SRINAGAR: The University of Kashmir has put students from a socio-economically weaker background at a severe disadvantage with a hike in various fees. Scores of students have been forced to alter their choice of subjects to fit their budget following the unprecedented hike.
The university authorities justify the fee hike saying the step was taken on the recommendations of a financial reform committee that was set up to overhaul the current finances of the varsity.
“This is for the first time we have seen students turning pale and making calculations when we explained the fee structure,” said an official in south Kashmir’s Tral Degree College. “Many students changed their choice of subjects to fit their budget,” he said.
A student told Kashmir Reader that he opted for non-laboratory subjects (economics, Urdu) over lab subjects (functional English, computer) because the latter combination was not affordable. “Many families pleaded for rolling back the new fee structure but we were helpless,” he said.
Experts say that the menace has its origins in the choice-based credit system of curriculum recently introduced in the higher education. “The fees for the undergraduate first year have been shockingly raised more than a hundred percent, without giving any thought to the demographics of students of our colleges,” a senior professor told Kashmir Reader. “These colleges normally cater to students coming from socio-economically poor households, both rural and urban, particularly those who cannot afford better education outside the state”, he said.
The impact is quite stark. A senior official in a north Kashmir college said that several students have even discontinued their studies. “We have several students who were working as labourers to support their families besides pursuing education. They were interested in pursuing graduation but failed to pay the onetime fee of two semesters,” he said. In Tral Degree College, two sisters could not take admission because the duo had to pay Rs 14,000. “It was simply impossible,” the official admitted.
Students from various south and north Kashmir colleges narrated the same tale.
Dean Academic Affairs of Kashmir University Prof Mohammad Ashraf Wani said aggrieved students should contact his office. “Tell them to approach me with proof of their economic background as soon as possible. I will do whatever I can to secure admission for them,” he said.
The committee, in a 296-page report, had recommended fee hikes in examination fee, universities’ service charges, registration fee and examination maintenance fee.
For non-professional courses, the university had hiked the registration fee by Rs 100, university services charges by Rs 150 and university maintenance fee by Rs 300. For professional courses, registration fee was hiked by Rs 400, university services charges by Rs 575 and examination maintenance by Rs 300.
In addition, the university had changed the one exam-in-a-year system into two-exams a year. Due to the new system a student had to pay the fee of two exams at time which was not the case in the previous system.
“The students with excellent academic records are either changing to a low-cost stream (from Life-sciences with new admission fee of Rs 9000) to social sciences (with new admission fee of Rs 5800—more than double from last year’s fee),” said an official from Sopore Degree College.
On his part, Chairman of the Finance Committee Prof Khursheed Ahmad downplays the fee hike as “inexpensive”. He said that the issue was mishandled by the colleges. “The hike is not so expensive that students cannot afford it but because of the fact that colleges made students pay the fees of both the semesters together,” he said.
“A miscommunication between University and colleges made students suffer. Some colleges asked students to deposit the examination fee, which could have been paid as and when exams were held,” he said.
But a college professor rubbished the logic. “The University has hiked the fee exorbitantly. It doesn’t matter whether the student has to pay the fees one time or in installments, though an installment scheme could have given them a breather,” he said.
“It is very sad to observe that when globally, debate is raging over the hegemonic nature of student fee, student debt in universities, we have started following the hegemonic rule of saddling students with huge fee structures and obsolete curricular models,” he said.