Three days after top officials of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) convened a meeting with research scholars to discuss the latter’s demand for a hike in their fellowship stipends, the student community largely feels that the final decision on the issue is taking “too long.” Research scholars across India have been seeking a hike in their stipends.
On October 3, over 200 students from the Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER) and CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory (NCL) had taken out a silent protest march as part of a nation-wide effort to seek a hike and press for other demands. Another group of students from different parts of the country had organised a similar protest in New Delhi in the last week of October.
Research scholars either enroll as Junior Research Fellows (JRFs), Senior Research Fellows (SRFs) or pursue doctoral studies at institutes run by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), DST and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Revised in 2014, the monthly stipend amount for JRFs and SRFs is Rs 25,000 and Rs 28,000 respectively. The student community has urged these institutes to hike their stipend amount. Students spend a minimum of four years, extendable up to six years, to complete their doctoral studies at these institutes. The stipends are paid only for up to four to five years and for any period thereafter, students have to sustain themselves.
With many research students now in the final year of their doctoral studies at the national-level research institutions, a majority of students worry that any further delay in making a decision about the hike will be pointless for them. “Many of us are in the final year of our doctoral studies and a decision on the fellowship stipend should have been made by now. What we know is that DST officials have been deliberating on this matter since July this year, but even during the latest meeting on November 6, no final decision was made.
The government is taking too long,” said a city-based research scholar, who requested anonymity. The students said yet another issue they faced was the lack of support provided by individual institutes, especially in handling student matters.
“There is a lot of gap between the students, faculty and the institute administration. Whenever we voice our problems, we feel that it falls on deaf ears and little effort is made towards finding timely solutions. We strongly feel that there must be an independent committee or a body to look into the matters of research fellows,” said another research scholar.
After the protest staged by students on October 3, IISER sent a letter to MHRD sympathising with the students and seeking the ministry’s intervention.