It's barely 8 am and yet Samantha*, a final year engineering student, is all set to attend her online classes. This has been her routine for most part of the year. The virtual lessons keep her busy through the day till 3 pm, with an hour-long lunch break in between. Given the coronavirus situation, these online classes will likely be the only mode of education for her in 2020.
As she got used to her new schedule, she assumed that this modified education mode would also mean lower fees. But to her shock, she received a circular from her college detailing the fee break-up for the academic session 2020-21, which included a whopping fee of Rs 60,000 for transport. In fact, the charges have gone up by Rs 5,000 this year despite the fact that it has been months since she set foot in the sprawling campus.
“Our college has increased the transport and hostel charges.. We were pretty surprised by this and we sent them emails and a few weeks later, they sent us a revised structure in which they reduced only the additional amount..” she told News18.
When students had written an email to the institute, the response was a lesson on damage control.
“We were still not happy and we mailed them saying how we shouldn't be made to pay anything at all because we are not going to be commuting to college through bus or staying in hostels this year. To that, they responded by saying they are going to use that amount for the infrastructure to conduct virtual classes and virtual labs but they have still charged us under the hostel/transport fees,” Samatha said.
In a mail to the students of this college, the management said transport and hostel charges will be used for the upgradation of IT services of the institute.
“While it is true that you have not been using the hostel/bus facility, you must appreciate that the college is now incurring other expenses that are not directly reflected in the fee heads," the management's mail read.
"For example, considerable upgradation of our IT services is underway and huge investments are being made for conducting online classes and virtual labs..Taking all this into account, the heading “Hostel/Transport Charges” must be read as “Hostel/Transport/Online teaching and virtual lab charges,” the email stated.
Students, however, are outraged. They are questioning why they are expected to pay the full amount when they are not availing all the amenities that were on offer before the lockdown began.
Another student based in Tamil Nadu said, “I have been asked to pay my hostel fees from the moment I left the hostel. For the months that I hadn’t stayed in the hostel, I’ve been asked to pay half the rent. If I’m unable to pay, I have to vacate the hostel, or my things will be evicted from the rooms. I think this is ridiculous, and I hope there is a solution to this.”
Many engineering colleges in Chennai have received complaints from students on the fee structure. Students we spoke to said the management’s response was nothing short of a clear denial. Several institutions said they wouldn’t be able to accommodate the pleas made by students.
“I’m a final year B.tech student. The college I go to, we don't have students just from the city but we also have students from villages who come and study, who find it very difficult to live up to their expenses in the current situation...but the college did not do anything," a third-year student said.
The person added that in order to help these students from villages out, the college would have to pay for the upcoming semesters.
"Even though they attend college classes in their houses, they are still expected to pay the same amount which is highly unfair,” the student continued.
Following several complaints against private institutions, the Madras High Court had in June allowed private institutions to collect 75% fees for the current year in two instalments.
The court warned that institutions collecting full fees will face contempt of court proceedings after the government pleader had on July 31 informed the court that the state received several complaints from parents that private institutions are demanding that students pay full fees. The court directed authorities to conduct inquiries into the case and file a report by August 17.
With inputs from Varsha H
(Names have been changed to protect identity)