Views that never cease

Panjab University: Politics, Financial Crisis and Student Unrest By Ronki Ram - admin

On April 11, 2017 Panjab University (PU) was lucky enough to be escaped from what could otherwise turned out to be a bloody Vaisakhi. It was engulfed by a whirlpool of politicking, financial crunch and student unrest. Students were agitating over fee hike of various courses across the disciplines. Education, they argued, needs to be provided by the government free of cost. Education in PU, however, was never provided free of cost at any point of time in its long history. It was being run on the basis of tuition and examination fees collected from a large number of students enrolled in its various affiliated Schools, Colleges and in various faculties at the campus. In addition, the deficit budget is being met by the financial support provided by the state and central governments.

When the matriculation examination was taken out of the fold of the PU in the second half of 1969, the internally generated finances from the tuition fee collected from a large number of school students were reduced leading to proportionate increase in its deficit budget. For the financial year of 1970-71 the annual tuition fee collected by the Punjab School Education Board was Rs. 82.45 Lacs.   If the tuition fee collected by other two School Boards(Haryana State School Education Board and Himachal Pradesh School Education Board) was added in the same financial year the figure would be much more.  The establishment of Guru Nanak Dev University at Amritsar in 1969 hadfurther added to the financial burden of the PU while taking away a large number of its affiliated colleges that used to contribute significantly towards its indigenous finances. Once the colleges located in the jurisdiction of the State of Haryana were also taken away from the control of PU, the financial health of the PU was further affectedseverely.

Moreover, since 1991, after the adoption of neoliberal policies by India,the financial support provided by the Central and Punjab Governments got further squeezed. Consequently neither the Central nor the Punjab Government felt the urgency to meet their given 60:40 share in the deficit budget of PU arrived at after thereorganization of the Punjab in 1966. Neoliberalism reiterates that State is meant for maintaining law and order only. And the citizens need to fend for themselves in the free market economy. The PU cannot be an exception. It has to fall in line with the national economic policy.

Until recently PU was somehow able to manage its deficit budget, may be due to its ‘Inter-State body Corporate’ character and also being situated in a volatile Union Territory of Chandigarh – a unique Capital of two States of Punjab and Haryana. Probably that could also be one of the major causes behind its not becoming a Central University. Popular perception in Punjab often ties the case of Central University status for PU with the claims of the State of Punjab on Chandigarh. Bringing PU under the purview of Central Government allegedly raises the fear of weakening the claim of Punjab over Chandigarh.

Nevertheless, if there is a definite political will to help PU overcome its financial crisis, its rich national heritage status of being the only pre-independence Indian University of teaching and examination can be evoked to make it a fully centrally funded University of national heritage. It will also save it from being pushed into political turmoil in the name of Central University status. The PU’s right to become financially secure is as justifiable as of any other Central University. Moreover, PU deserves to be given much more for its sterling contribution in the North Western renaissance movement that played a leading role in strengthening the Indian national freedom struggle.

In the absence of regular grants, funds were always a problem with PU. Almost every year it has to struggle a lot to manage its deficit budget. However, despite the shortage of funds, the tuition fees of various academic courses remained at the lowest level for the last many years. It is pertinent to mention here that from 1967-68 to1995-96 there was no hike at all in the tuition fee of all the graduate and postgraduate courses. It remained saturated at Rs.15 per month and Rs.180 per annum for graduate courses and Rs.240 per annum for Postgraduate courses in Humanities and Rs.300 per annum for Science, Commerce and Education from 1967-68 to 1995-96. In 1995-96, it was doubled to Rs.30 per month and Rs360 per annum for the graduate and Rs.360 per annum for the MA (Humanities), Rs.480 per annum for MSc (Hons) and MEd and Rs600 per annum for MCom for the next five years. In 2001-02 the fees of the BA/BCom Evening Studies was raised to Rs.63 per month and Rs.756 per annum. The tuition fee for the various Postgraduate courses was also raised accordingly–Rs.840 per annum for MA (Humanities) and MSc (Hons) and Rs.1248 for MCom and MEd courses. The same was kept on increasing gradually until it reached Rs.90 per month and Rs.1080 per annum for BA/BCom, Rs.1200 for BSc (Hons), Rs.1320 for MA and MSc (Hons), and Rs.2040 for MCom and MEd in 2006-07. It was at this time that PU had to open many self-financed courses to manage its deficit budget. The comparatively high tuition fee charged in such courses, of course,facilitated PU to reduce its deficit budget for some time. However, no periodic tuition fee hikes in these self-financed courses since they were established could not serve the purpose for which they were created.

The Senate, the highest governing body of the PU, determines tuition fee. It is partially elected and partially a nominated body. The Chancellor of PU who is also Vice-President of India makes nominations. PU Senate has a large number of graduate constituencies spread over its vast catchment area. The electoral arithmetic within the Senate keeps the tuition fee at its lowest level in comparison to other Universities in the region and beyond. No doubt tuition fees are higher at PU in comparison to various Central Universities like JNU, AMU and BHU. But PU is not a Central University. Comparison needs to be made among the comparable. When asked for liberal funding, Central Government raises a concern that why PU needs more funds than any other State University. The successive governments of the State of Punjab often put the same argument forward.

While allocating grants, if PU cannot be compared with any Central University in the country then why to compare it with any other State University either. The PU, in the typical sense of the term, is not a State University. Its Chancellor, unlike any other State University, is the Vice-President of the Union of India. The laws chiseled in the Parliament of India regulate its governing structure. The provision to provide finances to meet deficit budget in the ratio of 60:40 by the Central and the Punjab Government respectively has differentiated PU from the other State Universities.

However, the provision of 60:40 ratios, to meet the annual deficit budget, does not completely liberate PU from its financial constraints. The 60:40 provisionshave not been followed in letter and spirit. The Panjab Governments has frozen its share to Rs.20 Crore annually. The Central Government too never releases its share as per 60 percent of the total PU deficit budget annually. The Central Government wants PU to reduce its deficit. It also asks for a cap on the deficit. The argument goes like this that in the absence of increase in the internalresources of PU, the financial burden of its deficit budget on the Central and State Governments would keep on increasing every year. At the same time, if the Central and the Punjab governments do not honour the mandate of owning the responsibility of the annual deficit budget of the PU, the gap between its internally generated resources and its expenses will keep on expanding. It is in this crucial context that PU governing bodies and the Central and Punjab Governments need to look into the current crisis at its sprawling lush green Campus both with a passion and reason. Simply emphasizing on putting pressure on the Centre and the State to meet the entire annual deficit budget of PU on the one hand and adamantly insisting on total roll back of the fee hike on the other would not be good for restoring academic environment in the Campus. The Central Government often ask the PU officials what are they doing to bridle its ever increasing deficit. They want PU to increase its own internal resources. Whenever an attempt was made to make some hike in the tuition fee, students resorted to agitation.

Consequently, PU has not increased its tuition fee over the last many years. Whereas in its own affiliated colleges in Chandigarh and in Punjab, the fees for the same courses is much higher. For instance, the annual postgraduate tuition fee for the Arts and Humanities disciplines in PU is Rs.2440 in 2016-17 whereas for the same subjects in its affiliated colleges in Chandigarh, it was Rs.9000. Moreover, there is a vast variation within its fee structure for various courses taught within the campus. For an instance a student pursuing an electrical engineering course has to pay Rs.72000/- tuition fee annually whereas for a similar course in the department of Chemical Engineering and Technology he has to pay much less i.e.Rs.9000/- only. When confronted by the MHRD and the UGC to enhance its internal resources, PU brought the level of its traditional courses’ tuition fee at par with the tuition fees charged at its affiliated colleges and leveled the fee structure for its MBA and Chemical engineering courses. It is the leveling in these two courses that is articulated as Rs.1100 percent increase in the tuition fee. But the reality is that except for these two courses in no other traditional course the tuition fee is hiked at that level.Nevertheless, the hike is there too in the traditional courses. But that is not more than the students have been paying for the same courses in the affiliated colleges of PU. Even after the hike, the students at PU campus are still paying less than their counterparts in other affiliated colleges of PU.

The critical issue at present is to save the PU from being pushed into a situation from where there would be not retreat! It should not be allowed to become an akhara of politics. Any move to change its basic structure would be detrimental to the interests of a vast number of students, teachers and supporting staff. What we need is to find a solution in its given administrative framework while persuading the Central and Punjab State governments to honour their financial obligations as agreed upon in the post re-organisation phase with the required increase in the annual grants at par with the Central Universities.  As far as internal resources are concerned, the governing bodies of PU and students need also to think pragmatically that if we want this North-western National Heritage Institution of Higher Education to survive and march towards further academic heights, the necessary steps expected at our end ought to be given due concern passionately.

Ronki Ram

Member of PU Senate, former PUTA president, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Professor of Political Science







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