It is only after paying Rs 10 lakh as fees that one becomes an engineer from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. In contrast to this, I completed my B Tech in 2013 from a government college in Kerala for Rs 26,000. IITs have turned into a gated community of the elites, serving those who can afford their exorbitant fees and filtering out those who can’t. The fee hike by IIT-B in July is a testament to that.
Soon after the fee hike, the deputy director assured us that all our questions would be answered in an open house discussion, prior to which we demanded a set of documents, like the minutes of the fee committee meetings and the break up of expenditure under each fee head. However, we were not given access to any documents before, during or after the discussion and neither were our concerns addressed.
It was on July 25th that more than 500 students marched from their hostels to the institute’s main gate in protest against the fee hike and the administration’s lack of transparency over it. We have been protesting ever since and have had to resort to a hunger strike since August 5th, as most of our demands remain unmet.
The only reason why I could do my M Tech from IIT Kanpur was that the fellowship was Rs 8,000 and the fees were less than Rs 15,000 per semester. If this wasn’t the case, I would’ve never been able to enter the IIT system. I then chose to pursue a PhD in quantum computing at IIT Madras. However, my area of study soon shifted to artificial intelligence and I secured admission at IIT Bombay for a PhD programme.
We are required to pay academic fees, hostel fees, mess fees, and other infrastructural fees at the beginning of all the semesters here. Now the tuition fee for the new batches of PhD students has been increased to Rs 5,000 from Rs 2,500, which brings their total fees to over Rs 50,000 every semester. Whereas for master’s students, it has been increased to Rs 30,000 from Rs 5,000 taking their total fee to more than Rs 78,000 every semester and Rs 97,000 for the first semester.
The fees have further gone up as the administration has increased the amount under various subheads arbitrarily. For instance, Rs 27,000 paid as the Semester Mess Advance (SMA) every semester earlier included Rs 1,800 taken as the Hostel Amenities Fund (HAF) but now HAF is charged separately. Any rational individual would therefore assume that this would mean a decrease in the total SMA fees; however, that amount remained the same and was reduced by Rs 1,800 only after our hunger strike began. Hostel rent has been inflated by Rs 600 which was already increased from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000 in 2017-18.
Student loans are a trap for us
The general trend among IITians is that after four years of engineering, one immediately enters the job market and supports their family. To hold off that earning prospect and choose higher studies instead, one needs to ensure a certain level of financial stability. Especially in the case of people who come from marginalised backgrounds.
When outsiders look at IITians, they assume that everybody goes on to mint money once they graduate from here. There are about 15 departments and more than 41 branches in IIT-B itself, but the news hype one sees around placements holds some truth for a very few of them and is largely limited to B Tech students.
The orientation for B Tech students and M Tech students happens at the same time, and I remember seeing hoards of banks lining up to offer fresh entrants loans to fulfil their career ambitions. This is nothing but a debt trap that forces one to choose a job over education after completing their undergraduate. If we are to consider IITs as the benchmark for quality education, why are we determined to make it inaccessible for a large majority to a point that they may have to rely on education loans?
Hundreds of us are fighting for an affordable education at IIT-B, holding protests against the fee hikes, not just for us but for every person who wants to enter this institution and has to think twice because they cannot afford it. We are seeing what the system of education loans has done to young people in countries like the United States where a majority of college graduates are carrying a heavy burden of student debt.
The ones who will be impacted the most
The fee hike at IIT-B is forcing people around me to consider dropping out of their PhD programmes. Fees for the current PhD students have been hiked by around 45%. Notably, it is only the tuition fees that Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students are exempted from. All other expenses are the same. This makes it an increase of 53 per in the fees that SC and ST postgraduate students have to pay. I may have to witness my lab partner, who belongs to a reserved category, abandon his research because he would not be able to afford IIT-B if the fee hike is not rolled back. His parents are daily wage labourers.
Imagine the monetary burden on research scholars, in their late 20s or early 30s, who have old parents to support or have started families of their own. A lot of B Tech students at IIT-B have some level of financial support from their elite and middle-income families. However, like me and my lab partner, a lot of M tech and PhD students enter IITs from other universities where they pay nominal fees for their undergraduate degree and expect the same from premier institutes like the IITs for higher courses.
Demand for a democratic process
There are student representatives at other IITs who are consulted before increasing the fees but even then the fees everywhere have been going out of hand. The situation is worse at IIT-B, which is the most expensive of them all. IIT-B charges a significant amount as fees at the beginning of every semester and requires students to pay that money upfront.
Being an autonomous body, the administration claims that they have the right to charge any amount of fees that they deem appropriate. However, one of the reports published by IIT-B itself states that fees should not be the primary source of income for the institute and the administration should generate money through other sources. The institute has multiple sources of funding such as MHRD funds and alumni donations, interests in corpus funds etc.
The faculty enjoys a comfortable salary from the Union government but M Tech and PhD students only have their stipend as the sole source of income, which has not been increased in 3 years, even as the country is witnessing high inflation rates. During the last fee hike in 2017 and the negotiations post student protests, IIT-B authorities agreed to include student representatives in the fee committee but this has not happened yet.
At present, a few people are deciding what happens to a large majority behind closed doors. There is no clarification or reasoning given to us for such a drastic and unjust increase in the fees. When an institution is not democratic, it becomes an oppressive, tyrannical structure.