It might seem like forever since the students of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India began a strike protesting the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the institute's chairman. But as far as their critics are concerned, it's not the length of the strike – 73 days and counting – that is shocking. It is how many years some students have spent at the institute.

Diplomas at FTII last for three years, which means that the batch which graduates in 2015 will have enrolled in 2012. Yet there are students at the institute now who have been enrolled since 2008. And in the eyes of their critics, they have been freeloading ever since.

These students have been living in the FTII hostel for free and at the cost of the taxpayer, critics complained. The real problem is that the backlog in graduations began only after the institute increased its seat strength without a commensurate bump in its resources and capacity to handle them.

But while students lingering in FTII for years actually have a legitimate reason to remain on campus – the institution has been unable to make time for them to complete their coursework – students at other universities do in fact attempt to extend their time on their campus any way they can.

Longer than expected

Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University for instance has a well-deserved academic reputation, but it also has students who have been there – legitimately – for decades.

Om Prasad, a PhD candidate at the university and an activist with the All India Students’ Association, has been at the campus for seven years and expects to be there for at least three more.

“It’s my seventh year at JNU and I am here purely for completing my education,” he said. “I did my Master’s here and then an MPhil so it takes time to finish.”

Some JNU students extend the duration of their degrees only so they can stay at the hostels.

“I worked part-time and continued to do my PhD at a comfortable pace,” said an ex-student who now teaches at a major university. “The hostel room was comfortable and cheap. It allowed me to save up while working part-time and my education didn’t suffer. What’s wrong with that?”

The same tactic has been adopted in other institutions, including the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology. This can lead to resentment from younger and newer students who suffer because of diminished hostel space.

“It is very common for hostellers to over-extend their stay at IIT Bombay’s hostels,” said Rahul Maganti, an ex-hosteller at the institute. “Sometimes, they take up jobs and claim to do research just so that they can stay at the hostel and use the facilities.”

An entrepreneur who did something similar at IIT-Delhi said that guest rules are easy to bypass as long as students have a good academic backing.

“I was working on a research project and I was allotted a room for as long as I needed,” he said. “I ended up hopping from one place to another until my research was completed after which the professor I was working with asked me to vacate.”

However, he had many friends at the institute to take care of things. “I paid around Rs 250 per day to stay as a guest in one of the hostel rooms,” he said. “The cost is pretty decent since it includes boarding and food. Who would want to leave an IIT?”

Not really students

Extending academic enrolment is one thing, but there really are people who stay on campus without permission. A hosteller who has regularly hosted her friends in her room said that the dirt-cheap accommodation, inexpensive food and the “JNU environment” are the reasons why people don’t feel like leaving the campus.

“Many friends who are preparing for the administrative services exam often come here and stay for 15 days to a few months,” she said. “They all come from outside Delhi and there’s no way they can afford to rent a place so they manage it through contacts inside the university and the environment in JNU is perfect for anyone with academic leanings.”

The liberal campus, however, is going through a chronic hostel shortage which, some students claimed has toughened the authorities and it has become harder to remain beyond their period of enrolment.

“People who do everything from their bachelors to doctorates here will end up spending more than 11 years here and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Shehla Rashid, a student of MPhil at the university. “But you can’t overstay anymore. There are regular checks and hostel rooms are double locked if someone is encroaching illegally.”