not only ensures that the society will have steadfast and farsighted citizens but also provides scope for the social community to be advanced in all spheres. However, improper educational environment may hamper the growth of positive and holistic education.
Within the purview of Indian Higher Education, Universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), were once considered as the hub of advanced academic learning. However, the current chain of events and circumstances triggering them has degenerated the academic atmosphere that was once provided by these acclaimed academic institutions. The inability of concerned authorities to respond to constant agitations and struggle against the university administration has shifted focus away from academics (which should be at the apex of the institution’s agenda) to issues such as fee hike and unwarranted compulsory attendance. Effective responsiveness on part of the administration could have easily avoided these issues. The students are forced to jump into the front seat and take control over the situation, since the administration refuses to cooperate with them and provide the basic minimum facilities, that are extremely necessary for a coherent learning process.
Disturbances began at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in the month of February 2018, when the students at four TISS campuses namely – Hyderabad, Guwahati, Mumbai and Tujlapur (Maharashtra) started protesting against what the privatisation of education. The agitations which almost stagnated the academic working of the institutions, commenced when the administration put forward its decision,to withdraw a fee waiver offered by the Government of India to the SC, ST and OBCs. As a result of this withdrawal of financial assistance, the students belonging to the reserved category have to pay hostel and dining hall charges.The Students Union demanded that the students of the 2016-18 and 2017-19 batch be exempted from this new resolution,since such a decision was not mentioned in their admission prospectus. They had further demanded that a notification regarding the payment of fees for the incoming batch of 2018-20 be withdrawn.Finally, they requested the institution to provide fee waiver to students with disabilities. The administration on the other hand claimed that the decision of withdrawal of financial assistance was a response to a deficit of twenty crore rupees in the treasury. The institution cited numerical data on how the financial assistance provided to a section of students are in turn draining the university treasury.
The issue of fees has adversely affected a chunk of the student population who possess the talent but not the required material resources for acquiring knowledge. In India, which has produced brilliant minds like C.V. Raman and Rabindranath Tagore, money has become a bottleneck in the path of attainment of education. Currently, the SC and the ST students of 2016-17 batch has been exempted from paying the hostel fees, but they have to still incur the costs of the dining hall. Students of 2017-19 batch have demanded a similar exemption which has been unfortunately turned down by the administration. For the OBC students, this withdrawal of fee waiver has been existing since 2015. As a result the number of OBC applicants has reduced from 28% in 2013 to 18% in 2016-17.
Shifting our attention to JNU, the demonstrations at the campus is not a new event but has been gathering public attention since 2016.The massive row over the sedition case against Students Union Leader, Kanhaiya Kumar and his fellow mates, Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya, grabbed the attention of the entire nation. Since then, students at JNU are often tagged as ‘Anti-Nationals’ and the campus is criticized for its vociferousness. Currently the students are fighting for their right to be treated as adults and protesting against the unilateral decision of imposing a mandate of compulsory attendance on M.Phil and PhD Scholars.Research Scholars often work simultaneously or invest time in their research at either a library or a laboratory. There is practically,no classroom teaching involved, as the students have to directly interact with their supervisors. Often these interactions have no fixed time and depend on the researcher and the supervisor’s convenience. The compulsory attendance rule that has been imposed since January 2018, has received widespread criticism from both the students and teachers. It limits individuality and restricts the freedom needed for extensive research.It completely takes away the autonomy which higher degree courses like M.Phil and PhD require. The protests by students and teachers have failed to bring about any constructive solution. Instead, the University Administration, went a step ahead to remove nine heads of departments and chairpersons of Schools at JNU who have been opposing the admission policy.
The attendance agitation was followed by a massive breakdown on the administration when an incident of sexual harassment on campus came to light. Professor Atul Johri of the School of Life Sciences was accused of sexual harassment by nine students of the same stream. The University authorities failed to take any measure to either punish him or remove him from his post. This further created turmoil in the campus and JNU received widespread disparagement from several platforms. Finally, after days of constant demonstrations, the Professor was arrested and nine FIRs were filed against him. However, the students failed to receive complete victory as the accused was granted bail, few hours after he was detained. The students are currently bent on putting pressure on the administration to suspend the accused and take required action in this matter.
An educational institute is a temple of learning. Restricting the freedom of expression of students and imposition of unnecessary rules on them, not only hinders their advancement but also creates situations which hinder the fruitful use of time, energy and resources. Further, these constant protests create differences between the students and the administration,which ultimately shifts focus from the prime agenda of the institutions – imparting knowledge. A country can progress only when its youth gain the right kind of knowledge and implement it righteously. Thus, it is imperative to bring about a solution that will lead to more responsive interaction between authorities and the students within colleges and universities.
– Contributed by Rajeshwari
Picture: Protest by students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences against privatization of educational institutions (Credits – thenewsminute.com)