The students have now started another indefinite hunger strike. They say the prestigious journalism school is becoming unaffordable for large sections of the society
STUDENTS AT the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi, have been intermittently protesting against a fee hike for three months now. The administration is unmoved. In fact, it’s trying to ram through the hike.
Since 2009-10, the IIMC, one of India’s most prestigious journalism schools, has increased its fees for all PG diploma courses every year by about 10 percent. Over the past five years, the fees have increased by 100 percent. Today, a one-year diploma course in Radio and TV Journalism costs Rs 1.6 lakh.
As a result, the protesters argue, the institution has become unaffordable for students from poor families.
The protest started on December 3. The students held a sit-in and some of them went on a relay hunger strike, demanding the hike be rolled back and the existing “high fees” revised down. On December 17, through a circular released by the assistant registrar, Anima Ekka, the IIMC administration promised to look into their demands at the meeting of its executive council on January 2. It also withdrew a circular setting the deadline for depositing the hiked fees. The students ended their protest the same day. They, however, decided to keep alive their movement to make the IIMC affordable by organising talks and discussions on the campus.
“We ended our hunger strike in December after the administration assured us that they will demand the new fees only after the executive council’s report comes out. However, on February 10, they brought out the fee circular,” said Hamid Raza, a student of Urdu Journalism. “After we protested on February 12, they issued a revised circular, extending the deadline for submitting the fees to March 2.”
On February 17, nine students started an indefinite hunger strike, while scores of others sat with them in support. They made three demands of the administration. One, quash the February 12 circular. Two, provide clarity about the committee which was to be set up to review the fee structure. Three, immediately revoke the suspension of 11 students.
The next day, the students met with the administration. However, they said, they didn’t get any reassurances. So, they have decided to continue with the protest.
“As promised, the fee circular should have been issued after the executive committee’s report,” said Raza. “Also, on February 9, we held a public talk on affordable education after which 11 students were suspended. We gave a collective reply to the suspension order and the administration extended our suspension by four more days.’’
Akash Pandey, a student of Hindi Journalism who was among those who have been suspended, said, “The talk was organised with the intention of discussing the rising fees. It’s an important issue as the constantly rising fees are keeping a large section of the society away from this institution. The administration argued in the suspension letter that the talk was held with the intention of spoiling the institute’s image. But we have invited our distinguished alumni to take cognizance of the rising fee time and again. We study journalism and if we cannot raise our voice today, how will we raise our communities’ voices tomorrow?”
Gautam, who is studying for a PG diploma course, said, “The IIMC administration has betrayed us by issuing the fee submission circular. There is no information regarding the committee which was to examine the fee structure. We don’t even know if the committee was even formed. When we asked for an explanation, they didn’t respond. Also, the IIMC administration has suspended several students without providing a reason. This attitude of the IIMC administration to the serious issue of affordable education is not acceptable.”
On its part, the IIMC administration claimed the February 12 circular was authorised by the executive council and that it has introduced 25 percent “fee scholarship” that is expected to benefit 184 of the 434 students. It added that a committee had been constituted to look into the issue and that the final decision would be taken once its report was finalised. As for the suspension of students, they had been told to submit a written reply by February 20.
Asked about the administration’s claim that the revised fees were mentioned in the prospectus given to the students at the time of admission, Pandey said, “My parents contributed to my first semester fees with difficulty and I still have to pay for the second semester. Admission to an institution does not mean bowing down to discriminatory rules in the prospectus. When premier institutions like the IIMC charge high fees, education becomes a luxury.”
IIMC’S FEE STRUCTURE
The IIMC claims it can’t reduce fees because the memorandum of understanding it has signed with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting mandates the institute to raise a third of its operational cost.
Ten years ago, the fees for a PG Diploma in Hindi and English Journalism was Rs 34,000. Now it is Rs 87,000. A PG Diploma in Advertising and Public Relations cost Rs 48,000 then. It costs around Rs 1.23 lakh now.
The fees don’t include hostel and mess charges. The IIMC offers hostel facilities to only a few students; the rest have to bear the additional costs of living.
EXECUTIVE COUNCIL MEETING
According to a press release by the IIMC, its 142nd Executive Council meeting decided to constitute a committee to examine the question of affordability. The students pointed out that the committee had not been formed before the institute issued the fee deposit circular on February 12.
“We submitted a letter in February, asking them to roll back the circular in 24 hours and constitute a committee. They constituted the committee on February 17, when we started our hunger strike. The whereabouts of this committee are still unknown,” said Akash Pandey.