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Students on the Road: #OccupyUGC #FeesMustFall #MillionStudentMarch

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Basundhra Banerjee

The issue of tuition fees and university education seems to go on and on, with new concerns or proposals being brought to the public’s attention on a regular basis. This last couple of months saw the latest in a series of student protests regarding higher education, with thousands of students taking to the streets , be it in India or South Africa, or United States of America, or London, to sum up across the globe, to express their opposition not only to higher fees but also to the so-called ‘privatisation’ of universities.

Despite fewer numbers and less headline-grabbing violence than previous student protests, these marches highlighted the continued dissatisfaction among students regarding government plans.

The student movements are as follows :-
1. #Feesmustfall movement- South Africa
Earlier education was colonialised for SA people, now a days it is commercialized or more privatized. So,thousands of South African students rallied outside government offices in Johannesburg. They gathered to protest the imposition of higher tuition fees and accusations of racism in the country’s academic institutions. For them ,the movement was more for the basic rights . The then government has proposed an idea of free education for all in 2007 , since it has not been materialized ,the ANC led government has risen the fees in colleges across S.A . Many of the research students there also don’t have the money to study further .After several days of nationwide protests, popularized by the globally trending #FeesMustFall, the government announced the original 11 percent tuition raise would be nixed. This fight for a democratic education was a massive victory in a country where class inequality is higher now than under Apartheid, and white students dominate academia despite making up only eight percent of the country’s population .

2. #MillionStudentMarch – USA
In USA also, students across the country has walked out of their classrooms and march for the right to a free college education. According to organizers, 110 college campuses across the country participated in the grassroots event. Despite being one of the top player in the economic sectors, their students have to take on higher debts in order to get a proper education. People of all colour, gender and sexual orientation are united to fight for education as their basic right. Their belief , together they can built a strong independent movement for tution free public college, cancellation of all student debt.

It has been seen in a survey that, the average college grads are having $35.000 debt in a year. Total 40 million Americans share a total of $1.2 trillion in student debt and 58 percent of that is held by the 25 percent of the poorest Americans. Even students are facing the rising tuition costs , mounting debt, and a lack of good paying jobs when they graduate .Further while top administrators taking away six to seven digit salaries ,many campus workers are paid poverty wages and forced to rely on the federal or local assistance.

3. #Occupy UGC movement- India
In India , when news first broke out about the non-National Eligibility Test (NET) fellowship being discontinued for research scholars, students across universities have risen up in protest. By the next day, the protest led by Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) had turned into an “Occupy UGC” movement, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. Friday was marked by paramilitary crackdown on students as some were detained and others lathi charged . In practical terms, the discontinuation of the non-NET scholarship would mean financial assistance of Rs 5,000 and Rs 8,000 for MPhil and PhD students, respectively, being taken away. This fellowship benefited both those who were not eligible to sit for NET and JRF as well as those who could not clear it. Students protesting against the move are not demanding just the reinstatement of the fellowship but also its increase.

The protest were on two basic interconnected planks. Firstly, protesters say this will adversely affect students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds who rely heavily on the fellowship to carry on their research. Without the money, they will have to look for part time work to sustain themselves which will then affect the quality of research, as the focus will be divided. Secondly and more importantly, they see this as a part of the larger plan of the current government to make Indian higher education compliant with the WTO-GATS (World Trade Organisation-General Agreement on Trade in Services) requirements. In the upcoming 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi this December, India is purportedly ready to sign an agreement with WTO which will make education a service rather than a right. Students say the withdrawal of the fellowship is the first step in withdrawing funds from public institutions before it’s made self-financing and thereby privatized.

The protest has paved it’s own way through out the country, where the movement has been forwarded from one city to another city ,urban, rural places . From one university to other universities around every corner of the country ,through the students of every sections ,to show the solidarity among them and to demand the free higher education.Mumbai student s show the solidarity with the #OccupyUGCMovement and came to the forefront through #SikshaKaSikka campaign ,where each one of the students of Mumbai have put one rupee coin in an envelope,wrote a message to  the UGC ,with their name and address to voice out their opinions.

Same way, Germany made headlines earlier this year for ending tuition. What wasn’t reported was the massive student struggle against the establishment of tuition in 2006.

Education has become more like a business . Opening up educational institutes every now and then , rise in fees only justify the fact .To match up to the context , it is reported ,that tuition in the public institutions had jumped up to 15 percent in two years — even faster than the cost of health care. At private schools, they rose by almost 10 percent on average.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) :
“Collectively, students around the world invest about US$50,000 each to earn a degree. In Japan, the Netherlands and the US, average investment exceeds US$100,000 when direct and indirect costs are added.”

Of course ,costs of study alone are not the only consideration of international students: ultimately for many of them, it is the longer-term return on investment of their education post-graduation. Specifically, will their education pave the way to their desired career, in a country they enjoy, and provide them the income they aspire to? Sadly the truth is, in most of the cases, the grad. students ended up being only a cheap labour ,where that individual finally began to question oneself about the time and money they have spent , the quality has really been worth it or not ? Questions are plenty ,but again the answers are somehow hidden behind the socio-economic-political labyrinth. The whole scenario of education has been more job oriented , commercialized around the globe where job has been provided to many people but quality obviously degraded .

Education itself has become one ‘endangered species ‘ where money and capitalism has already taken place but let the solidarity be there among students (globally) to find the path back to it’s root ,as in deconstruct the whole structure of education ,and move away from the packaging format to the way that leads to the core of the value added knowledge- that is Education.

(Basundhra Banerjjee is a student of School of Media nad Culture Studies, TISS, Mumbai and is currently interning with The Sabha.)
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