Protesting the 15% hike in the annual tuition fees, thousands of students from the three campuses of Birla Institute of Technology & Science (BITS) – Pilani, Hyderabad and Goa – came together to start a unique movement called “Change for a change”.
The students are collecting coins in a bowl kept outside the BITS Pilani Vice Chancellor’s office to chip in and help the administration meet its “growing financial needs”.
“If lack of funding is the only issue which has resulted in the fee hike, we thought the most peaceful way to protest is to collect coins and give it to the management,” Anirudh Sangla, a second year student, told TNM.
The protest gained momentum on May 6, a day after the new fee structure was published on BITS Pilani’s website. Initiated in the Pilani campus in Rajasthan, the protest was later taken up by the other two campuses in Goa and Hyderabad.
First year students joining the 2018-19 session will have to pay Rs 1.59 lakh per semester as their tuition fees.
Students called for a peaceful form of protest to convey their message to the authorities rather than resorting to vandalism or indulging in any form of violence.
Anirudh says, “We have been bottling things up. We have been agreeing to the hike every year on the basis of the reasons given by the institution, but I think we have realised now that it is not feasible for us anymore to continue in the same manner.”
Explaining the severity and urgency of the situation, a first year student shares, “A lot of my friends are actually considering dropping out of the college because their parents cannot afford the fees anymore.”
He adds, “People think that all the students in BITS belong to affluent backgrounds, so a fee hike should not be an issue for them. But I believe that even if someone can afford the fees, the college has no right to pressure them in this manner.”
With an increase of around Rs 30,000 for a semester, the total amount, which includes the semester fee, summer term and other fee charges, will put a lot of strain financially on students and their parents.
“Students actually take education loans and break their securities to come to BITS,” the student adds.
Students feel that this protest is the last solution to the injustice meted out to them.
A few students claim that the BITS Pilani director’s statement “If the students cannot afford private colleges, they should go to government colleges” was just a result of pressure and confusion and spoken in the heat of the moment when he addressed the students. But others claim that he actually meant what he said and was suggesting that students drop out instead of supporting them.
In another form of peaceful protest, students took to the streets to fight against the fee hike while continuing to study for their end-semester exams under the street lights, choosing not to create any ruckus or discipline issues for the college and the administration.
The students were extremely upset upon not receiving any support from the administration. Even when the authorities addressed students gathered in the auditorium in BITS Pilani, the Vice Chancellor did not give any satisfactory answers and refused to take questions.
Vice Chancellor, BITS Pilani, refused to take questions on the fee hike while the entire auditorium demand for solutions. Shows how reluctant the administration is at highest levels here @bitspilaniindia @AdityaBirlaGrp @narendramodi @PrakashJavdekar #RollBackBITSPilaniFeeHike pic.twitter.com/l7i34mqfUa— Manal Garg (@manalgarg225) May 6, 2018
Students made use of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #RollBackBITSPilaniFeeHike to voice their concerns, also gaining support from several BITS alumni.
1/n Extremely proud of my junior batches at BITS Pilani who have taken to the auditorium as a collective entity and as one voice to put forth the problems plaguing the student community due to the administration's policy of a 15% annual fee increase.#RollBackBITSPilaniFeeHike— Shashank Murali | TapChief (@shankmurali) May 6, 2018
While the students continue with their peaceful protest, there is no word yet from the BITS authorities about any action on the students’ demands.