“Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex” - Karl Marx


Behind The Protests Defending Public Education

Understanding fee hikes and the New Education Policy

The current episode of protests by the Jawaharlal Nehru University students was fuelled by the JNU administration's decision to more than double the existing hostel charges and impose norms governing student life.

The Inter-Hall Administration (IHA) unanimously approved a hostel manual without consulting the JNU Students' Union. The authorities increased the hostel mess security deposit from Rs5,500 to Rs12,000. They also increased the hostel fees from Rs20 to 600 per month for a single room, and from Rs10 to 300 for a shared room. Students would also have to pay 1,700 for maintenance services every month.

After weeks of protests on campus and in Delhi, a committee set up by the university decided to give students a 50% concession, with a 75% concession to those from families earning below the poverty line.

JNU is set to become India's most expensive central university with the proposed fee hike. Some 5,500 students of a total above 8,000 stay in the university hostels. Nearly 40% belong to families with a monthly income below 12,000 or an annual income of 1.4 lakh. Over 60% belong to marginalised social backgrounds: the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or Other Backward Classes. It's clear the fee hike will make JNU inaccessible to the poorest social groups.

Now, the primary reason stated by the JNU administration is that currently the university faces a deficit of 45 crore which they attribute to the huge electricity, water charges and salaries of the contractual staff. The UGC no longer allows salary payments to contractual employees of the hostel from the salary head of the budget. The number of such employees in the hostels is over 450. The UGC has given clear instructions to JNU that all shortfalls in non-salary expenditures should be met by using the internal receipts generated by the university. Thus, the administration argues there is no alternative for the IHA than to collect service charges from the students.

This is a massive example of how the state derelicts its basic responsibility. Distributing minimal funds and asking public institutions to pool their own resources are some of the grim tenets of New Education Policy 2019 as well. The draft document released last year talks outright about transforming public education into a commodity through autonomy, and restructuring the whole meaning of public higher education, in Chapters 9 and 10. In this neoliberal order of finance capitalism, education if accessed as a commodity will steepen the inequities and further entrench the existing privileges of the dominant sections of society.

The debates surrounding the proposed fee hike in JNU resulted in divided opinions. On one side of the political spectrum are the scholars, leftists and other civil society actors demanding that the government make quality education affordable to all, whereas the right and ultra-nationalists want to shut down the den of "traitors" that is JNU. The protests in JNU are a symptom of resistance to preserve the existence of state-funded public education so that the vulnerable groups are not kept out by mainstream society.  

Besides the fee hikes in many institutions and the agendas of NEP 2019, which lacks integral democratic processes, a constitutional outlook and a progressive approach, we must also account for the onslaught on education since the 1990s. The formal adoption of the neoliberal reforms programme by the government in 1991 had a far more pervasive impact on the education system. The new policy on education in 1986 and then the Punnayya Committee report in 1993 suggested increasing fees to overcome a shortage of funds. From 1998 on, institutions of higher education were advised to raise their own resources by raising fee levels, encouraging private donations and by generating revenues through consultancy and other activities.

As the millennium turned 2000 was a watershed year for the higher education "sector" in India. The Ambani-Birla report entitled 'A policy framework for reforms in education' was authored by prominent industrialists and explicitly stated that privatisation and commercialisation were the chief instruments for reform in higher education, and that the 'user-pays' principle would ensure profits for investors. With its companion Model Act (2003) prepared by UGC, it demanded the restructuring of higher education on the model of market-oriented enterprises promoting corporate values. Shelved because of strong opposition from academics and teachers and student unions, its basic features continue to provide the framework within which higher education policies are conceived and sought to be legislated today. So it's no wonder that the present government is hell-bent on endorsing market oriented educational reforms that will make education the exclusive privilege of the 'elite' class.  

The ongoing assault on public education also echoes the onslaught on constitutional principles. The Constitution of India requires the state to pursue policies that provide equitable access to public funded education. Article 46 obliges the state to promote with special care the educational and economic interest of the weaker sections of the people and in particular of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and to prevent and remedy all forms of social injustice and exploitation. The state is discarding its duty.  

Much chaos ensued when the government announced plans to scrap the UGC and replace it through the Higher Education Council of India Act, 2018. This body does not find any mention in the draft NEP, which proposes instead that the UGC should be transitioned into a Higher Education Grants Council with sole responsibility for funding everything except for research infrastructure. This will affect the independent nature of the educational body, as sooner or later it will succumb to the demands of political interference.

Another interesting suggestion is the establishment of a Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog, an overarching body to override the mandate of the MHRD directly under the leadership of the prime minister. This is being seen as a move to take away the power and autonomy of the states. Education was once in the state list and was later moved to the concurrent list, and now this is being seen as an attempt to transfer it to the Union list.  

NEP 2019 also envisages a path towards faculty and institutional autonomy, clearly stated in P9.3 of Chapter 9. It reads:  

"Substantial and adequate public funding, with stability, must therefore be provided to public institutions to enable such academic and administrative autonomy. Over time, as financial probity and responsibility is demonstrated by various public institutions, an increasing amount of financial autonomy may be granted so that resource allocations for teaching, service, equipment, and research may also be decided locally to optimise resources by those who understand local needs best; this would, as usual, be contigent on continual demonstration of financial probity through full transparency and public disclosure of all finances. Financial autonomy will not mean a cut in funding, but rather the freedom to decide how best to spend funds to maximise educational attainments."  

This is a further attempt to commercialise and transform education into a marketplace. The same is the case with school education. If the NEP 2019 is implemented it is likely that the autonomous elected school boards will be merged to form larger school boards. These autonomous school boards will be responsible for the decentralised management of school clusters, namely teacher appointments, school structure, academic calendar and timetable, curriculum etc. It is highly impractical for these to be managed under one centralised system given the diversity in different arenas, from geographical conditions and historical experiences to the specific needs of each state. The proposed idea of school complexes completely undermines the diversity of the nation's people and the level of improvement achieved in public education. It will ultimately lead to the closure of many such schools, with the excuse that they were unprofitable or substandard.  

NEP 2019 also claims to bring in autonomy in order to boost innovation and research. However, the agenda is to make higher education profit-oriented and unaffordable to the public, while the government withdraws from its responsibilities to the country's youth. Self-financing or autonomy are code words for the commercialisation and blatant privatisation of schools and universities into businesses, with differential fee structures for the hierarchies of the market, compromising on questions of equity and access.  

The policy also suggests an "innovative" revamp in the arena of research and innovation. It proposes to establish a National Research Foundation which will act as the new apex body to facilitate research. The NRF will be an autonomous body that will establish mechanisms to fund and invest in mentor-research capacity creation. It will also create a mechanism for monitoring and interfering in mid-course corrections. This raises serious concerns over the independent culture of research and innovation. It also undermines the civic and societal role of higher education.

Way back in 2018, students and teachers in the entire country came down to the streets against the MHRD proposal to impose self-financing and fee hikes in the name of "graded autonomy" being granted to higher educational institutions. Unfortunately the NEP 2019 proposes that the graded autonomy formula should continue. It lazily tries to hide the design of self-financing and fee hikes by changing the terminologies of graded autonomy from Category I, II, III universities to Type I, II, III universities. The government must commit to the fact that all new courses in public universities will be fully funded by public money instead of being categorically divided into hierarchies.

Another important aspect to be considered is public expenditure education in India. As of now, the official figure is that governments in India spend just 4.6% of its GDP on education. But investment in human capital is necessary to play a key role in any development strategy, particularly in a country with a large population. The Kothari Commission in 1964 proposed that 6% of GDP be spent on education for an egalitarian education system and a self-reliant India. We have never achieved the benchmark of 6% GDP expenditure. And NEP 2019 instead of committing to education fully funded with public money, makes funds from the government conditional upon increased GDP, an increased tax-GDP ratio and a 10 trillion dollar economy. It should rather have reminded the government of the urgent need to increase the GDP expenditure on education, in order for these dreams to come true.  

The resistance shown by students of JNU ignited campuses all over the country. The AIIMS Resident Doctors Association strongly opposed a government proposal to review tuition fees for students and user charges for various diagnostic procedures. Students at the premier journalism school IIMC Delhi protested against fee hikes and unruly hostel and mess charges. Similarly, the students of the elite IITs across the country are reviving their protests against the 900% hike in tuition fees effected in September. Campuses like TISS and the National Law Schools in Bangalore and Odisha also witnessed mass protests by the students over administrative issues including a fee increase.  

When students are on the streets they have realised this is a historic juncture to defend and build on the ideals of the freedom movement in letter and in spirit, by reclaiming public university spaces to discuss, deliberate and resist. There is an urgent need to defend public education today. With the spreading hands of privatisation, not only do we create and reinforce classed, casted, religioned and gendered spaces for education, we also change direction, with the mixing of private enterprise and the Hindutva ideology.

With the emerging narrative of the "political student" as a waste of taxpayer's money, the students of JNU and countless other universities and schools have shown that the purpose of education is not just profitable employment, but also to inculcate, reimagine and fight for the ideals of equality, brotherhood and egalitarianism in oneself, one's community and nation, and the world. JNU's beauty lies in its resilience and resistance!


  • The Taj That is India
  • The BJP and Triple Talaq
  • Rohingya: A People Condemned!
  • 9 Key Qs Raised on First Day of Aadhaar Hearing in the Supreme Court
  • A Critical Analysis of Delhi's Human Development Index
  • 3 Army Divisions For 300 Terrorists In JK But No End to Violence: Certainly the Answer Does Not Lie in Force
  • 'It is Not the Left But the Congress That's the B-Team of the BJP'
  • Kasganj: A Story of People's Unity Fractured by Engineered Hate and Violence
  • Invisible Children Of Delhi
  • India 81 in Corruption Index, Amongst the "Worst Offenders"
  • Economists Hit Out Against Move to Privatise Public Sectors Banks
  • Tripura Trades Decency For False Eldorado
  • Syria's Bloody War
  • Pakistan And China Fill Space In Maldives Willfully Vacated By India
  • The Big Private Crop Insurance Scam: Farmers Par Premium of Rs 482, Receive Rs 5 as Insurance!
  • US Attack on Syria Violates International Law, Total Hypocrisy
  • Death Penalty Is Not The Answer To Sexual Violence: Implement Justice Verma Committee Report
  • Walls on Every Side: Trying to Get Data in India
  • The Ascent of Multi-Politics In Malaysia
  • Why the Objections to Marxism are Mistaken
  • The Rise and Fall of the Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim
  • BDS Has Placed Israel on Notice
  • Can We Promote Peace in India, Today?
  • Burying The Two-State Solution
  • Corruption And Class Rule
  • Is Ethnic Cleansing Coming to India
  • Our Real Heroes
  • Confronting Journalism's Misogynistic Trolls
  • After 17 Years of War, A Peace Movement Grows in Afghanistan
  • Taking Play Seriously: Time to Make Sports A Fundamental Right!
  • Law Commission Publishes Consultation Paper on Sedition
  • Foreign Policy: Between Folly and Foibles
  • Suu Kyi's Continued Denial And Bangladesh's
  • Economy Crumbles as Fuel Prices Skyrocket, Household Budgets Hit
  • Rupee's New Low: A Dangerous Drift
  • Are We Still Ruled by The British?
  • From Anti-National to Urban Naxal: The Trajectory of Dissent in India
  • Learning the Power of Lies: Facts vs. Falsehoods in the Age of Trump
  • The Indian Economy is in a Tailspin
  • China Walks a Tightrope on The Uighur Muslim Issue
  • Is Ram Mandir a Mere Election Strategy of the BJP?
  • The Harsher Counters of India's Drug Legislations
  • BJP's Election Strategy: Data is the New Opium
  • Geographical Indication - India's Untapped Resource
  • Climate Change to Make Prediction of Furious Storms More Difficult
  • Mountain echoes for India
  • Maldives: Has the Wheel Turned Full Circle?
  • President Sirisena Needs to be Reached Sooner Rather Than Later
  • Plastic Pollution in India
  • Prejudice by Any Name
  • 29 Years After Fall of Berlin Wall, Europe Has 1,000 Km of Walls to Stop Migrants
  • The Leftover Women of Afghanistan
  • Harmony of Music and Politics of Silencing
  • The Economics of Policy: Prohibition and Free Water Supply
  • Threat to Democracy in the Age of Social or Anti-Social Media
  • Intellectual Property- A Vital Discipline
  • What Happened in Britain, and What's Next
  • Assembly Debacle: BJP Got Taken in by Its Own Fake News
  • India: Secular Democracy or Hindu Rashtra
  • Adani is Byword for Government's Climate Inaction as Australia Gears for Elections
  • How The Modi Government is Killing Off MGNREGS
  • The Year of the Gazan
  • Assembly Polls: Ten Crucial Takeaways Ahead of 2019
  • The Real Effects of Fake Propaganda on Migrants
  • Why NGOs in Pakistan Are at The Brink of Extinction
  • Dogged by Brexit
  • In My Own Voice: Citizenship Amendment Bill And You
  • Oil Giant Shell Finally Faces Its Day In Court For Complicity In Rapes And Murders in Nigeria
  • The Geopolitics of Pulwama
  • Shah Faesal Cuts Through Calls for Blood and Lays Out a Roadmap for Kashmir
  • Modi's ABC: Avoiding, Burying, Confusing
  • The Kashmir Question: A 'Made in India' Problem
  • Opposition Must Take a Stand Against the War Politics of Hindutva
  • 'Patriotism' Made Easy in Times of 'WhatsApp Elections'
  • Urban Poor Have Set Agenda for 2019 Elections
  • Will the US End Up Putting Sanctions on Every Country That Doesn't Bend to its Will?
  • Minority and Indigenous Women Human Rights Activists More Prone to Harassment UN Report
  • Tribute to Speaker Rabi Ray (1926-2017)
  • International Participation is Necessary Where State is Part of The Problem
  • Italy Takes Belt and Road to The Heart of Europe
  • The Legacy of Shaheed-e-Azam
  • In My Own Voice: Heroes or Hiroshima
  • The Modi Years
  • Election in Israel: A Race to the Bottom
  • Why Bangladesh Overtook Pakistan
  • Digital Monopoly Platforms, Modi Regime and Threat to Our Democracy
  • Elitism and Development
  • Jawaharlal Nehru and Organised Religion
  • A Brief History of the IUML and Kerla's Muslims
  • The Immunisation of Human Rights
  • How Can India Win The Struggle on Poverty?
  • The RSS's Chanakya Neeti
  • Diversity, Belonging and Multiculturalism
  • The Chinese Ambition
  • The Role City Govts Can Play in the Health of Citizens
  • Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew: Forgotten Warrior of Our Freedom Movement
  • Fighting Climate Change, Building Resilience
  • Mridula Sarabhai(the orignal anti-national)
  • Right to Education: A Dream Half Forgotten
  • Decoding One Nation One Poll
  • Tunisia Heads for Polls Amidst Economic Slowdown, Squsbbling and Crack Down on Islamic Extremist
  • Lynchings, Litchis and No Water: What the International Media is Saying Abount India
  • Blood in the Nile
  • Will the BNP Ever Again be a Major Political Force in Bangladesh?
  • 'Real Estate Brokers' Cannot Dampen The Palestinian Spirit
  • The Indian Liberal's Conundrum
  • Hope For Democracy in Sudan
  • In Depth: Water Crisis Looming Across Tamil Nadu
  • Missing Secularism in New Education Policy
  • Religion, Nationalism And Insurgency in Balochistan
  • Dim Lights, Closed Blinds: History Lessons From a Party in Power
  • Loan Waivers Need Better Designing to Prevent Farmer Suicides
  • Makimg Best Use of Sri Lanka's Strategic Location
  • FDI in Coal: Look Who's Coming to the Party
  • Weapons and the Never Ending Space Race
  • Thirty Years the Berlin Wall Brought Down
  • Reclaiming the Opposition and Political Space in India
  • An Interreligious Conference to Build Bridges in Sri Lanka
  • On 'Correcting' History and Akbar's Invasion of Kashmir
  • The Evolution of the 'Nobel Prize' in Economics
  • Close Coordination Between Turkey and Russia in Syria
  • Sri Lanka's Election Time Promises Costly to Keep
  • The India Economy and The Cobra Effect
  • Fascism: Is Liberal Use "Trivialising" This "Destructive Phenomenon?"
  • Treating the Poor as Development Guinea Pigs
  • A Not sp 'National Education Policy: Analysis Reveals Exclusion in Education Sector
  • University Fee Hikes Pave the Way for Selling Public Assets
  • The Truth About Middle Class 'Revolutions?
  • 50 Years of US Arms Trade: The Lasting Impact on West Asia
  • India Abjures Secularism in Bangladesh's View, Will Regional Cooperation Take a Hit?
  • Amidist Resistance to "De-Tribalisation", A Look at Why Jharkhand Polls are More Critical Than They Appear
  • The Dangerous Game of Citizenship: BJP Creates Divisive Agenda Through NRC
  • Revealed: US Losing Aghan War Due to "Fatally Flawed" War Strategies and Lack of Clear Objetives
  • 'Politics and Prejudice': Can Dalit-Bahujans and left Progressives Join Hands?
  • State Power's Attempts at Rewriting History
  • Afghanista's Tumultous Fourty-Year Journey
  • Nepal: Citizen's Needs Remain Sidelined as Turbulent Game of Politics Continues
  • "Enough is Enough": Secular India Revolts Against a " Majoritarian State"
  • Looking at Cuba's Revolution 61 Years On
  • Soleimani Murder Set to Spiral Out of Control, US Expected to Pressure India Under LEMOA
  • The Rise of Digital Media and The Viral Phenomenon of "Nowledge"
  • Thus Spake JP: Beware the Writing on the Wall
  • Sri Lankan Government Must Pay Attention to Problem-Solving in the North
  • Drowning Nation Clutches at Military Might?
  • India's Neighbourhood First Policy Crumbles
  • A Gobal Assault by the Far-Right
  • Delhi Riots: Historical Patterns, Complicity of Forces Point to Planned Violence
  • Behind The Protests Defending Public Education
  • Putting The Judiciary on Trial
  • "Sanctions Are a Crime": During Coronavirus Pandemic, Sanctions Against Iran, Venezuela Causing Medical Shortages
  • Social Messiahs or Smart Entrepreneurs?
  • Justice Gogoi Joining Rajya Sabha Points to a Constitutional Crisis
  • A Russian "Plays Long Game" Firewall for Venezuela Against US Sanctions
  • RSS and the Question of Morality
  • Establishing COVID-19 Hospitals in Record Time
  • A New "Medical Internationalism" Needed: Cuba At the Pandemic Frontlines Even As Wealthy States Neglect Healthcare
  • Why They Suffer: The Human/Animal Conflict
  • More Books and Snowy Mornings
  • Statesmanship Required to Avert Constitutinal Crisis in Sri Lanka
  • Combating 'Hate Virus': Communal Forces Divide in times of Global Pandemin
  • How Biometric Authentication Has Excluded MAny From The Public Distribution System
  • Lessons From Iraq: Before Trump Sues China, US Must pay for Unjust War on Iraq
  • The American War System And The Global 'War of Error'
  • Demilitarising Patriotism in The Covid Fight
  • Muslims Need a Fair Media
  • Sri-Lanka: Shock of Covid-19 Wanes, Nationalist Sentiments Rise as Elections Approach
  • Covid-19 in Brazil: A 21st Century 'Reenactment' of the 19th Century Yellow Fever?
  • Iran's Fuel Tankers for Venezuela Sail to Safety Under 'Chinese Shield'
  • US Protests Bear Lessons For Sri Lanka
  • India and Nepal in For A Prolonged Standoff?
  • The Fifth Schedule: Tribal Advisory Councils and International Perspectives
  • The Asian American Response to Pandemic-Era Racism Must Be Cross-Racial Solidarity
  • Is Police Brutality Exclusive to the USA?
  • Libya's Future Seema to Rest on Arrangements Between Russia And Turkey
  • China's strategic Mind And Method: "Long-Term Planning" Behind Country's Geo-Political Moves
  • Returning Migrants: A Boon For Rural Industrialisation?
  • Why Refugees in Greece Are Afraid of the Word 'Camp'''
  • Black Lives Matter Movement And Its Lessons For India
  • US Provocations Trigger Tension in Sino-American Relations
  • Inclusive Representation Required In Sri Lanka's Decision-Making Bodies
  • Humanists At Risk: Demonising Dissent, Infantilising Society
  • Putin Anticipates 'Cascading Tension', Hints At Need To Rest World Order
  • Why the Neoliberal Agenda Is a Failure at Failure at Fighting Coronavirus
  • Covid-19 Underscores Importance of Local Planning
  • BRI Drive Post-Covid-19 Global Economic Recovery', Claims China
  • Are We Mainstreaming or Simply Trivialising Biodiversity?
  • Is Iran's Influence in Iraq Waning?
  • Green Economic Recovery: A Firm Commitment Required
  • Ease Of Doing Business VS Human Development
  • Provincial Councils The Best Option For A Peaceful Sri Lanka?
  • Revisiting the GDP Paradox
  • Coverange of Ayodhya Sparked "Convenient Collective Amnesia"
  • Prashant Bhushan And The Case of Contempt: "An Example of How Not to Write A Judgment"
  • Strengthening the Capacity of Gram Sabhas
  • Far Right Authoritarian Leaders Have Intensified The Pandemic in Their Countries
  • Congress And The Hindutva Campaign: "The Middle Path is Fast-Disappearing"
  • Trump Faces Backlash at Attempts to Suppress Mail-In Voting
  • Meeting the Covid Challenge to Define Our Nationhood
  • Capitalism's Political Problem: In Constant Conflict With Democracy
  • Anti-CAA Movement: How The 'OutSider' Discourse Dismisses Dissent
  • Centre Shirks Responsibility, "Abandons States" For Political Gain
  • Healing the Health System
  • Emerging Challenges for the International Labour Organisation
  • After Ayodhya, Kashi-Mathura On Temple Politics Agenda?
  • Unlike Today's Farm Bills, Even Britishers' Champaran Agrarian Bill Underwent Legislative Scrutiny
  • Science in Industry and the Academy
  • The US Supreme Court Has Never Been Liberal
  • Coronavirus Pandemic and Recessions: Disastrous for 'White Collar' Jobs
  • What Does Justice Mean Today?
  • Bihar's Political Ennui Can Only be Overcome by the Left
  • Gender Budget: Kerala Leads the Way, The Centre Should Follow
  • The Fight for Right to Information
  • Will Swing Voters Make Bihar Elections a Closer Contest Than Anticipated?
  • AMY Coney Barrett Sworn in as us Supreme Court Judge: Major Victory For the Right Wing
  • Thailand Protests - Youth Demand Greater Democratic Freedom
  • Unemployment a Key Issue in Bihar Elections
  • Capitalists Hungry For Land in Developing Countries Are a Threat to Indigenous Communities
  • Signals From Bihar: BJP and Left 'Sure Winners', Congress 'Neither Here Nor There'
  • Trump Lost But May Continue to Wield His Weapons of Destructions
  • Healing Divisions Post Election is The Challenge
  • 8 'Fruitless' Talks Later: XI Refuses to Budge, Modi in 'No Mood to Ruffle Feathers'
  • A Biden Presidency Hails The Return of The 'Ancien Regime'
  • Locating Nehru's Place In History
  • Why The BJP Has Shifted Focus From 'Congress Mukt Bharat' To Regional Parties
  • As People's Distress Grows, BJP Government is Busy Else where
  • The West Asia Trump Leaves Behind
  • Ambedkar's Vision Stands In Agonising Contrast to the Babri Masjid Demolition
  • Diversity in Nation Building: Recognising the Role of The Minority
  • Farmers Turn the Spotlights on Big Business
  • America's Vaccine Paranoia
  • Afghanistan: Despite US-Taliban Agreements, Peace Remains Elusive
  • Kisan Protests Are More About Survival of the Peasantry
  • Kamalji - Goodbye My Friend!
  • Condolence Message for Mr Kamal Morarka
  • Global dynamics in 2021
  • Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan: Muslims for Composite Indian Nationalism
  • Rajapaksas Regime Under Multiple Pressures
  • Coup Attempt in Jordan Leaves a Trail
  • What Kind of Political Candidates Did Gandhi Hope Voters Would Support?
  • Are Indian Students Losing Out on Past History as Textbooks are Being Changed?
  • Hamas Emerges as the Charioteer of the Palestinian Resistance Against Israel