If UGC scraps our grants, we'll have to take clerical jobs, say students
- UGC is scrapping scholarships for non-NET students from next year
- Now, M Phil students get Rs 5,000 a month, PhD scholars Rs 8,000
- UGC says the move is aimed at ensure quality of university teachers
- The move will hit poor, disadvantaged students the hardest
- Poor parents may still fund boys\' education. What about girls?
- Quality can still be maintained since not every scholar wants to teach
For Pankaj, who is blind and needs assistance to study, scrapping of non-NET scholarships could be the difference between being a researcher and a clerk.
So, along with several blind colleagues, he joined in when some 300 students from JNU came to 'Occupy UGC' to protest this decision. They occupied the premises of the UGC at ITO for two days until the police chased them away Friday.
Pankaj, who is doing his PhD in International Politics from JNU, is a farmer's son from Ghazipur, UP. He says if scholarships for those who don't clear NET are taken away, as the UGC plans to, students like him will have to drop out and apply for a class IV job.
"As things stand, there are only a limited number of scholarships available currently. For us, there's just the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship, which is given to only 200 candidates in the country," he says. "For those who don't qualify for either RGNF or NET, and are not well off, there is no alternative."
'Students who don't qualify for RGNF or NET and are not well off won't be able to continue studies'
The students ended the protest Friday evening after the UGC secretary Jaspal S Sandhu assured to call a meeting to discuss the issue.
Earlier in the day, the Rapid Action Force had lathi charged the students out of the UGC compound, injuring several of them in the process. They had to be admitted to a nearby hospital for treatment.
All central universities give scholarships of Rs 5,000 a month to M Phil students and Rs 8,000 to those pursuing PhD. This will be stopped for new students from next year; those already receiving the grants won't be affected.
The move has sparked outrage as it will hit students from poor and socially disadvantaged families especially hard. Indeed, it could well cripple any hope of going for higher studies.
Not fair to girls
Anshu, an M Phil student at JNU, says her family's only income is what her mother earns from teaching an Anganwadi school in Begusarai, Bihar. Even that meagre amount she doesn't get regularly and she must also provide for Anshu's two younger brothers.
"How do people who have taken this decision to scrap the scholarships think girl students will pursue their higher education?" Anshu asks. "If we don't qualify NET, that will be the end of our education."
"Poor parents will still go the extra mile to fund the education of their boys. They might sell the last bit of their land in hope that the son, on completing his education, will take care of them. But what about us?"
Then there are students like Ravi, who is doing his Masters from JNU but is determined not to leave the university without a PhD.
"As far as I know, I am the only boy from my village (Nandana in Azamgarh, UP) who has come this far in his education. It has been possible only because I get the grants. I know I won't survive one day outside the campus without the grants," he says.
UGC gives scholarships of Rs 5,000 a month to M Phil students and Rs 8,000 to PhD scholars
The UGC, though, seems bent on scrapping the scholarships. A member of the commission, who did not want to be named, says the decision was taken to ensure quality control. Since students who don't qualify NET are anyway not eligible to teach in central universities, he argues, what is the point in funding their higher education.
"Right now, we have an overproduction of PhDs. This UGC chairperson and the one before him agreed that the quality of PhDs was going down. There was a need to set some benchmark," the member says.
"So there was a thought that if NET is a requirement for securing teaching positions, why create a cadre of non-NET professionals unnecessarily?"
Drawing an analogy with IITs, he asks, "Should the candidates who don't qualify the entrance exam be funded by IITs or any other government body?"
Makes little sense
Academics and teachers aren't convinced, however. "Instead of extending non-NET fellowship to all universities, UGC withdraws it. Student protest at UGC justified," Yogendra Yadav, a former UGC member, tweeted.
"Student scholarships in Indian higher education shockingly few. Need to expand in a big way. UGC in reverse gear."
Others argue that quality can be maintained without doing away with the fellowships since not every scholar is looking to become a teacher or a researcher.
"See, the thing is there are a lot of students from disadvantaged backgrounds for whom this scholarship is essential. Now, UGC can maintain the quality of those who teach at its institutions," says Najaf Haider, an associate professor at JNU. "But those who don't qualify the NET are looking to pursue higher education to get into, say, journalism or archeology."
"I read somewhere that UGC is hesitant in continuing the scholarships due to reports of mismanagement of funds," Prof Haider adds. "If that's the case, UGC should take appropriate administrative decisions instead of ending the only source of encouragement for a lot of scholars in the country."