A government-appointed panel to review a fellowship scheme for researchers who had not cleared the National Eligibility Test has been caught in a bind with the higher education sector facing a funds crunch.
The committee is undecided on whether it should suggest extending the fellowship to state universities or increasing the scholarship as neither the human resource development ministry nor the University Grants Commission (UGC) has given any assurance on funds.
Under the non-NET fellowship scheme, MPhil and PhD students get Rs 5,000 and Rs 8,000 a month, respectively. But it is only available to students of 40 central universities and 10 other top institutions.
Around 35,000 students, who have not qualified for Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) through the National Eligibility Test, get this non-NET fellowship now.
As for those who have qualified for the JRF through the NET, the amount is much higher. They start with a monthly stipend of Rs 25,000.
Ministry sources said the review committee, at an interaction with senior officials, wanted to know if the government was willing to support an extension of the scheme with adequate funds, but got no assurance.
The refusal to commit comes at a time the rate of increase in the allocation for higher education has been falling. While Rs 23,152 crore was allocated for the sector in 2014-15, the amount rose to Rs 26,855 in 2015-16 – in other words, a 16 per cent hike.
But the allocation this year is Rs 28,840, an increase of seven per cent over last year.
In the last two years, the government has started six new IITs, seven IIMs and three Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs), which means more money has had to be set aside for investing on campuses.
Ministry sources said the non-NET review committee had asked the government to make its funds position clear, so that it could come up with suggestions on selecting state universities where students could be considered for the fellowship.
The committee has also told the ministry that, at this point, it cannot make any suggestions either on increasing the fellowship amount.
The UGC, which spent Rs 99 crore on the non-NET scholarship last year, had in October scrapped the scheme for lack of funds. But it was directed by the ministry not to enforce that decision after students of Left-leaning associations protested against the move.
The ministry had then set up the non-NET review committee to suggest better selection guidelines, including economic and other criteria, and whether the scheme could be extended to state universities.
Sources said the committee had indicated to the ministry that it might not suggest any economic criterion to select students for the non-NET fellowship. It was pointed out that only 0.4 per cent of students pursuing higher education were into research, so introducing an economic criterion could discourage students further.
The committee, the ministry sources said, has also hinted that it might suggest a national-level exam to select students for the fellowship or a marks-based screening system.
News Courtesy: The Telegraph India (link)