COVID-induced cash crunch in poor families may lead to more drop outs

Amid crisis and students’ plea, college administrations and Karnataka government fail to step in and act

With the crisis affecting the job markets, even those students who wish to go for paid-internships, summer-jobs, part-time works, struggled to get back on track. Photo: Pixabay

The COVID-19 crisis deepened the worries for college students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels with them not being able to pay the fees. Students belonging to the economically-weaker section of the society, urban poor-cutting across religion, mainly studying in private colleges faced fund shortage. Female students, particularly those in rural areas faced even more hardship with a bias towards them pursuing higher education.  

With the crisis affecting the job markets, even those students who wish to go for paid-internships, summer-jobs, part-time works, struggled to get back on track. With parents losing jobs or facing pay cuts, at least seven of them who this reporter spoke to said they would discontinue studies if they were unable to pay the fees. 

As one last option, some are running online fundraiser campaigns with a hope to attract donor funds or corporate funds. 

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Ayeem (name changed), 19, a second-year student in one of the private colleges, has a deadline to pay ₹26,000 as first instalment by August 31. Until the lockdown struck them, her father, a vegetable vendor in his 50s, cycled 15 km daily to earn ₹300-400 a day. His income froze for the last four months with the city’s KR Market being shut since the lockdown started in March. 

“Considering the economic condition, even last year I had to borrow money and pay my fee. If I can manage to pay the first instalment this year,  I hope to get a paid-internship so that I can pay my second instalment by November,” the student who wished to maintain her anonymity said. “We approached the college and asked for fee reduction and extension of the due date. But they haven’t so far.” 

An email-written by The Federal to her college administration on whether they are making an effort to reduce the financial burden on the student, did not elicit a response.  

Another student, Hanifa (name changed), who migrated to Bangalore from Bihar’s Munger town, says though her father worked as a school teacher in a private school, he hasn’t been paid as the school continues to remain closed. 

“There’s barely any income flowing at home. Besides me, two of my brothers are in schools. My father is unable to meet our educational expenses. If we are unable to pay the fees, I have to drop out of the college as I have no other alternative,” the student says. 

“Because my father works in a school, people think he gets regular money. But ever since the pandemic struck, we fight for our basic necessities,’ she says. 

Hanifa, a second-year B.Sc student has to pay ₹90,000 this year. She’s seeking an immediate assistance of ₹35,000. Though she came to the city with big hopes fighting against the odds, she now feels suffocated thinking of the financial constraint. 

Besides, with no wifi internet and with the classes going online, Hanifa, incurs an additional expense of ₹400-600 towards mobile data top-up. 

Some of the students, though avail the bank loans, see a downturn in the job market and are not confident of getting a job soon enough to repay the loan. 

In the case of government college students, as the college fees are not higher, there’s some hope. “The college fees in government colleges will not be more than ₹3,000. Some will attract scholarships. That said, some of them cannot even pay exam fees,  so forget being able to pay for college fees at this time,” says a member of a government college teachers’ union.  

“Usually the dropout rate would be about 10-15 per cent, but this time it certainly would be more with the COVID crisis. But there’s some leeway with respect to due dates in government colleges,” said G Srinathraj, a member of the Karnataka government college teachers’ association and professor at Maharani Arts, Commerce & Management College for Women, Bangalore.

While the government announced that there would be no hike in fees for undergraduate courses in engineering, it hasn’t panned out to degree courses and streams. 

Higher Education Minister and Deputy Chief Minister CN Ashwath Narayan could not be reached for comments. 

With some of the private scholarships being merit-based with 80-85 per cent score as a minimum, those coming from the poor background and marginalised communities who are denied of equal opportunity in the early year, feels the eligibility criteria are set too high.

“For students studying in private colleges, those who are unable to pay fees, the government should negotiate with the management and offer a one-time scholarship so that the students can continue studies,” educationist Niranjan Aradhya in Bangalore said. 

Aradhya says he suggested to the government back in May that they should constitute a committee to come out with a systematic process to reduce the financial burden on the students and announce some relaxations. 

“The college administrations should consider students asking for financial aid as genuine requests and not give the usual response of ‘we will look into it later’ sort,” Aradhya says. “The government should understand, evolve and frame guidelines so as to support students and help them continue education.

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