Students’ politics in Himachal is in turmoil and so is the very foundation of Himachal Pradesh University, the oldest university of the state that is going through an identity crisis and has hit the students’ community where it hurts most.
The situation at hand is a straightforward case – landing in a financial crisis, the university authorities, one fine day decided to increase examination and other applicable fees for doing various courses offered that have directly hit the students’ pockets.
Where some of this fee hike has been in the range of 25-60 %, at others is has even been doubled and for some tripled. As expectedly, a fee increase was bound to cause student uproar and so it has.
Matters have spilled over to an extent that the deliciously newborn totem of struggle, “the student protest”, has come to resemble something of a counter-offensive against authorities.
Amidst a blitz of media outrage – from images to videos sharing out on social media – and of police brutality that with all its strength has attempted to prevent the protests, dissenting voices of the students emerge stronger.
Bridging the political rainbow, the university actions have brought together all shades of the political spectrum on the campus, who are now jointly protesting against the fee hikes imposed by the University.
There is no rope to tug here, which is an all too common feeling for the student, who looks to pursue an education that promises a standard of return.
Consider this: the University for its functioning, which also includes signing a significant amount of wages and pensions, depends mostly on the State governments for grants. Roughly 60-70% of the university’s expenditure is born by the state exchequer.
The remaining amount has to be borne by fee collections and other revenue streams of the university but since they hardly have any other revenue stream, it has to come from fees paid and other charges levied on the students’ community.
To meet the universities 2013-14 estimated budget, the state did provide a net grant of Rs 65 crores for the academic year. In the last couple of years the university managed to generate revenue of Rs 35 crores by way of fees and other chargeable operational costs.
As per the statement that precedes the long list of budget allocations, the University in 2011, loaned a significant amount of money, from institutions that work independently but are under its umbrella and have their own economic models to sustain them.
What surprises, when looking at the universities numbers is the glaring lack of planning and in some cases accountability too. Take the case the grant provided by the state, it increased over the last fiscal year, and so did the University’s self-generated revenue and even the expenditure fell.
There is however a lingering unlinked bone from the skeletons of the academic year of 2012-2013 whereby it is mentioned under the colloquialism and potential departure from conventional terminology altogether -“additionality” – amounting to Rs 26 crores, being waived as part of the break-even “revised” budget statement of the year. In the following year – despite the increased grant and revenue – the deficit increases to nearly Rs 15 crores.
Where is the foresight in planning? What exactly does “additionalities” worth Rs 26 crores amount to, other than the deficits? Where has the university shown prudence in operation for meeting their loans, other than asking for grants, and eventually charging the student? These are only some of the questions that might come to mind.
While the financial tittle-tattle may be the kind of antibiotic you wouldn’t want to swallow despite being at the very worst of your prized health, there other points to consider.
The university’s largest chunk of expenditure comes from rolling out bloated paychecks to its vast and perhaps, underused staff. This, staggeringly, however conflicts with the data provided by the University where it is abysmally short of the sanctioned strength for staff – mostly professors and lecturers – with a lot of vacancies existing in almost all faculties.
Whether the University is working towards filling this positions is another matter, what is morbidly clear, is that the University’s treasury has not even drawn its biggest sanctioned cheque yet.
More professors, means more expenditure, and it only becomes easier to suspect rather than understand at what exactly is at play here. This runaway expenditure makes it very difficult to turn this university into an institute of excellence. Instead it stares at an existential crisis.