Why Dalit MPhil, PhD students will now have to clear NET to get fellowships​

The new regulation mandates the clearance of NET, unlike the previous policy that only required students to have a post-graduation degree
Image for representational purpose (pic:newindianexpress.com)
Image for representational purpose (pic:newindianexpress.com)

R Vinod Kumar is a first year PhD Scholar at the University of Hyderabad. Part of the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, this 27-year-old Dalit scholar is from Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh. A few days ago, while browsing the internet, a certain news item caught his attention. It said that according to the revision in the National Fellowship for Scheduled Caste Students, a student belonging to the SC/ST category must mandatorily clear the UGC's National Eligibility Test (NET) in order to avail the special research fellowship.

This came as a shocker for Vinod and many other Dalit students who are pursuing their MPhils and PhDs in various universities - without having cleared NET. "The government just wants to stop Dalit students from studying further. If students from marginalised communities get a proper stipend, they'll be stabilised economically. This is why the government doesn't want to give any fellowship to Dalits," says Vinod. "I don't understand the motive behind these regulations, given that there is no good quality education provided." 

If students from marginalised communities get a proper stipend, they'll be stabilised economically. This is why the government doesn't want to give any fellowship to Dalits

R Vinod Kumar, Research scholar, UoH

According to the twelfth Five-Year-Plan (2012-2017), the SC/ST research fellows were provided stipends under the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship for SC/ST Students. Any unemployed SC/ST Candidate who has passed the Post Graduate examination was eligible to avail this fellowship. There was no dictum that NET needed to be cleared. 

This year, the scheme wasn't renewed and it was replaced by the Central Sector Scheme - National Fellowship for Providing Fellowship to Scheduled Caste Students to Pursue MPhil and PhD. It states that for a student to be eligible for the fellowship, they should mandatorily clear the UGC NET. However, it doesn't specify if the stipend for scholars who were enrolled in the previous year will be discontinued.

Vinod has attempted NET four times previously and was unsuccessful in clearing it. He couldn't afford proper coaching and did not have much time in hand, considering he was busy submitting his MPhil thesis. For someone who doesn't belong to an economically sound family, he says that he wouldn't have thought of pursuing research if there was no stipend. "My parents are daily wage labourers. I'm the only person from my village and the neighbouring five villages who has done any higher studies. A PhD was beyond anyone's imagination. My parents aren't able to support me financially. They're struggling to eat a proper meal," he says. 

He adds that the government wants the Dalits to go back to the dark ages. "This government wants to keep students away from education. If you look at all universities, the Dalit students are the ones who are raising the voice and the government doesn't want that," he adds.  

Is this a repercussion of the #HikeResearchFellowship ?

Nikhil Gupta, National Representatives Research Scholars of India wonders if this movement is a repercussion of the ongoing #HikeResearchFellowship movement. "Previously when the researchers took to streets, the government increased the stipend and at the same time slashed the number of seats. This time, they've promised a hike and taking this decision simultaneously," he says. "What is the use of the new scheme if someone has already qualified through NET?" he questions.

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