Panjab University: From Fee Hike to Rollback to Fire- A Roundup

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Panjab University

Panjab University is a land mark of City Beautiful. Many who have spent their childhood in the tricity have dreamt of attending this prestigious university one day; to be under the guidance of the learned faculty. Students here have access to some of the best libraries, to hang about and have intellectual discussions at the STU-C.

The bubble that encases this dream is on the verge of exploding. The university is experiencing the worst financial crunch in almost a decade. The pillars of the institute appear to be crumbling with the economic burden which it claims, it is unable to bear. It is extremely regrettable that an establishment that was ranked in the 226-250 band — the highest for an Indian institution, ahead of the IITs and IIMs — in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings for 2013-14, is facing this problem. In the union HRD Ministry’s National Institute Ranking Framework (NIFR), PU has fallen from rank 12 in 2016 to rank 33 in 2017.

Why is the University in such a deplorable condition?

Albeit, various reasons can be recognised for the dire state, none of the public servants wish to claim responsibility. The major players are currently occupying a boxing ring, trading a blame for a blame. University Grants Commission (UGC) is pointing the finger at the V-C and the registrar. It states that they were being paid extra amount as part of their salaries and that needs to be recovered from them. The V-C, in turn, is blaming the senators and addressing them as “vultures who are trying to tear the varsity apart”. The contribution of funds from Centre and state of Panjab is also in dispute. The ratio of funding between the Centre and Punjab has been fixed at 60:40; with the Centre’s share being released by the Home Ministry. The UGC has fixed the Centre’s share at Rs 176 crore.

Panjab University

However, the Punjab government, instead of paying its share of 40%, has put an annual ceiling of Rs 20 crore on its contribution. High Court has also been asked to intervene but everything seems to be fruitless. It seems to be a vicious circle where each is blaming the other and the problem still persists.

The Curtains open : University seemed to be in a situation where they could not come up with any constructive proposal to deal with the financial crisis. Finally, the Think Tanks of the university came up with a brain wave to hike the fees of the students to cover the deficit. The hike was so steep that it was bound to be questioned by the students from its very onset.

Panjab University

Could these people of intellect never imagine as to what would be the repercussions of this hike? Could they not anticipate the kind of backlash such sharp hike would invite? The decision was taken and it was all set to be imposed without any rationale behind the increase. How does the University justify that an institute which is meant for imparting education to masses, where students from all backgrounds and economic status come and study afford this kind of hike.

The University saw an episode of violence which was not just unfortunate but also reflected on the necessity of the Education system to hear the needs, demands and requirements of the students. The protest was against the sudden and steep hike in tuition fees across various departments. This unprecedented violence which had never been witnessed before was kind of a guerrilla warfare between the police and the students. It left 22 policemen injured, to the extent of the system even considering of implicating the draconian charge of Sedition against 66 protesters.

Panjab University

The students blamed the authorities for the entire episode. The issue was simmering and voices of protest could be heard. An agitation was organized by the students and the university on its behalf just asked for security. To guard themselves from students. Does that not sound strange? No talks, no dialogue, no mediators, no spokesperson on behalf of the University to sort out the issue or speak to students. The only need felt was to protect themselves from their own students. And finally on the eventful day, the students were waiting for the authorities to come and talk to them.

No one turned up. The Vice Chancellor was not available on the premises of the university and sent no representative either. Students felt cheated and humiliated.

With this kind of backdrop, it is very easy to influence the mind set of people which is both fragile and disturbed. Some misleading people who were mostly identified to be outsiders and/or belonging to a certain political party from the Evening Studies department, took advantage of the situation.

They started provoking the students to resort to violence, to be heard and addressed by the authorities. The provocation proved to be a catalyst for the students and suddenly, stone pelting started which again was initiated by the outsiders and the said political party. But eventually the mob mentality took over and students too, joined in. The police was caught unawares and had to seek shelter.

Was this the first episode of violence: On the Panjab University campus? Yes. But not the first in the nation. Country has witnessed a spurt of events across various universities in India wherein students had to resort to protests, strikes and dharnas for the administration to hear them out. But every time a protest has turned violent, the branch of this particular political party has always led from the front. Jawaharlal University, Hyderabad Central University, Jadavpur University and now Panjab Univeristy, all have almost met with a similar fate. It also makes one wonder if this violence is being promoted by them to save their dying existence in the larger scheme of things.

Curtains Drawn: Finally the whole chapter came to a close when the University finally rolled back the steep fee hike and capped it to 10 %. But this journey was a roller coaster with non-existent charges of sedition, violence, boycott of classes, chain of hunger strikes by various student groups, series of meetings between council and senate and students. But was all said and done, was all of this really called for?

Panjab University

Questions unanswered:

  • Why fee hike is the only solution that the university authorities come up with to resolve the financial crisis. The Vice Chancellor says that he was helpless and had no other way out.  If this really was the scenario, he should have taken up the matter with the Panjab government and gained the students’ support to stir up the issue instead of fighting against them.
  • Why before taking such decisions students are not consulted and a middle way found, instead of suddenly going for such a steep hike.
  • It’s unfortunate that the university whose alumni include the likes of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and a galaxy of industrialists doing wonderfully well across the world have not been involved in getting the crisis resolved. Neither have they bothered nor did anyone approach them.
  • Why student get carried away by unwanted political elements and outsiders who try to add fuel to the fire. Maintaining your patience and cool in situations like these is crucial. Abstain from such triggers and leaders in your environment.

This though, is still not the end of this story. The Administration block of the University also caught fire recently. To everyone’s amazement it was the accounts/audit department which faced the maximum damage. The whole university is abuzz with talks of sabotage. Was there actually a financial crisis or a crisis created and projected by authorities?

Panjab University

Phew, more mysteries and more questions. So have we really learnt our lessons and who actually really needs to learn more? The students or the authorities?

– Mehak Kapoor

Edited by Sanchit Gupta and Mrinaal Datt.

Read more about them here.

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