In the last two weeks, research scholars across the country have intensified their protests against the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) decision to discontinue non-NET fellowships. After the strong reaction, the human resource development (HRD) ministry announced that the fellowships would be continued.
The HRD ministry has appointed a five-member review committee to look into the merits of both the NET and non-NET fellowships and submit its recommendations by December. However, research scholars say they are not satisfied with the announcement and allege that the ministry is misleading them, which is why they say they will continue their protests till the committee submits its report.
One set criteria
A delegation of students met the HRD minister recently to put forward their demands. Shehla Rashid, vice-president, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, who was part of the delegation, says, “We did not meet the minister regarding discontinuation of the National Eligibility Test (NET). The categorical demand of our movement is that the selection and coverage of the fellowship should be solely based on being a research scholar in any Indian university. Any public-funded university has its own screening process to take research scholars. This should be the only basis of selection. The brief is completely silent on the issue whether the non-NET fellowship will be provided to all students and researchers taking admission in the next academic session without any criteria or conditions.”
Students also fear that India may sign an agreement in the upcoming 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi this December wherein “India will ,have to pay more attention to educational institutions in terms of funding and this is likely to result in a further cut in research fellowships,” says Rashid.
What one needs to know is whether the existing fellowships given to scholars are sufficient and if there should be separate fellowships such as those based on NET and non-NET. Should these be extended to research scholars beyond Central universities? Are more steps to be taken to boost research in humanities?
“The protests will intensify with scholars from institutes such as Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Pondicherry University, Allahabad University and Panjab University expected to join the campaign,” says Zuail KP, president of the Hyderabad Central University Students’ Union.
Research scholars believe they are being discriminated against on the basis of NET and non-NET fellowships. “The ministry had, from December 2014, enhanced the support provided to research fellowships based on NET and other prominent fellowship schemes. Junior Research fellows receive, for the first two years Rs 25,000 per month and 30% house rent allowance (HRA) as well as a contingency grant for each year. Senior research fellows receive, for three years, Rs 28,000 per month, 30% HRA and a contingency grant for each year. Non-NET fellows receive only monthly grants of Rs 5,000 for MPhil and Rs 8,000 for PhD. How can we expect quality in research if this is the attitude of the UGC and the HRD ministry,” asks Vikash Swarup, a humanities researcher at the Allahabad University.