Jadavpur University, one of the prestigious institutions of higher education in the country, is perhaps facing its worst financial crisis ever. With the Centre discontinuing grants from 2017 and the West Bengal government slashing its budget for the university in the past few years, JU’s research work and projects—for which it is internationally recognised—are being severely hampered, and its very position of pre-eminence in the field of education is under threat.
In late October this year, Vice Chancellor Suranjan Das appealed to the alumni for funds, saying that the institution was “facing considerable financial restraints” to maintain its academic excellence, particularly in the fields of science and technology.
“Being a public university, we primarily depend on government funding…. But government funding—State and Central—is becoming extremely inadequate,” states the letter dated October 24. Many teachers have expressed concern about the survival of the university itself.
“The financial situation in the university is very bad,” said Partha Pratim Roy, professor of physics and general secretary of the Jadavpur University Teachers’ Association. “We are not getting funds from the Government of India. From the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) programme we have so far got only Rs.41 crore of the Rs.100 crore we are supposed to get. Also, the Government of India is not giving us the Institute of Eminence tag; and after 2017 we have not got funds under the Five Year Plan. On the one hand there is a huge shortfall of funds from the government of India, and on the other hand, the government of West Bengal is reducing its grant for university maintenance.” According to Roy, the university needs at least Rs.55-60 crore a year for maintenance work alone, but the State government’s budget for this year is only Rs.25 crore.
Central fund freeze
Problems for the state-aided university began in 2017, with the NITI Aayog replacing the Planning Commission and the University Grants Commission (UGC) discontinuing the grant of about Rs.4 crore a year to the university under the Five Year Plan. While the State government pays for university staff salary and infrastructure maintenance, Central grants are crucial to pursue the university’s research work.
The Special Assistance Programme grant to various departments is also coming to a close. “For example, the physics department got Rs.1.5 crore over the past five years under this programme. Some departments got Rs.2-3 crore, while others got Rs.30-40 lakh. The different departments altogether would get a total of at least Rs.6-7 crore from this. The running projects and programmes under this grant are on, but no money has come for new programmes since 2019,” said Roy.
For the past six years, the UGC has also stopped extending grants for the Major Research Project (MRP) to individual teachers to pursue their own studies and laboratory research.
In 2017, JU was one of the 10 universities selected for the RUSA grant, of Rs.100 crore in two years. The Centre and the State shared the financial burden of the scheme in a 60:40 ratio. The first instalment of Rs.41 crore helped the university kick-start around 250 projects involving some 450 researchers.
The second instalment was due in March 2020, but the university waited for it in vain as ongoing projects came to a gradual halt. New infrastructure building projects were left incomplete, and research projects stalled midway.
Initially, the university tried to keep things going in expectation of funds and spent Rs.10 crore from its own funds. “They have not given any reason for discontinuing the grant, but they have not yet said that they will not give it. So from March 2020, we have not got any money from this scheme. The university itself has spent around Rs.10 crore extra. This crisis can be met somewhat once we get the pending Rs.59 crore immediately. This is the first time that funding to a university was stopped midway through a programme,” a professor told Frontline.
Politics at play?
Many university hands fear that JU may have become a victim of politics. When some not yet operational institutes have received letter of intents as Institutes of Eminence, JU, proposed for the status by the UGC Empowered Committee in 2019, is yet to get it. It would allow it to receive grants of up to Rs 1,000 crore over a period of five years.
In the 2022 National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), JU was ranked first among all the State universities and fourth among all the universities in the country. In the latest QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) ranking, too, JU was ranked fourth among all State universities in the country. However, many teachers in the university are worried about how long JU can hold on to its claim of academic excellence in the prevalent financial crisis.
“The fund crunch affects everything. Research is of utmost importance for Jadavpur University, which scores high in various ranking systems such as the NIRF, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council [NAAC], and QS ranking. With our limited funds we compete in research with central institutions like the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, the IITs, and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, which receive much more funds than we do. Our infrastructure is also weakening, and it will not be long before we start lagging behind,” a senior teacher said. Teachers fear that if students do not get the necessary exposure to research in the coming days, they may look for alternative institutions to pursue their higher studies.
State funds slashed
The reduction in grants has changed the very funding pattern in JU. As Gour Krishna Pattanayak, JU’s finance officer, recently pointed out in an article in the university’s newsletter, a decade ago the average share of the State government in the total university budget was 65 per cent, the Centre’s share was 25 per cent, and the university’s own resources accounted for 10 per cent. Now the State’s share has increased to 85 per cent while the Central government’s share is 10 per cent, and the university’s share is 5 per cent.
Thus, the steady reduction in the State government’s budget for the university has compounded the institution’s problems. Pattanayak’s article states that “...while the State fund towards salary head has remained assured, there is a huge deficit towards the fund for non-salary essential expenditure, which is of the utmost importance to run the university smoothly”.
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While the bare minimum required to cover maintenance expenditure is Rs.55-60 crore, according to the university authorities, the government’s approved budget for this year is only Rs.25 crore. “The maintenance budget is used for paying everything pertaining to the university other than the salary of the teachers and the permanent staff. This year there is likely to be a shortfall of at least Rs.30 crore. The university has a fund set aside for emergency, but that too is drying up, as the shortfall in maintenance funds has been persisting for the past three years,” said a university source.
The State budget has not been paid in full. “The State government’s budget was Rs.35 crore in 2019-2020, but JU received only Rs.31 crore. In 2020-21, it was Rs.33 crore, but the university got only Rs.24 crore. For 2021-22, the State gave it Rs.25 crore against the budgeted Rs.32 crore. This year’s budget says Rs.25 crore, and we have no idea how much we will eventually get,” said a highly placed university source.
State of disrepair
A walk around the campus reveals how the university has been hit hard by a paucity of funds. Buildings are in a state of disrepair, walls of department buildings, both inside and outside, desperately need a fresh coat of paint; shattered windows have not been fixed; and the once neat and clean campus has garbage strewn in different parts.
“Certain instruments require air-conditioning, but there is no scope to expand the infrastructure to accommodate the necessary electricity for the air conditioners. This will reduce the lifespan of the equipment. There is no money to repair equipment, big or small, if they break down. At present there are at least 30 such pieces of equipment lying unused in the science and engineering departments as there is no money to repair them,” a senior teacher said.
A devastating fire in March this year caused considerable damage to the laser laboratory of the illumination engineering section. The Vice Chancellor had to appeal to “all ex-students, guardians, well-wishers” to make a donation to enable the university to renovate it.
Recently, JU was forced to slash its budget for buying laboratory and teaching aids by 40 per cent. “This will have far-reaching repercussions. The equipment in teaching labs will not be repaired if they get damaged. Some experiments will have to be abandoned. There is no money to start anything new or set up a new lab,” said a senior teacher.
State retreat from welfare activities
Additional expenditure has put the university under further financial strain. Earlier, the State government used to pay the salaries of sweepers, janitors, security staff, and other workers (around 250 in strength) who were all permanent employees. From 2013, a sizeable portion of the non-teaching work was contracted to an outside agency. The university’s budget for contractual employees and part-time workers, and payment to manpower agencies amounts to over Rs.10 crore annually.
According to sources, when the university reopened after the COVID lockdown, the State government did not reimburse it for the expenses incurred in the opening process and apparently has not even refunded the university’s book purchase of up to Rs.1 crore.
A highly placed administration official of JU who did not wish to be named said the situation was not peculiar to Jadavpur University and was part of a broader global phenomenon. “After globalisation, every state-funded university is facing a severe crunch. It is the same story for all public-funded universities across the world. The root cause of this is the state’s retreat from public welfare activities,” he said.
In 1994-95 the then Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front government decided that the non-salary budget of the university would be enhanced by 10 per cent every year. “Based on the formula, our agreed due grant would have been Rs.64 crore in the current year; whereas our allotment in the State Budget is Rs.24.9 crore,” Pattanayak wrote.
Push to raise fees?
Many academics believe that the government may be trying to push the university to raise its fees, which has remained static for 22 years. Pattanayak’s piece pointed out that the income from tuition fees from all the courses was less than 4 per cent of the total budget of JU, whereas the government recommends 30 per cent.
This may be a difficult decision to take, as many bright but economically backward students get a chance to study in JU. The monthly tuition fees for arts is Rs.75; for science, Rs.150; and for engineering, Rs.200. The hostel fee has remained at Rs.25 a month since 1970.
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On September 5, Teacher’s Day, faculty members of different departments of JU held a protest meeting for their main demand: that the government immediately release funds and “save the university”.
One of the teachers who took part in the protest told Frontline: “Unless we get a minimum of Rs.60 crore, the university will not survive. There can be no development with this money; it is just to maintain the status quo and carry on in the present state. Or we will perish.”
- With the Centre discontinuing grants from 2017 and the West Bengal government slashing its budget for the university, Jadavpur University’s research work and projects are being severely hampered.
- Problems began in 2017, with the NITI Aayog replacing the Planning Commission and the University Grants Commission discontinuing the grant of about Rs.4 crore a year to the university under the Five Year Plan.
- For the past six years, the UGC has also stopped extending grants for the Major Research Project to individual teachers to pursue their own studies and laboratory research.
- The average share of the State government in the total university budget was 65 per cent, the Centre’s share was 25 per cent, and the university’s own resources accounted for 10 per cent a decade ago. Now the State’s share has increased to 85 per cent while the Central government’s share is 10 per cent, and the university’s share is 5 per cent.
- The bare minimum required to cover maintenance expenditure is Rs.55-60 crore, but the government’s approved budget for this year is only Rs.25 crore.