Making Sense of JNU Fee Hike

Delhi and with it India is again rocked by protests by JNU, Jawaharlal Nehru University, students who are opposing a so-called steep hike in their hostel fees. As reported by newspapers,

Under the new hostel charges, students have to pay a service charge of Rs 1,700 per month. This charge did not exist earlier. Rent for a single room has been increased from Rs 20 per month to Rs 600 per month, and for a double-sharing room from Rs 10 per month to Rs 300 per month.

People on the political Left are supporting JNU students and on the Right are opposing them. Let’s see what they are saying.

What the Left is saying?

Many on the left of the political spectrum in India are calling this fee hike a conspiracy of the Modi government to shut down Jawaharlal Nehru University because it is its fierce ideological opponent. JNU students, NSUI (Congress party student wing), Dalit group Bhim Army, student unions like SFI, KYS, AISF and other civil society members, most of these people espouse the ideology of socialism, participated in a recent protest against this decision and demanded to

roll back the fee hike and the government to “make education affordable to all”.

What the Right is saying?

The right wing of the Indian political spectrum, the supporters of Hindu nationalist Modi government, wants to shutdown JNU; they are running a Twitter hashtag #ShutDownJNU. They are arguing that JNU is anti-national and is wasting tax payers money so it should be shutdown.

So, who is right and who is wrong here? And what is the correct position in between these two differing and conflicting point of views. Let us see.

Why both Left and Right are wrong?

First, the demand of the left for rolling back the fee hike and making education affordable to all is a reasonable and legitimate demand. As a consumer we surely want to buy things at a low price. There is nothing wrong in this. The only issue that we all will have to understand here is, how to accomplish this end of making education affordable to all? How to lower the price of education that everyone who wants to educate themselves can have access to it? The argument of the left that education is a birth right of everyone and so it should be given free or on a subsidized rate to all is surely wrong. Human right is a negative concept. Human rights are nothing but property rights. Such positive rights like right to education etc., are actually human wrongs. Contrary to the argument of the left, no one is entitled to education (free or otherwise). Giving free or subsidized education has only created a dependent population that always keeps on demanding one freebies after another from the government. The Left has to understand that resources are not limitless. They must be produced first by someone before they can be distributed or redistributed by the government. Welfare state creates adverse incentives for the productive people and so sooner or later they will stop producing goods.  Everyone in the end will want everything for free, and that is simply not possible.

Second, the demand of the right to shutdown JNU, and selling its land to some crony of government, because it is anti-national and wasting tax payers money  is also wrong. No one on the right has any right to decide who is nationalist and who is anti-national in India. Just because JNU students are opposing the policies of the Hindu nationalist Modi government doesn’t mean they automatically become anti-nationals. Modi government is not India. These right wing activists need to know the crucial difference between a government and a country. Modi is not India and India is not Modi. The students of JNU and every citizen of India should look at their governments from a critical point of view. Progress is only possible via such criticism. And the issue of wasting tax payers money is equally applicable to the whole governmental machinery. If JNU is wasting tax payers money, and it is, then equally every other activity of government, and not just Modi government, is also wasting tax payers money. The state is a parasitic institution and whatever it does the resources are first taken away forcefully from the tax payers only. Because government activities take place outside the market process, there are no prices to guide the politicians to do those activities which are most valued by citizen whom it is supposedly serving. As Ludwig von Mises showed us a century ago, in the absence of prices the socialist calculation is simply impossible. In the absence of price and profit and loss system, the government becomes a giant machine for wasting (tax payers) resources. And then taxation is nothing but robbery so all the activities of the government are also unethical.

So if the right wingers are opposing JNU on the ground of it wasting tax payers money then they must equally oppose the whole government system, the State, also. Are they doing it? No.

What is the correct position?

If both the Left and Right are wrong on the issue of JNU fee hike then what is the correct position? To  understand the correct position one needs to first understand sound economic science.

To make education affordable to all, the price (fee) of education must come down. The price of education is high in India because the demand for education far outstrips its supply. The supply of educational institutions is restricted because it is subject to government monopoly controls. The whole education system in India is government’s monopoly. The so-called private school/college/university are not private but government licensed monopolies. Only after obtaining a government license one can start his/her so-called private educational institution in India. And these licenses are issued in limited numbers and only to those people with strong political connections i.e., to government cronies. As I said above, in the absence of market system of price and profit and loss, the government has no way to know how many schools/colleges/universities and what type of such institutions are required. In the absence of price and profit and loss system, the government will open a liberal arts college when actually there is a need for a technical university and so on and so forth.

If the government monopoly of education sector is the root cause of the high price of education in India then dismantling that monopoly is its solution. What we need is a system of free market education in India. Government should just get out of the education sector completely. They must dismantle the ministry of HRD and end all government controls over the education system of India. In the absence of government controls then all kinds and numbers of educational institutions in India will open up. Once the market in education good will come into existence, price and profit and loss system will guide educational entrepreneurs to match the supply with demand. The competitive forces of the market will ensure that these entrepreneurs provide best quality education at a lowest possible prices to students. Those teachers who can’t provide best quality education at a lowest possible prices will be simply thrown out of the market. All inefficient educational entrepreneurs will be weeded out by the competitive forces of the free market. Once the price of education comes down due to market competition, it will become affordable to all those who want to educate themselves. This is the only efficient and moral way of providing education to all those who need it. This way is moral because here no tax payers money will be needed and so wasted.

Conclusion

As I discussed above, neither political Left nor Right is correct on JNU fee hike issue. The left is wrong in demanding free or subsidized education and the right is wrong in demanding a shutdown of JNU because its students are anti-nationals. They are also biased on the issue of JNU wasting tax payers money. If they demand the shutdown of JNU because it is wasting tax payers money then they should equally demand shutting down of the whole government, aka State, too because it is also wasting tax payers money. The truth lies somewhere else. As anyone with a basic understanding of sound economic science will know, only the system of free market education can make education affordable to all those who want it. The price of education is high, and its quality abysmal, in India because of government monopoly. Only dismantling this government monopoly can bring down the  price and improve quality. As long as people do not understand this basic fact, nothing better is going to happen in the Indian education sector.

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