EVEN AS the Union HRD ministry overturned the decision of scraping the non-National Eligibility Test (NET) fellowship and is reviewing it, the director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences Friday said it had not received reimbursements for stipend given to 303 research students. He said the institute had been paying it through its deficit budget. The institute has decided to stop the fellowship from this year, until they receive the reimbursement for the next academic year.
While the institute is paying the stipend to the existing students, it has issued a circular to all students who have applied for the fellowship this year, stating it would not be able to provide the stipend. According to TISS director Dr S Parasuraman, the institute has at least 303 students under this fellowship programme and they have not received reimbursement for the past two financial years.
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The students now fear this will lead to many candidates not applying for non-NET fellowships at central institutes and universities like TISS, or universities not giving admissions for the fear of paying from their pockets.
The matter came to light in October last year.
At its 510th meeting held on October 7, 2015, the UGC had decided to discontinue the non-NET fellowship programme. The commission made the minutes of the meeting public on its website almost two weeks later. This angered students’ groups across the country, and they launched protests, arguing the move would discourage poor students from pursuing research.
Following this, the Prime Minister’s Office sought a report on the matter and the MHRD stepped in on October 23, 2015.
The government had asked the UGC to assure agitating students that the decision would be referred to an expert panel. On October 25, 2015, the HRD minister announced on Twitter that the non-NET fellowship would not be scrapped, and that the MHRD would form a panel to bring students of state universities within its ambit. The committee was expected to submit its report in December last year.
In order to encourage more students to opt for research, the Government of India had created a small stipend to those research scholars until they clear NET to receive Junior Research Fellowship (JRF). This stipend was called non-NET scholarship/fellowship.
Parasuraman said, “TISS has a strong research programme. Of the students who get admission to an integrated M-Phil, PhD programme, a few may have cleared National Eligibility Test and come with full scholarship, others are offered non-NET scholarship until they clear NET and secure JRF from any of the various sources available. The non-NET fellowship amount is Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 per month for M-Phil and PhD scholars, respectively.”
He added, “The government has set up a committee to review the non-NET scholarship programme. In the meantime, TISS has not been receiving the reimbursements from the UGC for two financial years — 2014-15 and 2015-16 (though we were reimbursed for earlier years). However, we continue to pay this scholarship for students through our deficit budget. We have reached a stage that it will not be possible to continue with the scholarship if the UGC does not provide allocation for 2016-17 and reimburse pending dues.”
Parasuraman said the management committee of the institute discussed the issue and decided to find ways to continue supporting scholars already on non-NET scholarship, until they secured JRF. “However, to scholars securing admission to the integrated MPhil-PhD programme without JRF, non-NET scholarship will not be given henceforth. We have written to all candidates who have qualified for the second stage of admission to the research programme that the institute will not provide non-NET scholarship if they have not cleared JRF,” he added.
Meanwhile, the minutes of the UGC meeting of October 7, 2015 did not give an official reason for the decision. According to officials, the commission justified the decision on the ground that there was little transparency in the scheme. The regulatory body claims to have spent Rs 99.16 crore towards this fellowship programme in 2014-15, and had “no mechanism to ensure that the amount went to meritorious and deserving students”. Officials in the UGC, who did not wish to be named, also attribute the issue to funds crunch.
UGC Chairman Professor Ved Prakash was not available for comment.