Having burnt its fingers in the University of Hyderabad protests, the human resource development ministry is scrambling to pre-empt the next big students’ unrest by clearing 85,000 scholars’ fellowship dues that have swollen to Rs 1,100 crore amid a severe budget squeeze.
A fellowship raise announced in December 2014 has still not materialised, prompting the affected students to complain at various fora -- the most recently on HRD minister Smriti Irani’s Twitter handle. Alerted by the tweets, Irani held at least two meetings on the issue in the past two days and took it up with the University Grants Commission (UGC), the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the finance ministry, sources said. The HRD ministry did not respond to requests for a comment.
In December 2014, the fellowship amount was raised from R8,000 to R12,400 each for MTech students and from Rs 12,500 to Rs 25,000 each for PhD scholars. These fellowships are given to help scholars take care of their expenses, including those on accommodation, books and research requirements. The revised fellowship amount has not been disbursed to students due to a resource crunch.
Officials said the ministry’s budget was slashed in 2015, affecting funding of universities, autonomous institutions and fellowships, too. The University Grants Commission had increased the fellowship amount to encourage scholars to undertake research. The PG scholarship for Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE)-qualified students was raised from Rs 8,000 to Rs 12,400 per month.
Although students had been sending their grievances to the HRD ministry for quite some time, a few tweets sent to Irani’s handle in the aftermath of the political controversy over Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s suicide appeared to have done the trick, sources said.
“The AICTE had announced a revised scholarship from R8,000 to R12,400 in the year 2014… we are getting only Rs 8,000. This is really unfair to us. There are many of us who need scholarship for research purposes and also for paying fees,” a student tweeted to Irani. The minister, through a tweet, assured the student that the UGC and the AICTE have been asked to release the amount.