The latest statement by Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani is in response to the protest by students demanding the authorities to restore the fellowships.
In a reprieve for thousands of research scholars, the human resource development (HRD) ministry on Sunday took back a four-day-old decision and decided to continue giving non-NET (national eligibility test) fellowships to M.Phil and PhD students for the time being.
It set up a committee that will review all research fellowships and submit its report by the year-end — and until that time, all fellowships for M.Phil and PhD students will continue, the ministry announced.
As a result, some 35,000 students pursuing M.Phil and PhD in top universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University will continue to get their monthly stipends without having to pass NET, a qualifying exam for lecturership in India.
Non-NET MPhil students get Rs. 5000 per month and non-Net PhD students get around Rs. 8000 per month, according to the HRD ministry.
Earlier this month, university regulator University Grants Commission (UGC) decided to discontinue non-NET fellowships, leading to protests by thousands of students and representatives of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
For over two decades, the NET, a competitive examination conducted twice a year by the UGC has been the basis for government research fellowships, currently numbering nearly 9,000, that enable students to pursue M.Phil and Ph.D programmes.
The Non-NET Fellowship Scheme was introduced by the UGC in 2006. It is currently limited only to 50 institutions including central Universities and those with potential for excellence. Nearly 35,000 students are at present on these fellowships, a ministry statement said.
In December 2014, the HRD ministry enhanced the support provided to research fellowships based on the NET. While Junior Research Fellows were receiving Rs. 25,000/- per month and 30% House Rent Allowance (HRA) as well as a contingency grant for each year for the first two years, Senior Research Fellows are receiving Rs. 28,000/- per month, 30% HRA and a contingency grant for three years.
“The government has decided to establish a review committee to go into the issues related to the research fellowships provided by the UGC, covering both NET and Non-NET fellowships. The review committee will submit its report to the ministry within December 2015,” the ministry statement said.
The committee will explore the feasibility of enhancing the number of NET fellowships, which are merit-based, help in establishing a transparent system of transfer of fellowship amounts each month to Non-NET fellows, which at present is being done on a reimbursement basis, “without the Direct Benefit Transfer mandated by the Government”, and bringing the benefits and opportunities of the Non-NET fellowship scheme to a larger number of universities, including state universities.
It will also consider economic and other criteria for eligibility for non-NET fellowships, and recommend guidelines for the selection, coverage, award, and administration of non-NET fellowships.
“Irrespective of the recommendations of the review committee, all existing and continuing fellowships, NET as well as Non-NET would be continued; there will be no change retrospectively,” the ministry said.