Even as this fateful year has imposed masks upon all of us, the rupture of two academic semesters has unmasked one of India’s top private universities as a fee-siphoning and blatantly profit-seeking institute.
It began with an email three months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Students of Amity University received the first notice in June. It said that the new semester was about to begin and students were supposed to pay the fee as per the university’s usual rule. The administration, however, decided to revise the rule for students who have suffered an extreme financial crunch due to the pandemic.
Shifa Dutt was one such student of Amity University’s Lucknow campus, but she says that when the time came, she did not receive any kind of help from the university.
“Ever since the lockdown, my family has been going through a lot. In addition to the health crisis, my parents had not got their salaries since April. Then in June, the university started demanding fees. When I approached the authorities, instead of helping me out, they asked me to pay an additional Rs 15,000 as fine because I had missed the deadline,” she said.
The university, she added, asked her to pay the full fee along with the fine and said that she won’t be allowed to write her exams otherwise. With no choice left, her parents had to pay the fee by borrowing money. Soon afterwards, Shifa received a notice for the next semester’s fee.
“I am a scholarship holder. The university pays 25% of the fees of each semester. They didn’t even give me the scholarship for the previous semester saying it will be adjusted in the next semester. And now even though it’s my last semester, they haven’t deducted the scholarship amount,” she said.
For other students too, the situation hasn’t been any different.
As a final-year media student, I was fine with paying the full semester fee as our college provides us with professional grade audio, visual and various other equipment that aid lab work. I thought it would be worth paying the full fee just to be able to use the lab equipment and practice at our campus news rooms. However, none of that could happen because of the physical distancing rules of the pandemic, that meant closed campuses.
Student life was reduced to one with no access to university infrastructure and the world-class facilities in it – as had been promised by the university. And then there was the erratic internet.
The university, in my opinion, could have done many things to compensate us for facilities that we were compelled not to use. For instance, they could have given media students access to digital newspapers, given the difficulty of accessing college archives. In addition, they could have offered online courses on platforms like Skillshare so that students could access and go through them at their own pace. However, none of this was done, despite students suggesting these alternative options to the department.
It seems only fair that students pay less fees while studying from home.
While there have been no organised protests from students of Amity, some have attempted to plead their case individually with the administration. Many scholarship holders directly contacted their heads of institute (HoI), and were asked to write to the pro-Vice Chancellor.
When I wrote to the pro-VC asking him about compensation, I was given a reply that I felt did not address the issue at all. When I wrote back, the office did not reply. This has been the case with many students.
“I wrote to the pro-VC sir, after our HoI told me he can’t help me with enquiries on scholarship status. But I have received no response, and now when I have neared the deadline, I have no option but to pay the full fees or risk a fine,” said Vaishnavi Agarwal, a final-year student.
The university had claimed that they would not compromise with the quality of teaching even in the pandemic and would be conducting regular online classes, webinars and taking up other similar outreach efforts. But the online classes in the previous semester can only be summed up with the word sub-par.
After five months of very rudimentary online teaching, as ill-prepared students sit for online examinations, the university has now quietly slipped in yet another notice demanding full fees for the next semester. It is like a persistent pop-up on every student’s homepage.
As I am stuck in the loop of my desk and the workstation on bed, I recall that two years ago, when I first told people about my decision to enrol in an undergraduate programme at Amity University, I received a lot of obvious reactions. Many highlighted its perceived reputation as a private university catering to the children of the rich, who splurge endlessly. I was told the university was purely profit driven. Yet during my last two years, I did feel that this was an exaggerated and ill-deserved reputation.
To clarify, even before the pandemic, the academic standards at Amity University were not as brilliant as the portrayals on their colourful and recurring advertisements on television and in newspapers. But at least the pre-pandemic Amity experience did not feel like it does now. Now, it is as if we are willingly arranging our hard earned money into a pretty bonfire and then watching it heat the homes of privileged corporate heads– at the expense of our education.
Over the past semester, Amity University’s Lucknow campus has also fired more than 90 employees – from peons to lab assistants and members of the faculty – some of them almost over night and others, with little notice. At a time when all the students have paid the full fee, the university itself has not provided essential scholarship money.
In what adds to the insult, the university has been explicit in its announcement that it is not responsible for any internet disruption during online exams. That onus, too, seemingly lies on students alone. We must now spending more money on WiFi and other facilitates which are covered in our fees. One member of the faculty went on to say, “Add inverters to your houses, along with high speed WiFi or risk missing the exam.”
As I near the end of my undergraduate programme, I wonder why I have to pay the full fees when my university could not provide me with an adequate digital alternative for face-to-face learning, let alone for the crucial physical infrastructure that a programme like mine requires. Why – at a time when all educational institutions should consider mitigating this exceptional situation on humanitarian grounds – is one of the wealthiest and most prominent of India’s private education providers instead adding to the burden on students and staff without remorse?
Adeeba Lari is a storyteller and a food enthusiast who one days hopes to sit in her own cafe and work on her novels.
Featured image credit: Facebook/Illustration: LiveWire