The University Grants Commission (UGC) may finally discontinue the non-NET fellowships to research scholars from Central universities, though the Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) has constituted a review committee to look into the issue. “With budgetary constraints, it is very difficult to provide these fellowships to nearly 35,000 students across India, and extension of the fellowships, which currently cover 50 institutions, including central universities, to all states is not economically feasible,” a UGC source said.
“The formation of the review committee was also essential in light of protests. If non-NET fellowships are not found to be feasible, the scheme may get discontinued. Financial factor is a major aspect that needs to be factored in while awarding fellowships,” the source said, adding the move is widely being perceived as an assault on students’ research, so it is “necessary to place this scheme in the context of how M.Phil and PhD research is funded in our system of higher education”, the source said.
Voicing solidarity towards the plight of students, a member of the committee, on condition of anonymity, said: “The teaching community is with the students. We are of the opinion that the grants should be increased and extended across the country. However, there are serious questions regarding feasibility,” he added. Attempts to contact Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani proved futile.
Meanwhile, protests continued in the capital over the issue. Yogendra Yadav, ex-member of the UGC high-committee, addressed protesting students here. “The mere constitution of a review committee is no assurance. It just gives the government time of a few more weeks. It’s all diversionary tactics. You never know if there is anything substantive in this or just a time buying tactic,” Yadav said. “They might turn around and put impossible conditions, the fine print may be such that it defeats the purpose of the scheme. The entire idea of the scheme, when it was formed, was de-bureaucratization. This move is in the opposite direction,” Yadav added. The students are also protesting against a WTO-GATS meeting that is slated to happen in Nairobi in December this year. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi signs the treaty, education in India will be counted a “tradable commodity” and will require a level-playing field. That may result in increase in fees across universities, discontinuation of scholarships and subsidies to universities.
This week, the Delhi Police rained lathis on protesting students, severely injuring many including women students who say they were beaten inside police vans. This follows an earlier police action against the protesting students on 23 October. Unfazed by the police crackdown, hundreds of students have continued their protests, calling the government’s stand on the issue an eye-wash meant to delay the matter. The UGC had earlier, in October, announced discontinuation of the “non-NET fellowship for M.Phil/PhD” scheme starting from the next academic year, based on complaints alleging its misuse and non-transparency in implementation. The Ministry of Human Resource Development said in a public statement on 29 October that the non-NET fellowships are not being discontinued, but both the NET and non-NET fellowships require immediate review. The ministry is in the process of reviewing the current research framework.
The recent announcements have sparked a huge uproar in Central Universities (where the fellowships have been awarded since the 2006), and a mass protest, called Occupy UGC, was launched outside the UGC office here on 23 October. The protest continued outside the Ministry of Human Resource Development office. Both the students and teachers, including the DUTA (Delhi University Teachers’ Association), came out in protest, demanding restoration and enhancement of the fellowships.
The UGC realises that police action has galvanized the voices of students and teachers and it has strongly criticised such action. “The police crackdown has brought the students together,” a source said, adding, “We are still open to discussions on the matter.”