Ambedkar University, Delhi, is set to discontinue its blanket fee waiver for Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and disabled students from the 2020-21 academic year. Instead, the exemption will be decided on the basis of family income.
The proposed policy is expected to be finalised by September 8. But the students allege that it has already been finalised, and making it public is merely a formality.
On Monday, the students gathered on the university’s Kashmere Gate campus to protest the decision. According to the students, it’s a “gross disregard” of the legacy of B R Ambedkar. The students, however, were prevented from entering the campus. In the afternoon, a delegation of five students, consisting of four student council members and one representative from the reserved category, were allowed to meet the university officials.
Shubhojeet Dey, treasurer of the AUD student council, said neither the administration nor the police allowed them to enter the campus. In fact, he added, the police threatened them with an FIR if they did not cooperate.
The student council also wrote to the university’s board of management demanding that the 100 percent fee waiver be continued.
The university has provided full fee waivers to students from the reserved categories since 2016. This year, however, the admission brochure declares that students with an annual family income of less than Rs 3 lakh alone will get the exemption, no matter their category.
The decision has drawn flak from students. The students alleged that the university is making higher education less accessible to students from marginalised communities, “contributing to nationwide momentum towards decimating affirmative action policies of the Indian constitution”.
The matter first came to light when a reserved category student sought admission in the MBA programme. She was aware about the fee waiver policy since her sister was already doing her PhD from AUD. Upon approaching the education department, she was told to present her income certificate. Her sister contacted the university officials asking for a clarification, but didn’t receive a response. Since the 22-year-old applicant couldn’t afford the fee, she was unable to take admission.
Gaurav Shetty, a final year student of MA History at the university, said, “Ambedkar University was formed on the core values of social justice. The fee waiver was given to the students belonging to the reserved categories and this was important to create a diversity in participation in academic spaces. This is a deliberate attempt to invisiblize the caste distinctions. The authorities are essentially trying to equate systematic social justice with economic justice.”
Aditi, a final year master’s student of sociology and a member of the Students’ Federation of India, said the students have been repeatedly trying to contact the administration but all their pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears. “We got to know about this decision through the media reports. Nobody from the administration bothered to inform us. This depicts the cowardice of the authorities. If a student cannot present their income certificate within a stipulated time period, they wouldn’t be able to avail the fee waiver, putting them in a more difficult position financially. Isn’t this unfair?”
She continued, “In the case of PwD students, why are the authorities trying to put them on the same pedestal with other students? They shouldn’t be paying the same fees as other students even if they share the same level of income with other students. The social costs have to be taken in account.”
Aditi added, “I see it as a larger move to prohibit the students belonging to the SC and ST categories from seeking higher education. AUD is a state-run institution. We voted for the AAP government for their education and health policies. Where are they now? They talked about transparency, but we haven’t heard a word from them regarding our grievances.”
A PhD student from a reserved category said on the condition of anonymity, “The faculty association of the varsity conducted a survey in 2012-13 and concluded that there was a 75 percent dropout rate of students belonging to reserved categories in BA and MA degrees.” He added, “The students of the SC and ST category are socially excluded, with this new policy, it will further stigmatise them. AUD charges an exorbitant fee, which most students from the marginalised sections cannot afford. This already creates hurdles in their growth as compared to other students and makes it difficult for them to pursue higher education. Even if they somehow join a college, they mostly remain aloof because of the limited interaction between their peers and faculty which leads to low morale and performance.”
Anshu Singh, the assistant registrar of Ambedkar University, told Newslaundry, “ The university still follows fee waiver for students belonging to reserved categories. As in the proposed policy, all SC,ST students as well as students from other categories who fall in the specified income criteria will get 100 percent fee waiver. Dr B R Ambedkar University, Delhi, is a state university. The proposed decision regarding fee waiver is in accordance with the policy of the government of India and the government of NCT of Delhi.”