This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are not a reflection of Ping! as a whole.
With students world-wide asking for a reduction in their fees, the “movement” arrived here in the form of a post on the Life@IIIT-H Facebook group. What was the institute’s response? How supported were these demands of fee concession? Were they practical?
For the monsoon ’20 semester, the tuition fee remains unchanged, while reductions were made to utility and hostel fees. More information can be found in the ‘Extraneous Charges’ section.
Tuition fees fuss
In a poll on the Life@IIIT-H Facebook page (with 450 participants), 81% of the participants agreed, and 18% partially agreed to the need for a reduction in the tuition fees, with only 1% disagreeing. The primary reasoning was that the quality of education provided is not at par. Further, paying the same fees is unfair to the students because COVID-19 has affected their financial situation. Some students also argued that on-campus facilities and infrastructure, such as classrooms, internet, library, and labs, must not be charged for.
However, in a mail, the General Secretary of the Students’ Parliament said, “The Students’ Parliament took feedback from the UG-1 and UG-2 students and most respondents were satisfied with the online mode of teaching.“. In this poll (with 512 participants), 27% of responders said that online classes were more efficient than offline classes, 43% didn’t notice a difference, and 30% said that the quality was not at par with an offline class. A whopping 66% agreed that their professor was able to engage in discussions and that there was not a massive difference compared to what happened in class.
This stark difference in opinion could be either because the poll conducted by the parliament was limited to only UG1 and UG2, or that it was anonymous, or because the poll on Life@IIIT-H was more than a month later. While the Life@IIIT-H poll mainly talks about a tuition fee reduction, students may have also voted for a fee reduction based on criteria other than a drop in quality. Also, whether the drop in quality is enough to deem a reduction in the fees did not naturally fit in the parliament’s poll.
The quality of instruction may improve this semester. The institute has created alternate assessment plans for the semester, accounting for the limitations of online teaching. “The quality of instruction and overall education will not be found wanting, though nothing can substitute a lively class experience for both the teacher and the taught”, as per the Director.
Could we have a reduction?
The General Secretary of the Student’s Parliament said, “While the institute did not explicitly put out elaborate points about ‘reasons for not reducing the fee’, it mentioned about inflation and by this reason, much of the decision can be explained.” Inflation warrants the annual fee hike, and since there is no fee hike this year, the difference is expected to be satisfied by deductions and savings. Since the breakdown of tuition has not been provided by the institute in any detail whatsoever and is not known to the parliament either, the extent of the effect of inflation on other deductible components (which may inform us of the affordable reduction) is not calculable.
The cost of on-site facilities such as classrooms, internet, library, and labs which will not be utilised is unknown since the breakdown of the tuition fees is not known. The renunciation of the hike is the only form of “reduction” offered and whether the institute could have afforded to do more remains an unanswered question, since, again, the tuition fees breakdown is unknown. There were forms issued by the Student Parliament for students requiring assistance with tuition fees, and they have been promised help on a per-person basis by the institute. Payment in instalments was provided as an option, and Alumni funds were also available for relief.
The tuition fees are not the only costs that institutes have to take care of. The mess advances, hostel charges, and charges for utilities like water and electricity are some instances of the other costs incurred. The breakdown of the mess and hostel fees was provided by the Director in his mail on the 26th of May. These have two components to them, a fixed component for the salaries of the staff and a variable one for utilities like water and electricity in the hostel, and for groceries in the messes. The fixed part comes to around 40% of the total mess fees, amounting to ₹14 lakhs per month. This was covered by the staff and faculty for the previous semester, with students only charged a one-time fee of ₹1500 towards this. The fixed part of the hostel fee amounts to ₹950 per month, per student, which was wholly covered by the students. The utilities’ charges were adjusted in dues for the Monsoon’20 semester. This was until the end of July and was optional.
For the Monsoon’20 semester, there are no charges for utilities and the mess and hostel fee is ₹1500 per month for five months, a total of ₹7500. The Student Parliament had requested for the mess and hostel fee to be waived for this semester. For students on campus, normal rates effective in the last academic year will be applicable.
Evaluation of the institute’s response is difficult since these are unprecedented times. Hence, our best option is to see if it met the expectations of its students, how it fared in comparison to the response of other universities, and how much transparency was maintained in doing so.
Although many students seemed to be demanding a tuition fee discount due to a drop in the quality of education, an equal number may be satisfied with the quality of online classes. The reduction in fee, supported with reasons such as unused on-site facilities, was finally not given, and there was no transparency in this process either. However, the decision to renounce the hike in tuition fees was made. Although there was no hike in the tuition fee for NITs and IITs, no news for a reduction in tuition fees surfaced either (and these receive a significant amount of government funding as opposed to our more self-sufficient institute). Some IITs waived extraneous fees, such as IIT Kharagpur, which waived the mess advance, hostel overhead charge, and utility charges and IIT Hyderabad, which waived its hostel and transport fees. Globally, only 43 universities in the top 1000 (QS ranking) announced plans for reducing their tuition fees. Although Princeton announced a 10% drop in fees, Ivy league colleges, in general, did not offer any discounts and were even planning hikes. Several Canadian and British institutions also declared hikes.
There was ample transparency in the decisions regarding the mess and hostel fees. The institute maintained its position of responsibility towards supporting these staff throughout and also incorporated the students in this. There were refunds in the mess and hostel fees from the previous semester and a discount for the coming semester, neither of which happened in most universities. The students’ expectations may not have been met, and there may have been a lack of transparency, but when compared to other institutes, the decisions taken by our’s seem to be the most student-friendly indeed.