The MTech protests started on the 31st of August 2022 at around noon. A group of PG students gathered near the Wind Tunnel with posters and slogans that spoke of their outrage against the fee hike.
The students sat down on the road between the Main Building and Ex-hall and conducted a ‘silent protest,’ demanding a rollback of the 150% fee hike. Protesting students raised concerns about how the academic fee hike and increased hostel rent posed a roadblock to their goal to pursue higher studies. They also mentioned that while the tuition hike had been rather steep, the monthly stipend the Institute provided them for Teaching Assistant duties and lab work had remained constant. Notably, PhD students face the same issue and are unhappy about it.
Following the protests, the IITD administration proposed revising the fee structure. However, many students are still unhappy with the new change. They claim that the fee hike has increased academic stress and anxiety. They also believe that this step for raising the price of education in premier institutes would lead to further marginalization of disadvantaged communities.
Behind the Events: Our Investigation
An investigation revealed that the fees for the 2021 entry batch of MTech students had been hiked from Rs 14,000 to Rs 36,000. The students were disturbed and mass mailed the administration to revert said fee hike; however, the students claimed they received a lukewarm response.
On 17th August, a few of these students gathered near WindT, after which they were called upon by the Dean Of Student Affairs, Arvind Nema, who mentioned that he would organize a meeting with the director. Later, on 18th August, a meeting was held in the Senate in the presence of the MTech representatives of SAC and 4-5 first-year MTech students. The director acknowledged the issue and formed a committee to investigate and take action on the issue.
On 26th August, the second meeting of the Senate was held, wherein (as told to BSP by students) the committee claimed that the students were already cognizant of the fee structure prior to their admission and that the individual 11 lakhs that IITD invests towards each student more than made up for the admission fees. They suggested that the students should take student loans, and that they should've taken admission in another IIT if they felt IIT Delhi was indeed that expensive. They also cited that the expenses would go towards building a good alumni network, and that IIT-D's QS ranking of 65 partly justifies the decision. The deans and director mentioned that Covid and inflation rendered a fee hike inevitable.
The students were outraged, alleging that the institute's QS ranking was high not because of the administration or the infrastructure, but the students themselves. Moreover, they expressed that the remarks of them taking admission in another IIT were in poor taste and insulting to their financial situation. They expressed that the fee hike was disproportionate to the increase in their stipend, and had rendered them unable to support their families. They claimed that the brunt of this fee hike was made to fall solely upon them.
Unconvinced by these justifications and seeing no written confirmation of any action, the students perceived the authority's response to be myopic and decided to protest in numbers to make the authorities realize the magnitude of the problem. They were inspired by the students of IIT Bombay, who held a hunger strike in a similar situation until the fee was rolled back.
All of this culminated in the protests of 31st August near WindT.
Perspectives of Stakeholders:
The revised fee structure issued by the Registrar came as a respite to the MTech students, as it relaxed the tuition fee to Rs 17,500 per semester and is with effect from the second semester (2021-22). A document detailing the exact distribution of fees under different overheads for MSc, MTech, PhD and MBA students was sent to all students through webmail, with an amicable and enterprising note from the Dean of Students (DOS).
While it seems that the issue has been resolved, certain troublesome aspects of the decision-making and negotiation process were duly accentuated. The students expressed to BSP journalists that the entire period of protests was extremely stressful for the MTech students, who felt that in the unavailability of scholarships and internships to support them financially, they had been rendered completely incapable of being as fiscally independent as they’d hoped. The response they received from the administration not only lowered their faith in the strength of their voice but also snowballed their fear centered on rising economic disparities even in the best educational institutions. The students claimed they felt alienated and displaced in an intellectual atmosphere they tirelessly contributed to.
The administration, on the other hand, claimed that no decisions are taken without the extensive participation of students, and all curricular matters are discussed with the engagement of the CAIC (Curricular Academic Interaction Council) and SAC (Student Affairs Council) which comprise elected student representatives from a diverse pool of candidates. In their defense, there are certain bitter pills that need to be swallowed, especially with regards to the overall financial situation of colleges across the country, and the decision was not taken unilaterally or stealthily, but on the contrary, was discussed and contemplated in depth alongside the students themselves. A certain degree of compromise is always required when an unfavourable situation arises.
Conclusions and Takeaways:
In the course of the protests, questions have been raised regarding the openness of communication, the presence of grievance redressal mechanisms, the inevitability of hard decisions that are forced by external factors beyond one’s control, and the optimum representation of students in important administrative decisions. These pertinent questions mustn't be pushed to the backburner simply because there is a working fix for one problem since they affect the relationship between the student body and the administration in the long run.
The post-pandemic era, as very perceptively penned by the DOS, has propelled us to realize that we must press the “reset” button when required and innovate how to work towards establishing excellence and integrity as a community. The first step to this, we believe, would be not to confuse resolution for revolution and take note of the aforementioned takeaways. The MTech protests are a lesson in the power of communication, negotiation and compromise, which was key to resolving the matter and arriving at the best possible win-win situation.
Written by: Aanya Khurana, Kavya Chopra, Unnati Goyal
Graphics by: Ayush Gupta