Foreign students want slice of RTI pie

Like Indians, they wish to use Right to Information law to get answers from Delhi University

Foreign students at Delhi University feel that exclusion of foreigners from the Right to Information Act makes them helpless when they want to seek answers from DU authorities.

They think that an RTI application has a better chance of getting a meaningful reply – to issues ranging from tenure of a hostel warden to broken gym equipment – than a direct query to the administration. But unlike their Indian classmates, they don't have access to this tool.

According to deputy dean of foreign student affairs Veena Mishra, over 15,000 foreign students study in DU. In the last academic session, they came from 70 different countries, but most of them are from India's neighbourhood and Africa.

Discrepancies in facilitiesForeign students said they wish to get information through RTI on ‘discrepencies’ in hostel facilities,  infrastructure of their departments and  utilisation of the money they are paying as fees.“At the International hostel for men, the gym has two dumb bells, and two broken exercising cycles. The computers are so old that it takes an hour for them to start,'' said a student from Iraq.

“Then, the hostel's internet is extremely slow, while the hostel next to us has decent speed. According to hostel rules computers cannot be replaced before eight years. I want to file an RTI asking exactly how old these computers are and about the internet speed since that's the only way for us to keep in touch with our families,” he added. 

The students are not allowed to get a different internet connection. Foreign students said Indian students are reluctant to file RTIs about 'serious concerns' as they don't want to get into trouble with University  authorities.

“There is so much going on in my department. We pay good amount of money as our fees but the  infrastructure of my department is crumbling. When I asked an Indian student to file an RTI on my behalf, he was scared as the person's name and address will be on the form. Students don't want to risk it when it comes to their future,” said Dai Sung Han from South Korea, pursuing his Masters in Buddhist Studies.
While there is no grievance redress cell for foreign students,  Veena Mishra said every department has a counsellor and every hostel has officials to address their concerns. 
“The students can directly approach us. If there are  problems regarding college administration, we can help,'' she said. 

There weren't many complaints and in no case was the matter so serious that the complainant's identity needed to be  concealed.
But foreign students feel if they raise questions directly, the authorities might take offence and create problems for them in getting their degree.
“It is not that they don't listen to our problems and they do try to solve the minor issues. But we avoid discussing grave problems with them thinking that it may lead to trouble,” said an hosteller from France.
He said everyone knew that the warden and the provost have a tenure of only two years, but it gets extended by years.
 “Why? Can we ask these questions to the administration directly?” he said.

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