Students Left Reeling as JNU Allegedly Slashes Library Budget by 80%

“If you can’t take outside books into the library and they cancel e-subscriptions to journals, then how do you study?” asks Apeksha Priyardarshini, a Ph.D student at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of Arts and Aesthetics.

She is just one of several JNU students reeling from the news that JNU will be cutting its library funding from Rs 8 crore to Rs 1.7 crore – a drop of 80%. The move comes as part of an effort to private Dr B.R. Ambedkar Library, according to a statement released by the JNU student union (JNUSU).

While it’s possible, if not plausible, that private funders will make up the 80% difference in budget, in the meantime, students have been informed that the university will not be renewing its e-subscriptions to journals like JSTOR, Sage Publications and others come January 2019.

In addition to this, the 24/7 library will no longer be open 24 hours a day and some of JNU’s libraries have already banned students from bringing “outside books” into their premises.

JNUSU has released a statement condemning the funding cut and urging stakeholders to write to the prime minister as well as the vice chancellor, who, as the statement points out, is actually a member of the University Grants Commission – the body that makes these decisions.

Students feel that JNU is renowned for the research it fosters and produces – which is difficult without the aid of academic journals, other secondary readings and long hours in the library – all three of which will be negatively impacted by these cuts. JNUSU equated the budget slashing with the “closure of research in January” effectively rendering the university obsolete.

When JNUSU representatives asked financial officer Hiraman Tiwari why the university wasn’t taking measures to ensure funding for subscriptions, he reportedly said that the budgeting format has been changed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and that “inter transfer of funds from one head to another is not possible.”

Funding cuts have been hitting educational institutions across the country, with the human resource development ministry announcing that it will not be funding any of the six new IIMs mere months after they were granted autonomy, the Economic Times reported a few days ago.

The newly autonomous centres at Rohtak, Tiruchirappalli, Raipur, Kashipur, Udaipur and Ranchi will each receive Rs 333 crore to build their permanent campuses but anything in addition to that – each campus will have to fund for itself.

Before this, students at TISS in Mumbai protested against the withdrawal of fee concessions for reserved category students, the Hindustan Times had reported.

In September last year, the finance ministry shot down a project that would have given the top seven IITs Rs 8,700 crore over five years for “improving infrastructure, hiring foreign faculty members and partner with international institutions” – all aimed at climbing to higher spots in international rankings.

“Under the Institute of Eminence scheme, 10 select government institutes will be given approximately Rs 1,000 crore. The finance ministry suggested that the IITs compete for that scheme instead of expecting funds through the Vishwajeet project,” an official from the finance ministry had told HT at the time.

Universities and students across the country have been up in arms for several months now, following the centre’s announcement that it will overhaul the UGC, and its funding powers will be taken over by the human resource development ministry.

Professors too, have pointed out that the UGC’s habit of introducing abrupt changes – introducing the semester system with little warning, changing a three-year undergraduate degree to four and then back again the following year – betray a lack of understanding of what it takes to teach and learn in a college environment.

As public institutions see massive cuts, they are introducing fee hikes or budget cuts in other areas like planned infrastructure improvements, research facilities or libraries – not only impacting the quality of education available to current students but also decreasing the financial accessibility of higher education for future students.

A hike in hostel fees or the library not being open 24/7 may seem like small things, but the consequences are huge, pointed out Priyadarshini, as they add up to making public universities inaccessible for anyone who doesn’t already have personal wealth to draw on. “Most people can’t afford journal subscriptions on their own,” she said. Adding that the increased expenses pile up, forcing economically strapped students to drop out.

As Indian institutions slip in international rankings and employers complain about the employability of fresh graduates, slashing funding to public universities and making students and professors’ lives difficult, they’re left wondering whose interests the HRD and UGC actually represent.

Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons