The Government Degree College in Udhampur has been charging women Rs. 600 more in tuition fees than it does men but with the disproportionate cost of accessibility, transport, accommodation, technology and attire incurred by women in pursuit of a higher education, have we all been overcharged for an education?
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
Like many other students in the world, I paid my tuition for college online this year. While online payment is a common feature in private colleges, many government colleges in India still require cheques, challans or cash payments and as a result one may not be privy to the complete details of the fee-structure prior to paying it. As I loaded the payment portal a menu appeared before me, it contained a list of courses and the amount of fees to be paid which was classified by gender. In every course, the boys’ fees was listed as Rs. 600 lower than the girls’ fees. I contacted my professors and the accounts department to seek an explanation for this and was told that the girls were required to pay a bus-fees that amounted to Rs. 600 that the boys were exempt from paying. My professors explained that while they agree that this is wrong, it was likely the result of a clerical oversight and not an attempt to hinder women’s education.
The Government Degree College of Udhampur, which is an off-campus site of Jammu University, was founded as a boys’ college in 1961 even though right off the bat they also accepted female students. It was officially registered as a co-ed college fifteen-years ago but women have been educated here right from the beginning. Due to the nature of the college’s registration they were only able to provide hostel accommodation for boys which led them to introduce a bus-service for the women and the fees for that was incorporated into the tuition on a mandatory basis for all girls whether they took the bus or not. Maybe two-decades ago only women (and each one of them, at that) availed the bus service and every single boy lived in the hostel, no one is able to confirm or deny this to me, but that is certainly no longer the case. Less than half the boys in the college now live in the hostel and less than 25% of the women actually take the bus to college, yet boys continue to enjoy a lower fees and the girls continue to compulsorily pay for a bus they may not take. At no point was the bus presented as an opt-in service for women and at no point were boys disallowed from using the service they were never asked to pay for. I was told that if I raised a fuss, I could probably get that money refunded to me, but why should I have to be refunded the price of injustice after having paid it? What if the price of injustice isn’t refundable? It often isn’t.
In this, my college is a minority, you would be hard-pressed to find an institution in India in this day and age that monetarily charges women more in fees for higher-education than it does men, but the real cost of a college-education is almost always higher for women in India.
Over the past ten years we have made a tremendous amount of progress with regard to the number of women who attend college and Graduate School in India, women now dominate almost 70% of M.Phil courses in India and the number of women who opt for a college education has risen 7% over the past decade. While this does signify that education has become more accessible to women over the years, this accessibility is more likely to be caused by a growing number of institutions, a social shift in perspective or the disposable income of an expanding middle-class. Despite the fact that in most cases women pay fees at par with men or sometimes at a subsidized rate, in the long run, women end up paying more money in the cause of being educated than men.
A woman is less likely (to be allowed) to move out of her parent’s house to go to college, which means she is more likely to have to commute longer distances to get to college on a daily basis incurring a higher transportation cost than someone who has the facility and freedom to move to be a place nearby. This problem is even more significant in rural areas where colleges are located in various ends of the district and many students travel hours everyday to get to their classes despite the lack of regular, reliable public transport. In bigger cities, women are more likely to opt for more expensive options like cabs, autos and chartered buses which cost more but are safer, instead of public transport which is cheaper but where your chances of being groped are moderate to high.
In cases where women do move across states and cities to attend college, they encounter the additional hurdle of accommodation. There are fewer women’s hostels across the country than there are boys hostels even though in most (non-engineering) colleges the sex-ratio of students is more or less equal. Additionally, girls’ hostels are less likely to be granted funds by the University Grants Commission (UGC). In 2017, it was discovered by Pinjara Tod activists in Delhi that Hindu College, Delhi University (DU), was charging a fees of Rs. 90000 a year for the girls hostel as opposed to the Rs. 58000 charged by the boy’s hostel. This discrepancy was attributed to the lack of funds provided to the girls’ hostel by UGC. This practice in common in various states in India including Karnataka, New Delhi and Gujarat. However, this only applies if you get into the hostel. Due to the limited capacity of hostels, admission into them is likely to be merit based and subject to an interview that often contains an evaluation of the morality and character of the student applying. A very small percentage of women who attend a top-tier institution are able to gain admission into the hostel.
In the absence of the hostel facility, women are left to either opt for rented accommodation or Paying Guest (PG) facilities. While for a boy the primary factor that determines choice in this matter is price, for a woman it is more likely to be safety. Apartments in safer, gated localities tend to be more expensive. Landlords are also less likely to rent to single, young women which severely limits choice and often ends with women having to make the more expensive, safer and more restrictive choice. Girls are also less likely to join lunch-homes or messes which continue to be a male-domianted space of affordable food. The strict curfews in place in women’s hostels and PGs disallow them from being dining-in members in neighbourhood messes that litter college-towns, especially in South India. Women in this situation are more likely to either eat in the college canteens, avail a home-delivery based tiffin service, order in or sign up for the dining service at the PG itself, all of which are more expensive than messes.
Even women’s attire ends up costing them more than the required men’s attire to attend college. Colleges are increasingly more likely to have dress-codes and while male dress-codes are usually limited to shirts and trousers, women’s dress-codes are usually more stringent and require more pieces of clothing to be more. More fabric is more money, it’s that simple. Where I got my bachelor’s degree in Bangalore, women had to wear kurtas, salwars and dupattas. There were specific guidelines for the nature of the salwars. Leggings, which are much cheaper, were banned because the shape of a woman’s legs is apparently offensive to society. Even when colleges have uniforms, the women’s uniform is not only more likely to be more expensive but also to require more alterations and have more pieces than the men’s uniform. We must also add to that the fact that women’s attire is held to a higher standard than men’s attire. Once in my college, a professor chastised a female student for being “shabby” because she was wearing a faded kurta. A male student was never, to my knowledge, required to always have sparkling new clothes. Even when colleges have festivals and functions, the women are expected to be attired in elaborate cultural costumes whereas men can continue to attend all functions in essentially the same clothes as they wear to class.
Aside from this female students are also less likely to have technological access. Technology and the internet have significantly reduced the cost incurred when getting an education. With the vast repository of information, research and course material available online, the cost of education has only become more and more manageable over the years. However, in India, only 29% of internet users are female. Women are more likely to have only controlled access to technology, and to be trained only to use specific applications. In fact, a few places have even gone as far as to demonize the use of mobile phones and the internet by women. In 2015, the Jhajjar district in Haryana places a ban on women using mobile phones (or wearing jeans). In 2017, a Khap Panchayat in Mathura announced a Rs. 2100 fine on any woman seen using a cellphone outside her house. Even in the familial structure women’s devices are more likely to be surveilled, checked and/or dispensed to them as an infrequent privilege. As a result women are more likely to have to buy textbooks or photocopy them after borrowing them from the college library which are notoriously understocked all over the country.
Ultimately the cost of education is not just limited to tuition fees. My college may be charging us an extra amount in fees because of a grossly negligent and sexist clerical oversight, but overall we might have all been disproportionately robbed as women in the pursuit of a higher education.