Research fellows from marginalised communities are particularly vulnerable as their families too have lost their source of income as a result of pandemic.

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news Education Thursday, May 21, 2020 - 10:43

With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting academic institutions across the country, research scholars are among the worst-hit. Many are affected by delays in the disbursement of fellowships from the University Grants Commission (UGC) and their respective universities.

Hundreds of students from universities like the University of Hyderabad (UoH), Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), English and Foreign Languages Universities (EFLU) and Osmania University are unable to get non-National Eligibility Test (NET) fellowships.

Speaking to TNM, Aishe Ghosh, president of the JNU Student Union, said, “Over 50% students depend on non-NET fellowships. It has been close to 10 months, we haven't received any assistance. Now with the pandemic lockdown, students are worst-hit.”

She added, “We approached the administration several times but they are showing the current situation as an excuse. UGC should immediately direct universities to disburse all pending fellowships to students' accounts.”

Gopi T, a PhD scholar from JNU said, “We are already affected as the university is not paying non-NET fellowships for the past several months. With the lockdown, maintenance and survival has become tougher.”

According to scholars, research fellows from marginalised communities are particularly vulnerable as their families too have lost their source of income as a result of pandemic. This means the students have little by way of family support.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) offers several scholarships—  like the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF), JRF through Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship (RGNF) Scheme for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes students and the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) for minority students— to support and assist higher education research. These fellowships awards around Rs 25,000 for scholars.

Students not receiving funding from these schemes are given the University’s BBL (BBL (Boarding-Boarding cum Lodging) or Non-NET fellowship worth Rs 5,000 for MPhil and Rs 8,000 for PhD.

Ramesh Thunga, a second year PhD scholar at the UoH said, “I applied in January for this semester. There has been no update on the application. With no support or assistance, we are suffering. A vast number of students are concerned about the delay in fellowships. This will affect research as well.”

Students from English and Foreign Languages University, who wished to remain anonymous, said that a few of them had received fellowships for the month of March, while some got only half the fellowship. A student said, “They (authorities) said the remaining amount will be disbursed once the administration starts functioning.”

There are several scholars who are also not receiving their fellowships due to non-upgradation of Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) to Senior Research Fellowship (SRF). Scholars said that they are not getting fellowships as a result of the UGC’s sudden rule change without prior notice to scholars.

Mubashir Hameed, a fourth year PhD scholar said, “Fellowships were stopped since September, seeking submission of the three-member committee report to UGC. But the entire upgradation process requires preparation of reports and a lot of paperwork along with the presence of external experts. Many of us are unable to do that because of the unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic.”

He said that several scholars found their reports missing after due submission without explanation.

He said, “UGC should relax conditions for upgradation for a while and disburse the pending fellowships.”

“This has pushed us into a situation of acute financial deficiency and mental disturbance. We are working on research without fellowship for months now, exposing us to bankruptcy and downgrading our morale. We can hardly afford the living essentials and rent of houses without fellowship in this COVID-19 lockdown,” said a group of research fellows from different universities in a letter to the Chairman of UGC recently. 

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