After the University Grant Commission (UGC) allegedly once again failed to pay the scholarship funds, scores of research scholars pursuing MPhil and PhD are struggling to make ends meet.
While several students alleged that they haven’t received a penny over the last one year, some students received dues of a month or two only after the suicide of an LSR College student was reported in the media last month. The going has been tough particularly for those belonging to the economically weaker sections and first-generation learners.
Anamika, an MPhil student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, belongs to small village in Bihar. Her father is a farmer and the sole bread winner in his family. During the Covid-19 lockdown, Anamika was compelled to return home. She is a non-net scholar and is allotted to receive Rs 5,000 per month as part of her research.
Enrolled last year, she used to utilise the fund to support her education and research work. But since January, Anamika says she hasn’t received a single penny from the UGC.
“Our administration told us that the system will be moved online. But since it did, the UGC turned a deaf ear to the cries of students. I was asked to pay the registration fee for next semester, but I don’t have any money. Until the UGC pays, I will not be able to pay my tuition… People in village do not understand how online education works. My parents have been emotionally supportive, but I heard one of my classmates was forced into marriage,” says Anamika.
“With job scarcity and lack of money to finance resources required to push my research, the situation has put me in a lot of jeopardy,” she adds.
With no access to libraries, and unable to afford books and other research material along with the university fee and living expenses, many others are in the same boat as Anamika. Some are contemplating dropping out.
A student who is pursuing her MPhil from the University of Delhi has already dropped out of the course due to financial constraints. On condition of anonymity, the student told News18 that the criteria on submission of forms has been chaotic and the department never cooperated.
When asked about a response from the UGC, most students said they received assurances of receiving the money in a month, but it was never credited.
The situation is worse for those pursuing PhD. Many students said they are neck-deep in debts with even the next meal not assured.
Reeta Rai (name changed), who is currently pursuing PhD from DU, said that cumulative payment of funds has always been a problem. “Being a research scholar struggling to make ends meet, we are compelled to take up temporary teaching positions at the university in order to get rid of the liabilities. The catch here is the new norm that the UGC will either pay you as a teacher or as a research scholar.”
“The universities and people in council need to understand that we depend on our scholarship money to move forward with our research. Secondly, this research is not only for our personal means, but also adds to the value of education in our country. We are paid for the work we do, it is not leverage,” she adds.
According to sources, this year around 450 students applied for PhD at Delhi University which has 11 seats, and Presidency University saw a whopping 1,200 candidates applying for a mere 12 seats.
Meanwhile, the Centre’s decision to scrap MPhil in the new National Education Policy has put careers in jeopardy. Many first generation learners and those from minority communities believe that it will turn research into a luxury.
Interestingly, few payment related documents accessed by News18 showed that payments were generated by the UGC for months, but the money never got credited to bank accounts.
JNU student union president Aishe Ghosh said the UGC has been struggling to shift online, but there has been no circular from its end that provides proper clarification as to what is stalling the payment. She said that the non-payment of scholarships has added to the mental stress on students and prompted questions on the new National Education Policy. The JNUSU will hold a protest on the issue at the UGC office on Friday.
The JNU student union along with the student Unions of LSR, Pondicherry University, on Friday met UGC officials, including Joint Secretary AK Khanduri, regarding outstanding student issues, which includes disbursement of scholarships.
In the meet the student unions discussed UGC's circular regarding research extension and pending disbursal of fellowships. The UGC as of now has given a verbal assurance regarding pending JRF fellowships to be disbursed from December 5, and MANF, NFSC, NFST, and NFOBC shall also be disbursed from next week.
Regarding the Non-NET fellowship, it has been informed that the funds for Non-NET have been transferred to the university. Adarsh Kumar, convener SLL&CS JNUSU, said "We have been assured that funds till September will be initiated by tomorrow with immediate effect. While funds from October to November will be disbursed next month. Although these assurances were just verbal, we will still be writing to the UGC. We hope this is not just another way of stalling students waiting for their due payments."