“So far the government could only provide fellowships to a few central university campuses,” says Ashwati Nair, former student of DU. “In large campuses like du, non-net fellowships are provided only to the top two of a batch. This decision is taken on the basis of the score that you get for your MPhil/PhD entrance exams.”
Other than the non-net fellowships, the UGC also has other financial grants such as the Junior/ Senior Research Fellowship (JRF/SRF) fellowships, the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) and the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship (RGNF). While JRFs and SRFs are provided to a select few students who score high on the National Eligibility Test, the MANF and RGNF are provided only to eligible students belonging to minority communities. Hinged on merit, these fellowships can be availed only by a small section of students.
Calling attention to this huge anomaly, Ayesha Kidwai, faculty at JNU wrote, “JRF picks out a very small sub-set of students to support for MPhil/PhD research – the figure of 6,400 fellowships in 2010-11 works out to research support for just 4.6 percent of the 137,668 students registered for research in the humanities, social sciences and sciences across India in that period. This is hardly the kind of research investment any country, especially a developing one like India, needs.”
According to a study titled Indian Student Mobility to Selected European Countries: An Overview, conducted by the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, the number of students going overseas to study showed a whopping rise of 256 percent from 2000 to 2009. While the study was ‘welcomed’ as a sign of ‘ development’, more grievous issues mentioned in it stand testimony to the country’s lackadaisical approach to education.
One, Indian students opt for universities abroad for cheap education because of the abundance of scholarships. Two, various universities abroad offer better faculty and infrastructure. Three, when students study abroad riding on education loans, there is virtually no waiver on the debts incurred.
In a country nowhere close to providing primary education to all, those who make it to university need to be supported, not spurned. This includes providing fellowships to all students pursuing research and ensuring that it covers basic needs of a student, waivers in student fees and loans and free or cheap accommodation.
“Not only did the money barely cover our expenses, it was only given to us under conditions,” says a research scholar at eflu, Hyderabad. “Even when they gave fellowships, the universities and professors made us run around filling up forms for a period of 10 days at times. A tiff with your supervisor, who has the power to sign or not sign on your scholarship form, can make life hell for a student. My supervisor did that to me. Imagine denying your right to your fellowship and making you feel like you are begging for survival.”
It is in such dire conditions that the ugc along with the mhrd have come with the proposal of doing away with the fellowships altogether.
“I survive on the grant I get from UGC. My parents wouldn’t have let me pursue studies if they were forced to pay for my expenses,” says Deepika, a research scholar at JNU. “By scrapping this, the UGC is going to do away with all those who cannot afford education. That means it will directly affect the marginalised, the poor and even the women who defied their parents to seek education.”
Meanwhile, at the protest venue, the students are resilient. As they sit and sing songs cheerfully, the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and Delhi Police gather around them. While some of them watch the students keenly, others mock the attire and mannerisms of a few of the students in the crowd. “We had a tiff with them last night when they tried to film videos of the women protesters. Some of them openly gawk at the women. It is disturbing,” says a protestor.
Only days before, the students were lathicharged and herded into vans to be transported to the Kamla Market police station. According to witnesses at the spot, more than a hundred policemen allegedly chased and beaten up several students while they were protesting peacefully against the ugc.
As one of the students who were beaten up at the protest makes her way into the crowd with a heavily bandaged head, the students begin raising slogans. “Ladenge…Jeetenge..” (We shall fight, we shall win.)