Student leaders demand reopening of colleges, deem online education inadequate

Student representatives from JNU, JMI, AMU come together on the call of the SIO to discuss the urgent need to reopen campuses


Reopen college campus with proper Covid-protocol and safety measures, demanded prominent student leaders and the Student Islamic Organisation of India (SIO) on September 9, 2021 at the Press Club of India.

After one and a half year of the Covid-19 pandemic, student leaders from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and the Jamia Millia Islamia University (JMI) voiced the need to normalise physical classes and education once again.

Their demands include: 

  • reopening of campus with due protocol to reintegrate dropout students
  • fee waiver from the government to help students still dealing with the economic impact of Covid-19 
  • issuance of a comprehensive special package to address financial issues and loss of an academic year
  • on-campus vaccination drives to immunise students and faculty

“Governments are coming up with economic packages to revive the economy. But education is not the focus even though the same is central for development. India’s socio-economic-political future is intertwined with education,” said SIO Secretary General Syed Muzakkir.

Citing observed examples of this, JNU Research Scholar Afreen Fatima spoke about how students were thrown out of the campus when the first nationwide lockdown was announced. Students were unable to access research material for their dissertation and were unable to submit their coursework. Scholarships and fellowships were suspended. Non-teaching staff are yet to be paid their dues.

“The government does not consider education a priority. Online classes are not good enough. Three-four batches of students have no idea what their coursework is, what their degree means. Institutional education system has silently crumbled. Marginalised communities students have suffered the most,” she said. Fatima emphasised that if campuses are not opened soon, student communities will come out on the streets to express their rage.

JMI students staged a protest on Thursday outside university campus to demand its reopening. A delegation of SIO JMI leaders submitted a memorandum to the proctor asking for resumption of off-line classes and opening of campus, especially reading halls and libraries.

According to the SIO, similar protests have already begun in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat and Telangana.


Speaking at the event, JMI representative Asif Iqbal Tanha pointed out that the JMI campus has not been opened since February 14, 2019. He condemned the university administration for not considering the campus issue seriously enough.

Regarding online education Tanha said, “When I was in jail, I remember the online court sessions. Advocates were not in uniform, others could not turn on their cameras, and others struggled with their internet. This happened in a government area. Then outside, where there are great divides between the rich and the poor, how will a poor person’s child study? People are being distanced from education.”

Building on Fatima’s point of student anger on the streets, Tanha said education is a basic right. Students will fight to keep education from being divided. He further said that students will send the memorandum to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as well if their demands are not met.

“Since 2014, the government talks to students about pakodas but not education or actual issues. Student bodies are targeted. The government wants to decide what students will learn in schools. Like selling buildings, they’re selling institutions. They want Adani and Ambani to decide the school plan,” said Tanha.

The group of leaders as a whole emphasised the need for Covid-care facilities in all campuses, vaccinations for all students and immediate reopening of universities to alleviate student distress.

AMU student leader Abdul Wadood particularly spoke about the youths suffering mental problems due to the state of education during the pandemic. “We’re seeing how campuses are closed in the name of the pandemic and students are being swindled. The administration takes full fees from students but does not provide necessary facilities,” said Wadood.

He pointed out that many AMU students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and therefore needed campuses to be opened. He also said that campuses needed to be reopened so that women students can have safe accommodation.

“The administration asks us who will take responsibility if the students fall ill. Then, get students and faculty vaccinated,” said Wadood.

He said that the lack of lab and field work posed a problem for PhD students who availed jobs based on work experience. The lack of research material also hinders their thesis writing.

Disconcerting data on Indian education

Another speaker, Centre for Educational Research Training Director Fawaz Shaheen, said that Indian education is in a deep crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, experts have raised questions about the fundamental issue of online access and the use of the access for education.

“There is no training for that. How will they ensure the quality of online classes? We’ve been asking questions about infrastructure and training to consider the government’s investment in education,” he said.

Stating that the current regime is scared of student mobilisation, Shaheen said there is no budgetary plan from the government’s end. He cited ASER and similar reports on online education that said 37 percent of students dropped out in rural India and 19 percent of children dropped out in urban regions. Meanwhile, regular school-going children were only 47 percent in urban areas and 28 percent in rural areas. Further, children’s socialising capabilities also suffered due to the lack of classroom interaction. He said that students are expected to survive on the basis of coaching classes when only economically privileged backgrounds can afford classes.

“None of our demands that we voiced from the first day have been satisfied. A racketeering of online education is going on. It is necessary to reopen campuses and plan to recover the loss to education,” he said.


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