New Delhi-based South Asian University has introduced a new non-transferable policy that has effectively reduced scholarships for students.

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Delve Education Saturday, February 19, 2022 - 12:23

At least 20 students of South Asian University (SAU) have reportedly quit their programmes alleging that the current policy of the premier New Delhi-based educational institution has led to a drastic reduction in scholarships. The university has made scholarships ‘non-transferable’, which has forced students from poor backgrounds, who had hoped to get a scholarship by virtue of other top ranking students not joining the university, to leave their course midway.

SAU predominantly admits students from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Previously, the scholarships were transferable, meaning that if the student with the highest rank in the entrance exam did not join the university, the next student would be eligible for the scholarship. Scholarships and freeships are the prime reason they choose SAU over other institutions, students say.

For the new academic year (2021-23), the university has provided scholarships to a mere 46 students compared to 74 in the previous academic batch. “They have drastically reduced scholarships by making them non-transferable,” says a student who is planning to organise a protest over the issue.

Besides, students say that the required Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) for renewal of freeship has also been increased from 4.5 to 6. Students say that securing a CGPA of 6 and above by attending online classes, which they say is ‘highly non conducive’, is unfair. For the current academic year, freeships have also been reduced. While 62 students secured freeships last year, it has decreased to 42 for 2021-23.

A first year post-graduate student from Tamil Nadu tells TNM, “My father works as a vegetable vendor. Going by the annual income of my family I should be eligible for the freeship, but I’m worried. What if they deny it? I will not have any other option but to quit the course.”

SAU provides two kinds of scholarships for Indian students: President’s scholarship and Merit scholarship. The President’s scholarship covers both tuition and hostel fees, provides a monthly stipend of Rs 7,000 (Rs 10,000 for non-Indian students), and Rs 5,000 as start-up allowance to cover the cost of travel and other expenses to settle down in the university. This scholarship is given to both Indian and non-Indian students, who secure the top rank in the entrance exam. Under Merit scholarship, SAU covers both tuition and hostel fees and provides a stipend of Rs 5,000. This scholarship is given to the next two students who secure a high rank in the entrance. Only four students – two Indian and two non-Indians – are eligible for Merit scholarships.

Along with this, freeships are also provided to low-income students, where the university covers both tuition and hostel fees. This is provided to six students – three Indian and three non-Indian.

The policy for the scholarship/freeship for 2021 states that the awards should not exceed 20% of the total strength of the university. The policy has been approved by the SAARC committee.

The protesting students allege that the university did not inform them about the change in policy before the academic year began.

A first year student, who spoke to TNM on the condition of anonymity, says, “I had secured seats in both University of Hyderabad (UoH) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), but I declined them because SAU was providing scholarship and stipend. But now I feel deceived as SAU has denied me a scholarship… the one thing that made me choose SAU over UoH and JNU. Now I cannot quit the programme. The fees here are very high compared to UoH and JNU, which are centrally-funded universities.”

The student claims that he is eligible for a Merit scholarship. “I secured 13th rank in the entrance exam. Since all the other top rankers have not opted for the course, by default I’m the top ranker who should be getting the scholarship. But it’s not been given to me.”

The student says that earning a scholarship advances their career. “The other reason we’re insisting on revoking the present policy on scholarships is that students will have better employment opportunities if they show that they have availed a merit-based scholarship.”

Protesting the administration’s decision, the first year students, who are yet to meet each other due to the prevailing pandemic conditions, are trying to organise themselves and register their protest online.

Anwar Ul Haq, SAU’s Deputy Registrar, declined to comment on the issue.

TNM made several attempts to reach out to the Dean of the Students, Professor Deepa Sinha. However, she remained unavailable. This story will be updated if the Dean responds.

The crisis in SAU has been more than evident. It has been operating without a full-time president for nearly three years. Its survival has been under question due to poor relations between the SAARC countries. The governing body of SAU has not met in five years. Several administrative and academic posts are vacant and the funds for research have been cut down significantly. Professor Prabash Ranjan from Jindal Global Law arguing that the crisis in SAU is reflective of the crisis in SAARC, suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should improve the issues plaguing SAU and positively influence India’s diplomatic relations with the neighbouring countries.

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