"The agitation is not really about fee hike… perhaps sub-judice JNUSU is the real reason"
Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of the premier institutions in the country is yet again in the news for wrong reasons—a student protest in the name of fee hike. There are claims and counter claims about the fee structure and the contribution of the institution in the national life, the first person who is on radar of the agitating students is the Vice-Chancellor of the university. Amidst such challenging times, JNU VC Prof M Jagadesh Kumar spoke to Prafulla Ketkar, Editor and Nishant Kr Azad, Sr. Correspondent of Organiser from the perception issues about the university to his vision for the future expansion of the University that is celebrating 50 years of its foundation. Excerpts:
JNU is a prestigious institution of the country, but most of the time it hits the national headlines for wrong reasons. Does it hurt the image of the University?
See, in my view, wherever I go and meet people the perception about JNU is very positive for the contribution it makes in research and in providing high quality education and also success of alumni coming out of JNU. Be it in NIRF rankings or even in world ranking. It is not easy to reach such kind of ranking unless the university really does well in many of the area. So in my view, the perception of JNU is very positive but there are also sometimes a small cross-section of students supported by a small cross-section of the faculty are creating a kind of image of the university which is not a welcome thing to happen.
For example, when we wanted to establish school of engineering, some of the faculty opposed it but now we are getting best of the students from the country. If the image of JNU is bad those students would not have come and joined. The same is true about School of Management and Entrepreneurship. Therefore, we need to focus on the positive aspects of the University and take this university forward. If you look at the negative news, is it about non-performance of JNU, or poor quality of alumni or JNU ranking? No, it is all about non-issues which don’t add any value to the academics of the university. We are telling our faculty and students that it is important for all of us together to focus on the academic performance and excellence of the university.

But on the issue of the fee structure as far as the hostel is concerned, there is a major hue and cry?
As per the annual schedule, we have hostel committee meetings to finalise the manuals, generally in September-October. The decision taken there were put on the JNU website for feedback, which was presented in the inter-hall administration (IHA) committee meeting on October 28. This was the first time where hostel manuals were discussed in which hostel presidents along with the senior wardens, the five provosts, associate deans, and deans were present to finalise the draft. During the IHA meeting some students barged in and disrupted the meeting, forcing the venue to be shifted. Even there some of the hostel presidents were present; the hostel manual was unanimously passed after discussion. The Executive Committee (EC) was scheduled to be held on November 13; even during these two weeks students could have given suggestions. Instead they started the agitation. When the provosts went for discussion, they were held captive and forced to sign either of the documents with only one of the choices – reject the manual or resign.
Don’t you think that such fee hike is unreasonable for students?
It may appear as a sudden increase in fees. This fee structure has been there for the last 40 years with the base value of Rs 10. If you calculate the inflation, including in other facilities and scholarships provided to the students, this structure is not unreasonable. If you want to provide better facilities for students, they have to pay for the services. Our tuition fee is around Rs 300 per annum which is over Rs 10,000 in case of other central Universities. We don’t want to raise tuition fee and expect minimum contribution from students against the services they are getting. We try to give maximum support to the students but this entitlement feeling that every rupee of my expenditure has to be supported by the Government and by the UGC is not something practical.

This amount of 1700 as service charge seems to be a major bone of contention?
All these charges are calculated as per the per capita consumption. For electricity or water or the number of workers in the mess, all charges vary from hostel to hostel and it is left to the students and their respective hostel committees to decide. If you see Delhi University, in some hostels the annual fee is Rs 55000 the mess bill is Rs 4000 per month with two meals whereas in JNU it is only Rs 2300 per month average with three meals. People don’t see these finer details and question the charges.
How can we compensate with this extra expenditure is a challenge before us as we are already in deficit. UGC is repeatedly asking us to meet these charges through internal receipts. It could be development charge or some other charge; but we have no option but to raise it.
At the Dharna Place (JNU) some students were talking about continuing the ‘Dharna’ and even demanding your resignation.
This is not the first time a section of students have demanded my resignation this has been happening right from the day I have joined.
If they are planning to continue their agitation then it is very unfortunate as the university has given many concessions in the new hostel manual and also in the structure of hostel charges. If the students still have the issues to discuss they are most welcome to meet the JNU administration at different levels. From December 12 our exams are scheduled and by December 31 M Phil and Ph D students have to submit their documents and if that doesn’t happens they will lose one full semester and this is not a welcome thing to happen.
There are a few students participating in the ‘Dharna’, the other thousands who want to participate in academic activities as their future is getting affected. My appeal to the agitating students is: if you are agitating, please agitate. It is your right. We have assigned a specific place for this in the university that is Sabarmati ground, but do not interfere with the academic functioning and future of thousands of students. This is my appeal.
A section of media and intellectuals are trying to portray that the administration is trying to suppress the voice of students.
This is not true. Every month I have a free meeting with the students. Any student can come and meet me without any appointment. I am here for the students only. Many students come with genuine grievances related to delayed scholarship or degrees is delayed or there is some problem with this course work, I immediately call the concerned officer and try to settle the issue then and there. Even there are other forums where students always come, like academic boards’ and warden’s committee where the students can give their feedback.
From day one we as a administration are open for dialogue. No organisation can run if the Vice Chancellor has to sit under a tree and approve and disapprove certain demands. There is a proper channel to address the grievances. We have made every effort to communicate that we are open for dialogue and discussion. It seems that they are not really agitating about the fee hike but something else; perhaps non-representation of JNUSU in various bodies of the administration. JNU administration cannot do anything about it as the student union is not yet notified and sub-judice in the High Court. Only after the HC directive we can take a call on the matter.

There is always a talk about the so-called JNU culture. What is your idea of JNU Culture?
I come from IIT system and I was very active in college activities. For any good academic institution it is the ability of the students to stand up and ask questions, ability to critically think and synthesise the information gathered from various sources to make right choices and decisions and opportunity for students coming from ordinary background to achieve something in life through maximum exposure. JNU culture stands for all this. My only concern is, we should debate, go on Dharna but without disrupting the academic process of the institute. If this principle is followed JNU will function without any interruption while we resolve many issues keeping the vibrant culture intact.
JNU has completed its fifty years of journey. How do you see this journey? What is your vision for the future?
50 years is a short period in the life of a university. If you see the history of great universities, it took hundreds of years to evolve. But JNU has made a huge mark in 50 years which is very appreciable. This was possible because of the nature of the students who come here with a dream to achieve something. If you have dreams in your mind it becomes easier for teacher to mentor them. Today you can find students of JNU working in every sector. I can see JNU as a very successful university but you cannot be complacent. We identify and analyse the problems but as a leading institution we have to focus on the finding solutions to the challenges faced by the society. That is why we need to expand academic programmes in the university. We have very good social sciences, international relations and humanities schools here. The top universities do not focus on one subject, they are comprehensive universities, where all domains are studied. This is one of our goals and that is why we are expanding our academic programmes.
Again just expanding academic programmes will not be of any help unless the corresponding infrastructure is created and that infrastructure can be created only through two means: Either the alumni gives huge grants to the universities or we approach the government.
Today government has one model where we have to go for a loan from HIFA. We are in the process to get that loan which is around Rs 450 crore. With that money, we will be able to create several labs, build hostels for the students, create new academics units in the university. So that will serve the purpose to take the university at different level in the coming 10-15 years. Our hope is that in next 15 years as school of management and school of engineering grow we will have alumni who will become entrepreneurs and industrialist and support us financially just like IIT alumni do. It is a long journey and you cannot change the university in a couple of years. The seeds that we are sowing today will become a huge tree someday and bear fruit for the JNUites.