Last week, the students of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) in Bengaluru were alarmed on finding out that their yearly fees had been increased by more than 25% for the upcoming academic year. Undergraduate students in their second to fifth year currently enrolled in the five-year integrated BA LLB programme will now have to pay Rs 2,30,500 for the year. This is nearly Rs 50,000 higher than the annual fees of Rs 1,83,800 they paid last year. The fees for the LLM and MPP (Master of Public Policy) courses were also similarly hiked.
Although the latest fee notification is dated May 15, 2019, students say that the notice was put up on the universityâ€™s website discreetly, without giving students sufficient time to make financial arrangements for the hiked fees.
â€śWe donâ€™t know when the fee notification was put up. The usual practice is for the college to send it to students through email, and that is what we were expecting this time as well. Besides, the notification wasnâ€™t on the homepage of the website or somewhere easily accessible. You have to go through multiple webpages to find it,â€ť a senior BA LLB student said.
Lack of transparency in announcing the hike
According to a statement released by the Student Bar Association (SBA), the elected student body of NLSIU, the 25% increase has been justified by the university citing the need for increased salaries to implement the 7th Pay Commission. The SBA has recently discovered that in a meeting held on August 7, 2017, the Executive Council (comprising of SC judges and representatives from the Bar Council of India and the university faculty) had suggested a hike of Rs 20,000 per annum as â€śthe income of NLS from all sources has reached a flat graph.â€ť The statement also mentions that the UG Council Chairperson had also written to the VC of NLSIU recommending a 25% hike. â€śThe decision was taken two years back, but students were kept in the dark till now,â€ť a student said.
Students are also upset with the break-up of the fee hike. While the tuition fee has been increased only by Rs 20,000, the major portion of the hike is reflected in other heads like electricity, internet, hostel, mess and infrastructure charges.
â€śIf the purpose is to increase teachersâ€™ salaries, it makes sense to raise the tuition fee. But we are already paying too much for the poor quality of internet access. In spite of the student body paying lakhs of infrastructural fees in the past, there has hardly been any change in the gym or any sports infrastructure. Hostel rent has been increased along with electricity charges. These hikes are random and unjustified,â€ť another student said.
Effect on socio-economically disadvantaged students
Students say that in the past, the annual fee hikes were much lower, and were only annually adjusted for inflation. The yearly fees had increased from Rs 1,63,500 for the academic year 2015-16, to Rs 1,83,800 for 2018-19, a rise of Rs 20,300 or 12% over three years. The SBA is worried that the steep hike this year could result in excluding students from low-income families, especially students from SC and ST communities, â€śin the absence of social safety nets like a full fee waiver for SC/ST students available in comparable national higher educational institutions i.e. IITs and IIMs.â€ť
The student body has raised concerns that the hike would result in current students from marginalised communities dropping out, and exclude them from future batches.
â€śMany students are currently paying fees through education loans or merit-cum-needs based scholarships. The hike will increase the financial liabilities of students who are socially and/or economically unprivileged. Students from lower-middle to middle-income families will also find it unaffordable. Only upper-class students will be able to afford such an education. The hike will hurt the diversity of the student body on campus,â€ť a student said.
Students are worried that the disproportionate representation of women and oppressed castes in law and judiciary will worsen with this move. â€śLegal education is meant to empower the vulnerable and oppressed. The hike just makes it inaccessible to these same communities. Private law colleges are already very expensive, and now a public university is going the same way,â€ť another student said.
The SBA also feels that the financial burden on current students will only create anxieties about their future, affecting their career choices and compelling them to take up corporate jobs, rather than pursuing less lucrative careers in fields that they care about.
Demands of the student body
Classes at NLSIU have commenced from July 1, and the last date for fee payment without a fine is July 7. The Executive Council which has the final say on the matter is scheduled to meet on July 6, to decide on the appointment of a new VC and Registrar. The SBA plans to send a student delegation to present their concerns to the Council.
â€śWe want them to withdraw the hike for all students. At the very minimum, we want the current students to be exempt so they can continue with their education and a reduced hike for the incoming batch of students,â€ť said a student. Students are also looking to urge the administration to find alternate sources of income, such as nationalisation of the university or seeking the status of Institute of National Importance (INI), to raise funds from other avenues.