Hidden Cost of Campus Life

Disclaimer: The article is an opinion. The views are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of T5E.

Life in IIT Madras is a transformative period filled with new experiences, academic growth, and personal development. However, it also presents unique financial challenges that students must navigate to make the most of their education.In this article, we will delve into the diverse expenses incurred by students on campus, shedding light on the various financial obligations they encounter throughout their academic journey. The focus will primarily be on ‘hidden’ costs and uncompensated out-of-pocket expenditure.

There exists a general consensus that the tuition and hostel fees charged by IITM is far lower than the private college counterparts. There are no under-the-table donations or separate lab fees despite having unparalleled teaching staff and academic infrastructure. A lot of the services on campus, from cycles to eateries to OAT movies, are heavily subsidized. Furthermore, students from economically and socially marginalized communities receive further waivers, grants and funds as applicable by the Government of India. While the question of whether the fee justifies the quality of life and education is ever so slightly debatable, we can agree that it does not go so far as to cause a barrier to entry. The JEE rankers frequently receive merit scholarships from their respective schools or coaching institutes. But it would also not be fair to say that a holistic life on campus is objectively cheap.

Academic opportunities, that are free in principle, come with their share of hidden costs.To begin with, the college does offer a free bypass to the paywalls on most academic journals and the library is fairly comprehensive. However, expenses incurred to take up online courses, attend conferences or publish papers are not adequately compensated.

While there exists a minimum support fund for students opting for semester exchange, this barely comes close to the cost of living and studying at a foreign university. Frequent mails and complaints have been raised by post-graduates and research scholars on the sudden and unwarranted reduction in their HTTA and HTRA* allowances. It is worth noting that the stipend for Ph.D students is valid only up to five years of their research. We see that most students choose to rent an accommodation outside campus once this period has lapsed, further adding to their budgetary grievances. The tuition fee covers most of the basic academic and pedagogic infrastructure needed for student life but if one has to go beyond the curriculum or set themselves apart from the crowd, certain expenses do show up.

Being a part of any competitive or organizational team on campus also involves out-of-pocket expenditure. In the sporting sphere, the athletes are expected to own a set of sports wear, quality shoes and gear if applicable. Performing arts such as percussion,fashion and music expect the participants to be endowed with certain equipment or costumes before entering the realm. More often than not, members in several positions of responsibility pay for artist fees, judge food, merchandise, travel, accommodation while anxiously awaiting reimbursements in a slow and daunting process.

The correspondent personally knows someone who spent close to 60,000 rupees on Saarang that is yet to be reimbursed. There are people who have graduated or given up in this process. The Student Legislative Council is slow to pass these budgets due to insufficient proof, explanation, quorum attendance or arbitrary reasons. Even the respective team cores make unexplained budget cuts, forcing cultural clubs especially, to spend out of their pocket if they want to make certain things happen. A bureaucratic red tape of the admin, SLC, cores and secretaries is keeping ingenuous coordinators waiting months on reimbursements that aren’t likely to come. Since all the contingents are insufficiently and inefficiently compensated, the participants invariably bear the costs of attending events outside of campus. While in principle, an extracurricular activity on campus should not involve any out-of-pocket expenditure from the student, we notice that this is rarely the case and speaks a lot about the actual scope of inclusivity in campus culture.

One of the most fundamental out-of-pocket expenditures incurred by students is on food. Depending on their availability of time and money, students choose to eat at eateries within the campus, restaurants outside, or order food through delivery apps. One cannot negate the role that the poor quality and taste of mess food plays in driving students to explore alternative dining options. A certain number of them are avoidable expenses that are spent simply because students don’t want to miss out on group outings to eateries, when they might have otherwise been fine eating the mess food.

Apart from this, frequent expenditures are on snacks, cycle repairs, laundry and other things required for the maintenance and upkeep of hostels. Habits such as smoking, drinking or other substances comes with its own set of expenses that users account for and are cognizant of. A lot of students receive a fixed amount of money from home on a monthly or fortnightly basis that is replenished when spent. Within this limit, one can see students exercise significant autonomy in how the money is spent. There exists the usual mix between those that ration it out through the month and those who splurge on a few good experiences only to starve in pride for the remaining duration. There is considerable shame in frequently calling home for additional money and thus, it is obvious that those who get lucrative placements or stipends tend to spend a lot more on average than freshers.

Borrowing and lending money rarely happens in a formal capacity on campus. In cases wherein the student or his family member needs money to meet an emergency health situation, it is not uncommon to see friends help out directly or raise fundraisers on SMail to cover these costs. Involuntary lending mostly relies on who volunteers to pay for minor expenses such as tea, juice or cigarettes. Among friend groups that hang out frequently, small debts eventually cancel out over time. In case of a trip or an elaborate plan, students rely on the old friend, Splitwise. This arrangement works fairly well with the occasional reminder and jokes about bankruptcy. 

An interesting form of informal lending happens in food court cards that are used in the messes. The mess fees of a particular semester is credited to the card which can be swiped based on food preferences. Based on a math we all have done at some point, that adds up to roughly thirty rupees a meal which is far too insufficient, assuming one eats at the food court for three meals everyday when this is rarely the case. When a group orders together, they often use one person’s card and this choice of person happens in rotation. And then, there are the infrequent mess-eaters, Swiggy benefactors and breakfast skippers, who shall hereafter be referred to as ‘targets’. When the average mess-eater runs out of balance, these people sacrifice their identity (cards) for their starving friends.

Birthday treats are almost obligatory on campus, ranging from simple outings to extravagant nights at Westin. Recent trends of-late see a bunch of people sharing proximate birthdays giving a treat together. Or the birthday baby pays a sizable amount of the bill, following which the other guests split the remaining. This actually allows people to visit fancy restaurants they wouldn’t get to go otherwise while also spending significantly less on the same.

Another notable tradition involves the seniors treating their club members, peers or juniors to celebrate important personal or professional achievements. In some sports teams, the freshers treat the seniors whereas in most cases, the cores or secretaries deliver on extraordinary treats. There are allegations that this money comes out of fest profits, ticket sales or team revenue, but such claims remain unverified for obvious reasons. Even if the treating culture is absent in certain teams, most of them continue to plan an annual trip or dinner that is in no way cheap. Some teams have (in)famous house parties that cost anywhere between 1000-1500 per person.

Especially the ones who manage to secure prestigious internships or placements (#BhaiPlaced) often volunteer to give exorbitant treats to those that helped them through the process. God save those few who win elections, because a house party or better is definitely on the cards. But in the larger scheme of elections that involve so much direct and indirect money, this doesn’t seem quite as significant. It is certainly worth noting, however, that the money that it takes to contest in institute elections definitely acts as a deterrent for some. Most people that get involved in the back-end underbelly of institute elections are said to receive cash or kind in the process of doing so. 

While IIT Madras boasts affordable tuition and hostel fees, the reality of campus life reveals various expenses that students must bear. Academic costs, extracurricular activities, food, daily expenditures, and informal lending all contribute to the financial landscape of student life. While the institute strives to provide accessible education, it is crucial to recognize and address the financial challenges faced by students. The examples used above seldom reflect the true range of financial accessibility among students on campus. While money may be an uncomfortable afterthought for some, it remains a preliminary and fundamental consideration for most students in terms of the opportunities they seek, friends they make and how they spend their time.

*The HTTA is the half-time-teaching-assistant fund given to dual degree students in their 9th and 10th semesters for providing help with academic instruction. HTRA is the half-time-research-assistantship fund given majorly to MS and PhD students who have completed their GATE examination. It is roughly 12,400 rupees/-

Edited by: Pooja Shankar

Designed by: Yash Suryawanshi


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