The National Institute of Fashion Technology is considered to be one of the best institutes for studying fashion in the country. According to its official website, NIFT was the first institute in India to award its own degrees in the field of fashion education. It has a total of 11,514 students – spread across 16 campuses across India including in Kolkata, Mumbai, Shillong, Gandhi Nagar, Chennai, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Delhi, Gandhinagar, Jodhpur, Kannaur, Patna, Raebareli and Srinagar.
But for a fourth-year student of Bachelors in Fashion Communication at NIFT Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, life has not been the same since March. Originally from Uttar Pradesh, Ajay* had come all the way to Kangra four years ago to study fashion. This was his dream – and we went against his family’s wishes to pursue it.
“I took an education loan of about Rs five lakh from Canara Bank for my fees, initially. My father said that he will contribute some amount to each semester’s fees so the full amount can be taken care of,” says Ajay.
Ajay’s father is a 50-year-old mechanic who repairs heavy vehicles. The sole earning member of a family of three, he has not been getting much work done since the lockdown. “For the first three months, he didn’t have any work at all, and hence no money. Ever since the lockdown was lifted, he has had minimal work. Even the workshop where he works is rented. Very few people know this, but I have faced this financial crisis at home because of the lockdown. It is very difficult for me to arrange for fees now,” says Ajay.
Ajay says fashion is not perceived as a serious choice for men in India, and this is among many other things one of the chief reasons why he decided to dig his heels in and fight his parents to pursue his dreams, in spite of the loan.
In June, he, along with most of his batchmates, sent a mail to the Ministry of Textiles (under which the institute functions) and the director of NIFT, asking for them to reduce the fees, considering the situation. “Our sixth semester fee of over Rs 1 lakh had been paid in advance but due to the lockdown we mostly attended online classes. So, for the upcoming semester, we suggested that our fees be reduced,” he says.
Marked to textiles minister Smriti Irani, as well as to the NIFT director general, the letter demanded that the institute consider the students’ situation.
“It feels unfair that we pay for things [facilities] that we are not using. First, we humbly request fee transparency [in the form of a fee breakup] and secondly to reduce the amount of fees for all years and departments of National Institute of Fashion Technology,” the letter said.
Sent by more than a hundred students at NIFT Kangra, as well as hundreds from other campuses, the letter did not elicit any response.
The facilities for which the university is charging the fees are inaccessible for the students currently, says Ajay. These include Wi-Fi charges, medical fees, hostel charges, library charges, electricity charges, water charges as well as lab charges.
New social media policy
Students like Ajay are keen to protect their identities thanks to a new social media policy.
The NIFT Social Media Policy, 2020, released in June of this year specifies:
“Every bona fide student of NIFT should be mindful that information shared on social media becomes public information and hence should not use social media in any way that may compromise your reputation or professional practice at a later stage. Any adverse content that goes against the rules of NIFT, the Constitution of India and does not promote general harmony could be brought to the attention of the Institute, future employers and/or professional bodies and may be detrimental to studies and / or future career.”
Elsewhere, it also says:
“Any content maligning NIFT, its policies and employees will be viewed adversely inviting disciplinary action and inter alia, penalties, debarment from sitting the examination, campus placements etc.”
Under the heading ‘Online Etiquette,’ it says:
“Think twice about how you post content if you’re feeling angry about something and consider the effect that this might have on the situation.”
This is not all. A message doing its rounds in NIFT class groups on WhatsApp, addressed to NIFT Delhi students, reads:
“This is for all the students of NIFT DELHI Campus: It’s been kindly advised from our CAC to refrain from entering groups and telegram chatrooms (for the discussion of Fee Protest).”
A student of NIFT Delhi, who is protesting the hefty fee along with others across the country, calls this “the curbing of dissent and the effort to control the narrative by not allowing students the freedom to talk about their issues openly.”
Students have still taken to Twitter against this. Anushka, a Twitter user and a student of NIFT wrote:
“We all are dealing with this pandemic situation, when college is going through some problem….we students understand and cooperate with the college…but now it’s time for them to understand the situation and problem, not all are capable of paying such a huge amount.”
Another user, Vanishka Mathur writes:
“Asking for full fee is not acceptable. We are not using any facility. Tuition fee is fine but, library and other fees are not valid. Our parents already have too much pressure because of the pandemic. Parents have to use their savings to fulfil the routine expenses.”
Simranjeet Kaur, another NIFT student and Twitter user writes:
“People are scared to raise their voice but enough is enough. If our parents have to suffer and take loans to give our fees and have to be in a bad situation because of us to us degree ka hum kya kare. (‘Then what should we do with such a degree?’) And not just me, many of my classmates are suffering a lot.”
‘Our things have been misplaced’
The NIFT Kangra student says that another issue has furthered their resolve to carry on the fight. “The girl’s hostel on campus was used as a quarantine centre and their belongings were thrown in some other room without their permission. Among those were important documents and things. They are now taking full hostel fees from the girls, even after having done something like this to their belongings. They are also charging medical fees, Wi-Fi fees, etc.,” he says.
According to him, the institute has organised celebrity lectures in an attempt to justify the heavy fees. “They think organising these lectures and giving us access to some magazine websites will justify our fees of over a lakh. This is just for show, in reality, these guest lectures are not even for our main papers,” he says.
Students have demanded a 50% waiver of the total fees.
The NIFT Delhi students says that students are also expected to write assignments, complete homework and also attend 4-5 hours of daily classes online. “All our data is exhausted. We have to pay for a monthly package as well as daily internet packs because our daily limit of internet is finished almost every day,” he notes.
His classmates in Bihar don’t have access to internet any more because of the recent floods. “Not only that, many of their houses have been affected severely due to the floods. It is extremely insensitive to ask them to pay such hefty fees at such a time,” he adds.
A final year student of Bachelors of Fashion Technology at NIFT Hyderabad says, “My father works in Telangana state government, and half of his salary has been cut since the lockdown. They are asking us to pay over Rs 1 lakh within a month. And if we fail to do so, we will have to pay a hefty fine also.”
The sole earning member of the house, his father has to pay for the education of two sons. “My elder brother studies in Amity University, which is also quite expensive.”
He, along with other classmates, had mailed the department, asking them to consider reducing the coming semester’s fees. He says, “We had already paid full fees for the past semester, even though classes were only online. But they neglected our mails and now say they’ll take legal action against students who say anything against the institute.”
In a circular that was put up on Tuesday, the NIFT administration has asked the students to submit their fees till September 7, 2020 after which they will be allowed to pay a late fee with a fine of Rs 100 per day till February 19, 2021.
In case the students fail to submit their fees, the name of the student will be struck from the institute without any further notice.
The tuition fee for the final year students for their 7th semester is Rs 1,31,600. It is Rs 1,13,200 for the 8th semester. The library fees, medicine and student development fee, exam fee and the Alumni Association Membership fee for the 7th semester are Rs 7,500, Rs 3,700, Rs 3,750 and Rs 3,500 respectively. The total fee for the final year is Rs 2,44,800.
The total fee of students in semesters 5 and 6 is Rs 2,52,300 and fee for final year students in the NRI (Non-Residential Indian) quota is a total of Rs 9,48,400.
Most students are confused, not knowing what to expect from the college now. “But one thing is clear, we are not okay with paying such a heavy fee during such difficult times, and especially when we are not even availing ourselves of the facilities that we are being charged for,” one of them says.
The Wire is awaiting a response from the NIFT administration. This will be added as and when it is received.
*Name changed on request.