Published: 08th April 2021
Does the South Asian Univerisity owe first-year PhD students Rs 1.5 lakh in stipends?
The students who just joined the course last year have not even seen the campus and argued that there is enough space for 50-odd students in the PhD first-year batch
The first-year Masters and PhD students of the South Asian University (SAU), Delhi have boycotted classes from March 28, 2021, and have vowed to not join back until the varsity disburses their fellowships and freeships along with the arrears. Their list of demands does not end here — they also want the university to issue bonafide certificates for non-Indian students so that they can get their visas and also look into phased return of students to the campus.
The PhD students whom we spoke to, said that they joined the university in October 2020 and were promised before admission that they would be paid a stipend of Rs 25,000 per month. But the classes started online this time and the university, in the email confirming admission, had said that all PhD students would be "exempt from paying tuition fees and are entitled to a living allowance of Rs 25,000 if they are not getting any other fellowship". But the university, later said that they need physical verification before they can disburse the funds. "Scholarship will be provided to the students admitted to the 2020 batch from the date of start of the semester or the date of registration, whichever is later but disbursal only after physical verification," read a one-sentence notice from the office of the Dean of Students on February 12, 2021.
A statement from the first-year PhD students, who are garnering more support from students every day, said that not only did the university back-track on the promise to pay a fellowship but have also been trying to prevent students from coming to the campus, "It is uncertain whether such verification is possible in these pandemic times. Also, the students were shocked to know that the university administration is emailing the Indian Embassies in the SAARC Countries requesting them not to provide visas to the first-year students."
The Indian students too have not been allowed in. The students who just joined the course last year say that they have not even seen the campus and argued that there is enough space for 50-odd students in the PhD first-year batch. "There are entire floors of the hostels which hardly have anyone staying. The university has allowed students from other years to go home and back to the campus but we have not been allowed in because we might spread COVID. Why are the first-year students the only ones who are likely to be superspreaders?" asked a student on the condition of anonymity. "I have not received my stipend since October. The first few months we thought these are extraordinary times and it might take time. Then the university made it clear that they will not release funds without physical verification of the documents but they would also not let us inside the premises. Why can't the verification be done online if every other thing is happening online?" asked the student. "The university now owes each of us more than Rs 1.5 lakh," they added. The postgraduate students who were supposed to get a freeship have not been receiving it as well. This, the students say, will cause a lot of the students to drop out because of financial difficulties.
The South Asian University Researchers Association (SAURA) has also extended its support to PhD students. "There is absolutely no recognition of the fact that specifically when it comes to freeships for Master’s students and financial support for PhD students, they completely depend on this support. They cannot continue in their programs without this financial support. We are aware that the University knows this very clearly," a statement from the forum read.
The administration, when contacted, refused to comment on the issue. Their statement will be added to the story if and when they send it.