17 SC,ST, OBC students from TISS are crowdfunding their fees so they can graduate. Here's why

The lockdown has put additional burden on the families of these students who are unable to pay the fees since their GOI-PMS scholarship money has still not come through
TISS students at a protest in the past
TISS students at a protest in the past

It is that time of the year when students eagerly await their results and prepare for their graduation and eventually begin to foray into the real world. But seventeen students who just finished their Masters degrees from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences are already in the real world, and it has not been kind to them. These students from social and economically backward backgrounds will not know if their hard work for over the last two years has paid off because they cannot even dream of their graduation day. Why? Because the institute will not allow them access to their results since the students have not received their scholarship money to pay their due fees.

In a desperate attempt to get the degrees that they’ve worked so hard for, the students have started a fundraising campaign to pay their fees, totally amounting to Rs 5,22,090. The students all come from lower socio-economic backgrounds and belong to OBC,ST and ST categories. “We come from the most vulnerable communities in the country with poor social capital and disadvantaged cultural backgrounds. Our path to being able to reach TISS in itself was full of tremendous struggles and family sacrifices,” the students wrote on their crowdfunding platform. 

The trouble for the students started when the government decided to change the scheme’s financial channel into Direct Beneficiary Transfer (DBT). Through this new channel, the burden of paying the fees completely fell on the students, “Before DBT, the state government would directly transfer the scholarship money to the institute. Now the institute is out of the loop, the state government is supposed to send us the money and then we are supposed to pay the institute. Now that the money hasn’t come, the students are unable to pay the fees and the institute is piling on charges and fees,” Batta Ram, the President of the TISS Students’ Union said.

And that has come like a bolt from the blue. “Earlier, we had the 'privilege' to let our institute collect the money directly and we get our degrees at the end. The equation has been immensely disturbed as the disbursement has become uncertain and the institute started seeking hostel and dining charges from the students whether or not the students are getting the scholarship disbursements,” said Goutham Raj Konda, MA Urban Policy and Governance.

The students come from some of the most socio-economically disadvantaged communities and paying nearly Rs 35,000 per semester is impossible for them. “If the institute is unable to get the money from the government, they can find other ways to fund. Where will we go for the money?” Ram asks.

For a while, students were also faced with technical difficulties while applying for the Government of India's Post Matric Scholarship, Ram says. “For a long time, the name of the institute wouldn’t show on the portal. So we couldn’t apply for the scholarship. We approached so many authorities to fix it but nothing worked. It was only a small issue but it took so long for that to be sorted. So even though a student was eligible for the scholarship, they were not granted it, forcing them to come up with the money themselves. Then another issue was that there was confusion between the states, some states weren’t clear about whether they also have to fund students who go to other states to study. The SC/ST cells were not even effective, so we didn’t have anybody to go to with these problems,” he explained. The uncertainty about whether or not they would get their scholarship money was looming over the students throughout the last two years.

When the students started crowdfunding, 13 students had come together but soon, four other students also approached the forum, “The amount we are seeking is the shortfall amount in the total amount that we are trying to collect to accommodate the need of 17 students. Our effort began with 13 studnets and more students kept approaching us who were also finding similar difficulty. We couldn't deny their requests as we understand the same vulnerability in which we have sailed through for two years,” Konda said, in their post on the crowdfunding site. Depending on the amount that they are getting the students have planned to disburse the same to all the students, “Whatever the amount we will be able to collect, we will be disbursing it proportionately to the amount of due fee of the students. For example, if 70 percent of the target amount is collected then everyone gets 70 percent of their due fee).”

However, the students have, in vain, requested the administration to waive their fees, especially taking into concern the current financial crisis that has been unleashed on the country’s already vulnerable population, “At this juncture, the best institute can do to its students coming from economically weaker and marginalised sections is to waive off the outstanding fees, which can relax the economic and mental agony they are facing now,” the students wrote in their letter to the administration. The Students’ Union also submitted data collected from the students to show that the ones who are unable to pay the fees come from OBC,ST and SC backgrounds.“ A large part of our society, including some students of our institute are struggling to earn a livelihood. In a situation of crisis like this, fee payment has added on to their burdens, especially those students coming from marginalised backgrounds,” they added.

“The institute’s financial inability to waive fees and in the state’s systemic lag in allocating GoI-PMS scholarship, our further journey beginning from TISS is blocked with our inability to pay the mandatory due fee payment to get our Masters degrees. Our further journey and professional excellence is not just important for our families but for our communities and villages at home for whom we’re the torchbearers (first-generation graduates),” the students said.

So far, they have managed to garner Rs 2,05,499  from 59 supporters but have a long way to go and have only three days to collect the funds so they would be able to hold their degrees in their hand. “We request you to contribute to our campaign and help us get our degrees,” the distressed students say in their crowdfunding page.

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