The government is set to amend the guidelines for a scholarship scheme for tribal research students, linking selections to how they score in the National Eligibility Test that aspiring college teachers need to clear.
Sources in the tribal affairs ministry said the proposed guidelines – that might also cap the age of applicants at 33 – could be notified before this month ends.
At present, tribal candidates, irrespective of their age, can apply for the National Fellowship for the Scheduled Tribes (NFST) by indicating their proposed research project.
A panel of experts examines the proposed area of research and selects the candidates to be given the scholarship.
Some academics said the plan to amend the guidelines hinted at a gradual reduction of welfare measures for the most deserving among those who come from underprivileged backgrounds.
Professor G.G. Wankhede, dean, Social Protection Office at the Tata Institute Social Sciences in Mumbai, feared a gradual denial of entry to tribal students keen on research.
“This scholarship is availed of by students who want to carry on academic pursuit mostly on tribal issues, like their language, culture, society and practices. They don’t appear in the NET exam. If the scholarship is linked to NET, the number of beneficiaries will go down,” he said.
A source in the tribal affairs ministry, which funds the scholarship, however, said the proposed guidelines were aimed at improving the quality of research. “The guidelines are being changed to enhance quality of research and enhance employability. If they (the aspiring researchers) are selected through the NET exam, the intake quality will improve,” the source said.
A total of 750 students have been getting the scholarship every year since the NFST – implemented by higher education regulator UGC – was started in 2007-08 to support tribal students who wanted to do MPhil or PhD.
Similar scholarships, sponsored by the ministry of social justice, are given to Scheduled Caste students and those who are differently abled.
In June this year the UGC had advertised the scholarship for 2017-18 for Scheduled Caste students and the differently abled but didn’t do so for NFST admissions.
The decision not to advertise the fellowship for tribal students came after a committee, which looked at NET results of previous years, found that there were enough candidates on the NET merit list to fill the 750 NFST slots.
The top 3,000 NET scorers are now offered junior research fellowships (JRF) every year, with 49.5 per cent of the share reserved for other backward classes (27 per cent), Scheduled Castes (15 per cent) and Scheduled Tribes (7.5 per cent). While the age limit for general-category applicants is 28, it is 33 for the reserved category.
Sources said if the change in the NFST guidelines were implemented, the UGC would go down the NET merit list after exhausting the JRF list to select students for the tribal fellowship. The JRF age criterion may be followed too, they added.
Professor Wankhede, of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said this was another way of “withdrawing” from a welfare scheme.
Ganga Sahay Meena, who teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru University, questioned the logic behind targeting the NFST while continuing with the project assessment based selection criteria for fellowships for the other reserved categories.
“Is it because the tribals don’t have any say in the political system,” he wondered.
Meena said research should not be linked to employability. “Research is meant to take forward the process of knowledge creation,” he said.
“A person may or may not get a job after completing his research but society benefits from the research.”
News Courtesy: The Telegraph India (Link)