The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a ripple effect in the education sector, impacting not just students in schools and colleges, but research scholars too. Purnachander P, who is doing his PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in the Department of Journalism at Osmania University, was also working as a teacher in a private school before the pandemic. However, when the schools shut and a lockdown was announced, he had to move back to his hometown Nizamabad, where he ended up working as a delivery executive with a food services app.
â€śI did not have any institutional support from the university when the pandemic began, and whatever I was earning as a teacher stopped when the schools closed. While running a family itself becomes tough, how can there be progress in research, which requires time and financial support?â€ť asked Purnachander, who had planned to complete his PhD programme this year. â€śBut the pandemic has significantly upset my plan.â€ť
The pandemic has impeded the research work of several scholars who are pursuing research under different state and central universities. They have been mainly facing hurdles in accessing study material and in conducting field visits. For research fellows from marginalised communities, it not only affected the pace of research but greatly impacted their economic support.
Research scholars pursuing MPhil and PhD from regional universities such as Osmania University, Telangana University and Kakatiya University, and central universities like University of Hyderabad (UoH), Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and English and Foreign Languages Universities (EFLU) also face difficulties in getting fellowships on time, which further added to their woes.
Kavya Sree, a senior PhD scholar at the School of Humanities â€“ University of Hyderabad, said, â€śI was supposed to go over the material collected over the past two years. However, it got delayed because I couldnâ€™t access the archives as all libraries remained closed for a long time due to the lockdown.â€ť
Incidentally, many female research scholars have had to navigate the added burden of handling the household chores and the pressures of getting married. â€ś That can be a great deal of distraction for women scholars. Besides, lack of internet connectivity and delay in the disbursement of my non-NET fellowship, which is my only financial support, have made things even more difficult for me," Kavya, who hails from Calicut in Kerala, told TNM.
Chinna Dandu, another scholar from Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh, comes from a rural area. Due to this, attending lectures and progress meetings online was difficult, he said. â€śI would sometimes need to go outside to the fields to get a proper signal, sometimes my mobile data would not be adequate,â€ť said Chinna, adding, â€śI had planned to figure out and collect research material from the university library and public libraries, as I cannot afford subscriptions to research journals.â€ť
He also said that for scholars from marginalised communities and rural backgrounds, the atmosphere back in their hometowns is demotivating. â€śNo one encourages us to do PhDs as everyone my age is generally working. If not for the fellowship, my parents would have asked me to quit research,â€ť he explained.
Vandana Nair, a fourth-year research scholar in Sociology from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, said that her plans to complete her PhD in 4.5 years might not be successful due to the barriers created by the pandemic. Vandana was in Bihar months before the pandemic began, to conduct ethnography research. She had to go back to her hometown due to COVID-19. â€śI thought Iâ€™d complete the ethnography and my PhD by the end of 2021 or early 2022,â€ť said Vandana, who has six more months to complete her PhD.