Cut off an Olive Ridley turtle’s shell, lobotomize it and ask the endangered reptile to survive because the world needs this noble species not to die.
That’s the state of PhD or research scholars in our current education system, according to a video by The Media Collective, a group protesting against the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) decision to discontinue the non-NET fellowship, a financial assistance provided to students of central universities.
Or, is the system a bit like Salman Khan’s “driverless” car?
Called the OccupyUGC movement, the protest by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Ambedkar University for the past two months went unnoticed until Delhi Police recently unleashed sticks and water cannons on protesters marching towards Parliament.
Among the marchers was Meetesh, the video’s 28-year-old metaphorical character representing scholars doing research at JNU with a cut-price stipend of Rs 8,000 that underscores the government’s education subsidy.
Meetesh from Bihar is carrying out research in “civic governance in Magadh dynasty” — a valuable study but not commercially viable — eats at Ganga Dhaba on the JNU campus and spends most of his time in the library.
“He is surviving on the Rs 8,000 stipend he gets from the university. One day, Meetesh wakes up to find the government has stopped this stipend,” the video says.
Following outrage over the police crackdown, the HRD ministry stepped in and asked the UGC to stop the rollback. But a sticking point remained as it formed a review committee so that only meritorious students — dubbed “full cream layer” in the video — get the stipend.
The video explains how the education system is undergoing a major shift towards commoditization rather than remaining a fundamental right.
Education has become a commodity for sale while its quality and value is decided by trade negotiators, according to the OccupyUGC movement.
The Media Collective tries to demystify the jargon — World Trade Organization (WTO) and General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) — that got the protesters little response during the strike.
It says the national eligibility test is only an exam that students who want to teach can take and the stipend cut means 35,000 students “are left at sea” because they have not passed the NET.
The non-NET fellowship is provided to students doing research in central universities across the country. PhD students are provided assistance for four years while those doing MPhil get it for 18 months.
The Media Collective says higher education will soon become unaffordable because the government will have to provide a level playing field to private players after it opened the sector for foreign brands. That means cuts in subsidy to state-run universities. This in turn means students will have to pay for everything and reel under crippling debts — a situation common in the US.
Fear and tension were rising since the current government slashed its higher education outlay in the 2015-16 budget.