Researchers miffed about UGC extending thesis deadlines but not agreeing to pay them for it

On December 3, the UGC had granted a six-month extension to MPhil, PhD students for thesis submission, without extending their fellowships
Image for representational purpose  (Pic: PTI)
Image for representational purpose (Pic: PTI)

Initially, it seemed like quite a relief for most of the researchers, when the University Grants Commission extended the deadline for their thesis submission by six months. The lockdown had halted research, like most activities, and they have been seeking an extension for a while now. However, researchers tell us that their happiness was short-lived when they found out that their fellowship tenure was not going to be extended beyond five years — which essentially means that they won't be getting paid for the extension.  

Vishnu Prasad, a PhD scholar from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that the UGC notification seemed like eyewash. Someone who claims to not have received his fellowship stipend since the beginning of the year, Vishnu says that an extension of the deadline without an extension of fellowship is quite meaningless. "For a lot of scholars to finish their thesis, they may require lab work, research and field visits. All of it requires money. How does a researcher complete his thesis without enough funding?" he asks. The UGC has clarified that all researchers will receive stipends for the period of the lockdown in good time.

During the lockdown, there has been an increase in the number of scholars who came forward to say that they haven't been receiving their fellowship stipends for a while. In October, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had written to the Finance Ministry, asking it to not defer the scholarships and fellowships of students any further. A few weeks later, the Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank had asked the UGC to clear all the pending scholarship dues in a week. However, Vishnu says that even after the deadline, he is yet to get his stipend. "The researchers' pockets have been empty the entire year and now the government refuses to extend their fellowship tenure. This will seriously affect the quality of research," he says. "I am now waiting for the money to reach me so that I can go back to the university," he adds.

Vinod Kumar, another PhD student from JNU's School of International Studies is of the same opinion. "This extension will mean nothing to researchers who are struggling with insufficient funding. How do they fund their projects without stipends?" he asks.

Earlier this year, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research too had made a similar decision. While it had extended the students' deadline for submissions, their fellowship tenures remained the same. "CSIR Fellowship Extension with the stipend is a policy decision with financial involvement. It is being considered but no decision yet. Extension of time has already been granted," read its statement. 

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