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COVID-19 & College Fee Conundrum: Where lies the Balance?

Written by: Arpita Dey, Student, Government Centre Of Legal Education, Hooghly Mohsin College


Introduction:

COVID19 is not only a medical condition its a situation as well which has affected each and every sector....it's a global pandemic. This virus, capable of infecting human bodies is now a means to turn the whole systematic lifestyle of every sector upside down and unfortunately the education system is no exception.

Right To Education - A Challenge During Pandemic:

The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 inserted Article 21-A in the Constitution of India to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right[1]. We also have The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 passed by our parliament for the same purposes. Right to Education being a Fundamental as well as a Human Right to Children is an initial stage which makes a path for higher education and a bright future of a generation. According to Article 26(1) of The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights[2] popularly known as UDHR higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. But nowadays during this global pandemic of Covid19 the minimum right to education itself is a challenge let alone the scope of right to higher education as the current trend of 'Online classes' although a beneficial use of technology but not affordable to all. We can safely say 'Online classes' are a matter of luxury for the people bellow the poverty line and it does not serve the purpose of right to education for all.

College and Students - The Dynamic:

College is the place mainly for higher education and the 'University Grants Commission' (UGC) regulates the higher education in India. Although it's the duty of both, the college & UGC to protect the interest of students but this responsibility has been mainly given to the UGC 'By law'. Despite a student sharing a direct connection with the college certain rights are on UGC in the form of THE UNIVERSITY GRANTS COMMISSION ACT, 1956[3].


The Fees Saga:

During this pandemic colleges are left with no options other than conducting online classes which demands for certain technical facilities. This sudden shift from regular classes to virtual teaching was not at all easy for the college authorities. There were certain requirements leading to the much controversial 'Hike' in college fees. Higher education (Without scholarships) has always been quite costly thus this sudden 'Hike' in various colleges did not go well with students which is very practical. The demand of students for refund of partial fees is not illegal but definitely lacks a legal backing. Section 12 A of The University Grants Commission Act, 1956 deals with the "Regulation of fees and prohibition of donations in certain cases"[4] which does not provide any regulation for refund of fees under any circumstances. A student can definitely raise voice for his right to refund and seek remedy against the college authorities but the actual problem lies against UGC which needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

The Profit Making Aspect:

The education system is for the benefit of public at large. It's for the public good and definitely not a typical commercial profit making business despite of few institutions making it seems so. The Supreme Court Of India has made it very clear in its several judgements. In 2011 The Supreme Court, in Modern Dental College And Research Centre And Others v. State Of Madhya Pradesh And Others[5] has held that - a college cannot charge a fee that is beyond the purpose of fulfilling the object of education. This judgement basically prohibited the scope of making profit out of students money for colleges. However we cannot deny the fact that even educational institutions are also a source of basic income for its faculty members. Covid19 situation has created alot of pressure on the management as well. During such a situation being bias is not even the solution. There needs to be a balance between a student's right to refund and a faculty member's right to salary.

Conclusion:

'Create a balance' is the easiest thing to utter and the hardest thing to implement. During a pandemic like Covid19 nothing is easy, every day is a challenge. We must not forget that 'Attempt to survive' is a matter of right for everyone. If there is a responsibility on the college to ponder upon the valid demand of a student, students also needs to be co operative and understanding with regards to the college's right to run the institution smoothly.

References:

[1] Constitutional Law Of India : J N PANDEY [2] International Law & Human Rights : H O AGARWAL [3] https://www.ugc.ac.in/oldpdf/ugc_act.pdf [4] https://www.ugc.ac.in/oldpdf/ugc_act.pdf [5] Modern Dental College & Res v. State Of Madhya Pradesh & Ors on 2 May, 2016 Bench: Anil R. Dave, A.K. Sikri, R.K. Agrawal, Adarsh Kumar Goel, R. Banumathi


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