Uphold the Language of Dignity, Give Up Benevolence: TISS Hyderabad Campus as a Site of Higher Education and the Ongoing Students’ Protest

TISS Hyderabad

It has been three days the students at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and its various campuses located in different parts of the country are boycotting their classes as part of a larger protest. In Hyderabad, one of the off-centres of TISS, I have been witnessing this as the culmination of accumulated anger and frustration of the students. The main purpose of this protest is to restore the financial assistance the institution was offered to the students who belong to socially and economically underprivileged sections (SC/ST and OBC Non Cream layer). Alongside, there are other important issues including infrastructure, library facility, hostel facility and mobility and security of girls students raised by the protesters concerned with TISS Hyderabad campus.

The prevailing situation goes beyond a matter of financial aid and indicates the undergoing deep crisis of a social science institution in the larger context of the policy shift which is happening at the realm of higher education in the country. This is an attempt to capture the complexity of that crisis by posing a question: is it merely the responsibility of the students to fight always against the unjust and discriminatory policy of the UGC and MHRD? I think this question needs to be discussed at a larger platform constituted by academicians, intellectuals, faculty members and students. It is pertinent to mention here that, while I am finishing this write-up, a significant number of faculties from Hyderabad campus –similar to other campuses – have come forward and extended their solidarity to the student protesters who are fighting for democratic rights and social justice.

The Larger Historical Context of the Crisis

The present crisis needs to be historically and politically located in the relational context of the introduction of neo-liberalsiation and higher education policies in the country. As we all know that the neoliberal approach to education is market oriented and encouraging the utmost consumability of the citizens in the society. As a result of this approach, a paradigm shift happened in the domain of education where it was conceived as an arena to make maximum profit by replacing the idea of ‘education as a public good’ existed until then. Therefore, it was evident in the last two decades that the education sector has been fundamentally reorganized in the country by identifying it as a sector to invest private capital and accumulate maximum profit. It was completely against the conception of education as a reciprocal realm of public good and democratic rights of the citizens after second world war. This was exactly the historical context in which the first education minister of independent India, Maulana Azad observed:

Each individual has the right to education and that will help the individual to attain the capacity to live in the society in its fullest fashion. This kind of an education is the birth right of every individual therefore a state cannot claim that it has accomplished its responsibility until each individual attains knowledge and develop circumstances to live in a better way (1990: 7).

It could be seen that Azad’s observation was reminding us about the importance of education in the making of modern individual in the context of the postcolonial democratic society of India. Unfortunately, by 1990s, after four decades since the above mentioned observation has been made, we noticed a fundamental deviation from this perspective towards education and the congress government was instrumental in making that shift. The idea of ‘society’ has been largely disappearing in the context of neoliberalisation and the proponents of neoliberalism reinforcing an idea that ‘there is no such thing as society’. They are only conceiving market instead of society and acknowledging the presence of individual who are having the capacity to immerse in the process of consumability. This was exactly the reason of the following observation made in the annual report of Human Resource Development Ministry during 1993-94. In their view, our higher education has been changed and developed to attain the national necessities. Therefore, it would not be possible to consider the claim that our higher has not been attained its requirements from an economic vantage point. It simply means that the state is only interested to invest money if they can acquire financial benefits and profit through that investment. This is a perspective they extended to the sphere of higher education which is solely based on the ideology of business, capitalist market and its aspiration to accumulate more and more profit. On the other hand, it indirectly inviting corporate firms and individuals to the sector of higher education for investing money. All our historical experiences related to higher education since then was evidently convincing about the restricting of higher education in accordance with the above alluded perspective and the experience of TISS as a national known social science institution is not an exception.

Growing Number of Institutions and Public/State Support

There were only 30 universities and 695 colleges in India in the beginning of 1950s and by 2011, as per national economic survey report, the number has been increased as 44 central universities, 145 private universities, 130 deemed universities, and the institutions of national importance and others constitute another 60. In addition to this, higher education has been expanded as a huge sector by establishing 35,539 colleges in the country. The growth in number can be seen as a change in the positive direction although the ulterior motive of this expansion can be recognized in connection with the market oriented reforms and the conditions created for marketing the higher education. For instance, the UGC (university grants commission) published a report in 2012 which says that only 190 universities were existed in India in the beginning of 1990s and this has been escalated to 256 during the 2000-2001 and leaped into almost double (564) by 2010-11 period. On the other hand, the proliferation of collages is happening at high-speed which increased from 12806 (2000-01) to 33023 by the year 2010. In my view, this is not an aspiration to offer higher education for all in line with the vision implied in the above noted observation of Maulana Azad. Rather, these changes are inspired around the notions of consumer and consumability associated with new middle and upper class individuals and the possibility to exploit their purchasing power by neoliberal capitalism. This can be further validated by examining the amount Indian state has allocated for higher education during this period. In the revised educational policy document of 1992 clearly states under the section titled, ‘Resources and Review’, that maximum resources for education sector need to be moblised through multiple means such as contributions and sponsorships, money collected from the society of beneficiaries, in the form of various products and finally, increasing the fees (P. 35-36). It clearly exemplifies the proclivity that the state has been gradually withdrawing from the responsibility of ensuring higher education for all and transferring it to the private and corporate sector by making all conducive atmosphere for them to flourish and accumulating unregulated profit from this sector. This is the context in which, I think, one has to look at the crisis emerged in Tata Institute of Social Sciences in connection with the ongoing students’ protest.

Emergence of Students Protests and Unresolved Crisis: The Case of TISS, Hyderabad

The Hyderabad campus of TISS was started functioning since 2012 in two campuses, one was at APSIRD (Andra Pradesh State Institute of Panchayati Raj and Rural Development) in Rajendra Nagar (now renamed as TSIPARD after the bifurcation of the state) and another one at Roda Mistry College of Social Work, Gachibowli. Both these locations are occupied on rental basis and these campuses have been running in the last five years with minimum amenities and infrastructure facilities. Lodging and dining of the students have been outsourced through private agencies since the beginning. Ninety-five percent of the faculties are working on contract basis and very recently most of them have been included the pay fixation suggested by the UGC norms; however, still there are a few faculties not been included in it. Most of the assistant professors and associate professors who are working on contract basis are unhappy with the present way of functioning, however, none of them are raising their dissent beyond an extent by fearing disciplinary actions. Like any other contract workers, in the formal and informal sectors, they have very limited role in the everyday functioning of the organization and are vulnerable than the students by having an anxiety of termination from the job at any point in time.This can be equated with a neoliberal project of running an institution where you have to conceal your individuality and sell the labour power. Or in other words, all the prominent features of alienation (powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation and self-estrangement) identified by Seeman (1959) would be adequate enough to characterisethe situation of a contract faculty in the institutional context. Therefore, most of the faculties including me have become the voiceless and agency less spectator of this melodrama.

Why there is a sudden protest of students erupted in TISS? In order to seek an answer to this question, I would like to empirically locate this in the specificity of Hyderabad off-campus. As I mentioned in the introductory passage, the campus is struggling to offer basic minimum facilities for the students as a higher educational institution. Everyone has a feeling that this is not the way a higher education institution has to be established and being functioned in the present context. This is neither a neoliberal imagination of an institution (perhaps a neoliberal set up offers all kinds of infrastructure and only the rich who can access it!) nor the character of a public funded university. Metaphorically one could say that this is exactly the ‘off-center’ (Hyderabad is designated as an Off Campus) where the crisis has been constellated and no one has a clear idea about how to move out of this impasse. In the backdrop of this stagnation, the students from underprivileged sections are compelled to pay the money naturally provoked them. In response to the present protest, the registrar of TISS circulated a two-page note titled, ‘Facts Around Issues Raised by Protesting Students’ (February 22, 2018) to all the faculties, staff and students explaining about the situation from administrative point of view with a concluding remarks that misrepresentation of facts have been constructed about the withdrawal of aid. I completely agree with his first point mentioned in the draft that all the universities across India, “students are required to pay fees and other charges before theacademic session at the beginning of every semester. However, the position of TISS in thisregard has been different”. But, at the same time, this is concealing a fact about the fee structure followed in TISS- exorbitantly high when we compare with other universities and correspondingly poor quality of infrastructure provided to TISS Hyderabad students in the campus and outside. Even for a student whose parents are financially well off to pay the fee, the poor facilities don’t match the high fee. For instance, let me outline the high fees structure of BA in social science offered by TISS Hyderabad campus. A hostler student in undergraduate BA social science programme is supposed to pay Rs. 52,600; 38,800; 42,300; 38,800; 42,300 and 39,800 in first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth semester respectively (Students’ Handbook 2016-17, TISS Hyderabad). This is very high compared to any other public universities in the country and the rationale of this fee structure has to be understood in connection with the UGC policy statement which noted above by referring the idea of resource mobilisation and its review. Given the higher rate of fees, it was only the scholarship and affirmative action that helped many students from the marginalized communities and regions enter the campus and complete their studies and the same made TISS as unique from other private universities and centres of excellence. Unfortunately, we have been observing that the legacy of that public perception has been withering away gradually and systematically. Thus, I conceive that the present students’ protest is to retain that tradition of ‘public’ in a significant way.

Uphold the Language of Dignity and Give Up Benevolence

‘The Politics of Recognition’, a fascinating essay written by the renowned Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor conceptualizes the shift from ‘pride’ (the language of pre-modern feudal society) to ‘dignity’ (the modern and democratic language of self-esteem) in a meticulous and systematic fashion. I taught this essay for our 6th semester students while discussing about identity and recognition framed in the syllabus as important topics in the context of post-reform transformation in India. On the contrary, the language of authority when they deal with the issue of fellowship and financial support, especially for the marginalised sections have become the language of charity, benevolence and ‘being kind’ to the students. It is clearly evident in the document shared by the register. He says:

When the intake of students in the Institute was small (around 120-130), the Institute in a proactive gesture, had extended full fee waiver to the eligible SC/ST students. This gesture of the Institute was not mandated as per rules of Government of India. The waiver of fees in TISS included dining hall charges and hostel fees, but caution deposit, insurance and student union fee were payable. The Institute extended the same support to OBC NC students, since the implementation of OBC reservation in the year 2013. The cost towards this was being met from the annual Maintenance Grant budget under the Non-Salary head.However, the non-plan budget, has been cut substantially over the last decade.Simultaneously, the student strength too has increased over the same period. This increase in student strength, coupled with budget cuts, has made it unsustainable for the Institute tooffer such suo moto facility to the students (The same document which I alluded above).

We must acknowledge the fact that the promised welfare measures are their democratic rights and no one’s generosity. We have to respect the dignity and self-esteem of the students who received or got promised the benefits of fee waiver and reservation. For various reasons, these beneficiaries are known for the administration and even to those private caterers who serve the food in the student hostels on contract basis. There were many occasions in the context of Hyderabad campus where the service providers use their information’ to harass the students and to the extend leading to the situation where the students had to skip their meals. Typically, anyone who ever receive these benefits assert their rights and protest for various reasons may face all sort of questions including about their moral rights to do so.


This is a fight against the unjust and discriminatory policy of the authority which includes UGC, MHRD, state administration and TISS administration. In my view, this cannot be reduced to a mere fight against fund cut; rather, this is a protest to deepen the democratic character of a social science institution by ensuring access to students from all sections of the society. If that is being true, I think, we as faculties cannot leave the entire responsibility and burden on students to keep on fighting for justice. It is imperative, by admitting the fact that there is an overwhelming support and solidarity from a significant number of faculties who are working in different campuses of TISS, to go beyond solidarity and needs to be aligned with the students to protect and strengthen the democratic character of a nationally known centre of higher education in social science.


Government of India. Economic Survey (2012-13). New Delhi: Ministry of Finance, 2012.

Kirpal, Prem and Reba Shome (Eds.). 1990. Foundations of Education for India: Toward a New Quality of Life – Selections from Writings and Speeches of AbulKalam Azad, Jawaharlal Nehru, SarvepallyRadhakrishnan. New Delhi: Allied Publishers Ltd.

Registrar. Facts Around Issues Raised by Protecting Students. TISS, February 22, 2018.

Seeman, Melvin. 1959. On the Meaning of Alienation. American Sociological Review, 24 (6): 783-791.

University Grants Commission. 2012. Higher Education in India at a Glance. New Delhi.

K P Rajesh is Assistant Professor, School of Livelihoods and Development, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad Campus Email: [email protected]

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