The past week has not been easy for Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Following the arrest of its students union leader Kanhaiya Kumar for sedition, there has been much mudslinging at one of India’s foremost liberal institutions
The 47-year-old university—named after India’s first prime minister—is alleged to be a hotbed of “intellectual terrorism“, with many even claiming it to be a drain on the Indian taxpayer. But is it really? Here’s the full picture.
For one, JNU’s annual budget of nearly Rs200 crore forms a minuscule share of the country’s annual education budget of Rs69,074 crore. JNU has a total of 7,300 students and 470 teachers. In comparison, the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jamia Millia Islamia each has over 15,000 students.
Funding for India’s central universities mostly comes from the University Grants Commission (UGC), a statutory body under the union human resource development ministry. The UGC is tasked with maintaining the quality of higher education in India. Annual UGC grants are the primary—and the biggest—source of income for these institutions. And, unlike other central universities, JNU’s share in the total grants given is very little.
In 2012, for instance, the Banaras Hindu University received Rs530 crore—almost double the amount that went to JNU (Rs256 crore) (pdf).
Over the years, JNU has also managed to keep its finances under a tight leash. It has often even managed to rake in surplus funds, spending less than its annual income. In 2013-14, it received about Rs243 crore from the UGC, while it managed to raise more than Rs13 crore from other sources such as fees and income from land and building. Here is a break-up of JNU’s annual income in 2013-14.
Besides, JNU also boasts of a special fund under which it raises money from some of the world’s biggest donors such as the Ford Foundation, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. Much of that has to do with the university’s reputation and its academia.
Despite the smaller amount of grants, JNU remains influential in India’s political, bureaucratic, and intellectual ecosystems. As Peter Ronald deSouza, professor at New Delhi’s Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, points out:
If we were to do a roll call of bureaucrats, journalists, artists, translators, writers, activists, professors, vice-chancellors, heads of important institutions, and politicians, JNU would have a fair share of the leading members of these groups. It is not for nothing that in the last two years the heads of the Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing, and Central Bureau of Investigation, besides the foreign and cabinet secretaries, have been from JNU. They do not look like anti-nationals to me. So where does all this ‘anti-national university’ stuff come from?