Seventy-three former students of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences have come out in support of the TISS Students Union’s strike against the administration’s decision to withdraw financial aid provided to students from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes communities. Students from these communities, who receive a scholarship, are exempted from paying the tuition fee, the dining hall charge and the hostel fee.

The administration on Thursday agreed to waive the hostel and dining hall fees for students from these communities in the 2016-18 batch, but said that they would have to pay the tuition fee, The Hindu reported. The students, who had blocked the main gates at the Mumbai campus on Wednesday night, resumed their protest across all TISS campuses following a meeting with the authorities. TISS has campuses in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Guwahati and Maharashtra’s Tuljapur.

Here is the full text of the alumni’s statement:

We, the alumni of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, offer our support to the call made by the TISS Students Union for a strike on 21st February, 2018, against the decisions taken by the institute to deny the fee exemption given to SC, ST and OBC students (including religious minorities) who are eligible to the Government of India Post-Matric Scholarship (GoI-PMS). The fee exemption to students was an institute policy to facilitate access to higher education to students from marginalised communities. But over the years, fees of TISS increased many folds (currently, average fees is around Rs. 70-80,000 per semester) while the policy of affirmative access was curtailed bit by bit. We condemn the move by the administration and management of TISS. The situation has worsened with Government’s policy of increasing privatisation of education and inadequate allocation of funds to provide for access to higher education by students from marginalised communities. Government has been decreasing allocation for GoI PMS schemes and, in particular, withholding significant funds to TISS from the University Grants Commission and Ministry of Human Resource Development.

History of social justice in TISS and worrying trends

The history of social justice in TISS admission was a struggle like in other higher educational institutes in India with significant number of Dalit Bahujan Adivasi students entering the campus after the Mandal Commission recommendations being enforced in the year 2006 and pressure from various quarters. Social work education had been a domain of the privileged castes and class, only till recently.

The case of TISS is unique as the fee ranges about 70-80,000 per semester, which is incomparable to the other Central Universities like JNU, HCU, EFLU etc. Although the Institute tries to defend the high fee by putting it alongside IITs and IIMs, the elite character and the anti-reservation character of these ‘elite’ institutes is well known. Moreover, any comparison can be made only between like institutions, and IITs and IIMs are far distinct from TISS in terms of the kind of courses they offer and the vision that they entail.

Over the past 5-6 years, there has been a constant betrayal of any measure of social justice which the institute has been claiming to have. Firstly, the fee was hiked from 2013-14 to almost double the amount in 2016-17, with a 45% increase in the intervening years of 2015 and 2016. The high fees of TISS, can by no way match the meagre GoI PMS amount that the government disburses. TISS, in a measure of positive social justice, provided fee exemption in most heads for SC, ST and OBC students who are eligible for the GoI-PMS scholarship. But, this facility was withdrawn for the OBC students from the 2015 batch and finally in 2017, institute went ahead to withdraw the same for SC and ST students as well. This resulted in almost impossible situation for students because they were asked to pay the full fees upfront.

These actions will result in complete absence of students from oppressed communities to participate in higher education in TISS, as the financial aid and GoI-PMS cannot match the fees. Also, with the introduction of Direct Bank Transfer of scholarship, the institute has washed its hands off any responsibility of providing fee exemption arguing that the scholarship is an individual transaction between the student and the government.

The situation for OBC students in Maharashtra is an example that reservation is not enough for retention in institutes that charge high fees like TISS. Scholarship and fee exemptions for the students is equally necessary. With the implementation of Mandal Recommendation (Stage 2), and access to fee exception and the GoI scholarship, there was increase in the number of students in higher education till the year 2014-15. But within an year, these figures reduced drastically with denial of fee exemption for students from OBC category: for Maharashtra in particular number of students decreased from 65 to only 20 (16 MA and 4 MPhil/PhD scholars) while overall it decreased from 97 to 47. With the recent decision to roll back the fee exemption for SC and ST students, there is likely to be a continuity of this trend.

Decreasing allocation of GoI PMS and fund cuts in TISS

The part played by the central government in this saga of depriving eligible students to quality higher education also needs to be condemned in equal measure. India’s overall budgetary allocation to education has been just between 3.5-4 percent of total expenditure in past many years, which is the lowest as compared to countries like Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa. Further, the government is taking measures to privatise education, resulting in increase in cost of education, and at the same time reducing funds allocated towards policies of affirmative action. The less allocated budget to education and scholarships in particular, has given free hand to the government to increase cost recovery through student fees and student loans both in state and central institutions.

Even this year, the allocation to the University Grants Commission (UGC) has been reduced to Rs 4,722.7 crores from a revised estimate of Rs 4,922.7 crores. The total grants to Central Universities has also been reduced to Rs 6,445.2 crores , significantly lower than the revised estimate of Rs 7,261.4 crores in 2017-2018. On the other hand, few select ‘premier’ institutions are given disproportionate funding resulting in a chatur-varna (four fold caste system) of higher education, with the state and central university getting worst treatment. For TISS, the central government has cut significant amount of funds in the Non-Planned budget category over the past 3-4 years, which has made the matters worse. Additionally, the allocation to the Post Matric Scholarship to any of the states has not matched the requirement. To illustrate through an example, as per Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment last annual report, the allocated funds for GoI-PMS scholarship for SCs, who are 16% of our country’s population, is a mere Rs. 61 crores. The allocation to Ministry of Minority Affair (MoMA) for scholarships have also come down.

In conclusion, we alumni stand with the agitating students, especially Dalit Bahujan Adivasi Minority students, who are fighting for their rightful and constitutionally guaranteed right to education. We condemn, in the strongest terms, the series of decisions of the TISS administration curtailing the access to higher education to the historically oppressed communities. As a centrally funded university, its duty does not end with giving admission as per constitutional provision, but is equally responsible for e retention of students. No student shall be denied admission in the university on the basis of his financial condition, nor shall they be forced to leave the university for economic reasons. Further, we condemn the governmental apathy and withdrawal of support mechanism for students to complete higher education including the lack of funds for scholarships.

We demand:

  1.   The TISS Administration gives fee exemption to SC, ST and OBC students who are eligible for GoI-PMS.
  2.   Extension of Financial aid mechanism for more students. We condemn the decision of the administration to provide the aid without consideration to social background of students.
  3.   Government of India should increase allocation to centrally and state funded universities and the PMS provisions so that no student is denied the right to higher education.