‘Profiting during a pandemic’: Students protest full fees being charged by colleges for online classes

But despite students organising protests and writing letters of complaints, most colleges and universities have ignored their demands.

WrittenBy:Samyak Jain
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“We beseech you to look into the matter and provide adequate fee relief for students.”

This is what Dishika Bhatia, a student at Jagannath International Management School in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj, wrote to her college administration after receiving a letter that JIMS was hiking its fees by a whopping Rs 15,000 — from Rs 88,000 to Rs 1,03,000.

Not just that: it’s JIMS’ second fee hike in less than 18 months. Last year, fees were hiked by Rs 15,000.

Bhatia’s family, like thousands of others across the country, were hit hard by the pandemic. Her mother received a pay cut and her father’s income was no longer reliable, so the family earned just enough for daily expenses.

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Students of JIMS, which is affiliated to the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi’s state university, have been actively speaking out against the college’s decision to increase the fees. This included boycotting classes, which are taking place online, on August 17.

“I don’t understand where our money is going,” a student told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity. “The college is shut, classes are happening online, we don’t have access to any resources, and are paying for our internet. The college seems to be earning a profit during the pandemic.”

The students who boycotted classes on August 17 were individually telephoned by college authorities, who persuaded them to attend classes and pay the fees. Some parents were contacted too, including Bhatia and her parents, by Bhatia’s class coordinator and the head of her department.

Bhatia told Newslaundry that the college has “slashed teachers’ salaries” by 40 percent. “Why are they asking for such an amount for online classes then?” she said. “I...stated to my college authorities that I cannot pay such a huge amount at once. After they failed to persuade me, they called my parents, asking them to ‘keep check on my behaviour’ with regards to this matter, and also asked them to pay the fee.”

However, Bhatia’s mother also explained the family’s financial situation. “She tried to understand why she was supposed to pay so much,” Bhatia said. “When they had no reply, they asked her to address her queries via mail.”

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On August 6, the college proposed a “relief measure”, offering to split the fee into two installments of Rs 70,000 and Rs 33,000. But what students are asking for is the fee structure — which the college refuses to provide them.

Two other colleges affiliated to Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University have also been spotlighted for demanding that students pay their full fees, despite the fact that classes now take place online. Gitarattan International Business School and Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies both charge annual fees between Rs 85,000 and Rs 1 lakh.

Gitarattan’s students received a circular asking that fees be paid by August 10. In response, they wrote a letter asking that the fees be “readjusted”, giving that many students and parents were “facing financial crises, businesses are crumbling, and salaries are not being credited”.

“We are really looking forward to plausible efforts for framing flexible alternative schemes in easy installments, having readjusted fees as the profitability in the income is a gruesome consequence of the pandemic,” the letter concluded.

Last week, the Delhi state committee of the Students’ Federation of India wrote to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, asking him to look into the fee hike by Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University for the academic year 2020-21.

Yet, this state of affairs isn’t unique to the university’s students. Students at other private and government colleges told Newslaundry that they have been protesting circulars to pay the full fees — but the colleges aren’t listening. Here’s a quick rundown of some of these colleges.

University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun

On August 9, the Dehradun-based private university issued a notice directing students to pay the fees by August 31. The fee structure was adjusted to include a “we care initiative”, or a deduction of Rs 16,875 as a “one-time Covid scholarship” for the academic year 2020-21.

However, students still cried foul, pointing out that the fees still amounted to Rs 1,85,142 which included an “academic service fee” of Rs 74,245.

“They are giving us Covid relief, but we can’t understand what kind of relief is this,” a student told India TV. “A median family has an earning of Rs 30,000 a month...How are we supposed to arrange such a huge sum for just an online class? When we tried to raise the issue, the university stopped receiving calls and responding to emails.”

Some students also paid Rs 20,000 as “industrial visits”, India TV reported, which obviously won’t take place in the middle of a pandemic. This amount has not been refunded.

Delhi Technological University, Delhi

In the last week of July, students of Delhi Technological University were asked to pay their annual fees of Rs 1.9 lakh by August 5. Students who missed the deadline would be fined between Rs 2,000 and Rs 10,000; those who didn’t pay by August 27 would be struck off the rolls and barred from sitting for placements.

In response, the students wrote a seven-page letter to Anil Baijal, the lieutenant-governor of Delhi, demanding that he intervene. In their letter, the students accused the vice-chancellor of Delhi Technological University, Yogesh Singh, of making “a complete mockery of the government machinery”, taking “absolutely autocratic decisions”, and “threatening students”.

The students demanded an enquiry against Singh, the constitution of a grievance redressal committee to look into students’ issues with fees, and a rollback of the fee notice, among other things. “The university can’t be allowed to feed on human and social miseries which are arising out of the Covid-19 pandemic and education, being a noble profession, can’t be treated like a trade meant for profiteering,” they wrote.

Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi

The Delhi-based state university announced a 15 percent fee hike for the upcoming academic year. Fees range from Rs 1.64 lakh to Rs 1.86 lakh for different batches. Students told Newslaundry the hike is uncalled for due to the financial stress inflicted by the pandemic.

Madras School of Economics, Chennai

Affiliated to the Central University of Tamil Nadu, the Madras School of Economics hiked its semester fees by 10 percent in June, to Rs 91,226 per semester. Students told Newslaundry that they are being charged for amenities like sports and use of the library — even though they won’t be able to access these amenities during a pandemic.

After a series of emails, the college extended the deadline for payment and said students can pay in installments.

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“Increasing fees during an unprecedented pandemic is absolutely inhumane,” a student told Newslaundry on the condition of anonymity. “What's more bizarre is that we're being charged for amenities that we won't even be using for the semester. The institute is using the pandemic to profit off from students while turning a blind eye to the economic hardships all of us are going through.”

Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar

Students of the Gandhinagar-based university were asked to pay not only their tuition fees, but also the hostel and mess fees, even though they won’t be using this infrastructure for a significant part of the year, thanks to the pandemic. Students asked for a rollback of the hostel and mess fees, but were informed they could pay through EMIs.

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According to one student, the university’s director general justified the fees by saying a lot was being spent on Covid infrastructure and “branding”. Strangely, teachers have been asked to report to the campus and take online classes from the classrooms.

National Institute of Fashion Technology

NIFT, which has campuses across the country, increased its fees by around 10 percent, as it usually does every year. Indian students will now pay upto Rs 1.4 lakh per semester, while foreign nationals will pay upto Rs 8 lakh. Newslaundry was told that students pleaded with the administration to take the pandemic into account while setting the fees, but received no response.

NIFT students subsequently protested on social media, leading to the college to issue a “social media policy”, prohibiting students from “maligning” its policies and employees on social media. Students who did so would be debarred from sitting for exams or placements.

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But students have a specific conundrum when it comes to NIFT’s online classes. The fashion designing course has four core subjects — garment construction, printmaking, draping, and fashion design and illustration — and only the latter can be taught online.

Students have now been boycotting classes since August 3, issuing a statement that the boycott will continue until the authorities give them a written assurance that the fee structure will be revised.

Delhi University

On August 19, the Delhi University Students’ Union wrote a letter to the university vice-chancellor with a list of demands, including the regulation of fees.

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"As DU is conducting classes online the colleges should not charge students for the facilities they aren't using. There should be a reduction in tuition fees as well," Akshit Dahiya, president of Delhi University Students’ Union told Newslaundry.


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