Published: 15th March 2021
NIT Jalandhar PhD applicants send legal notice to institute for scrapping teaching stipend due to alleged 'fund crunch'
It is pertinent to mention that it was nowhere mentioned in the advertisement that Teaching Assistantship-cum-Scholarships of the students, once admitted may be cancelled, read the letter
Thirteen applicants who had been admitted to a Full Time PhD programme with Teaching Assistantship-cum-Scholarships at the Dr B R Ambedkar National Institute of Technology Jalandhar, have sent a legal notice to the institution. Their complaint is that the NIT Jalandhar had made arbitrary changes to the admission criteria which has led to their admission being cancelled. The applicants have given the institute a week to let them back in or they would move the court.
In the first week of August 2020, NIT Jalandhar had released an advertisement regarding PhD admission for Full Time and Part Time candidates. "As per the advertisement,109 seats were available for PhD. An Application Fee of Rs 1000 (Rs 500 for SC/ST/PWD candidates) was required to be paid online. The advertisement mentioned about Teaching Assistantship-cum-Scholarships for the Full Time PhD programme. It is pertinent to mention that it was nowhere mentioned in the advertisement that Teaching Assistantship-cum-Scholarships of the students, once admitted, may be cancelled," read the letter.
The students funded by the institute had received another notice earlier this year where they were asked to give the undertaking to waive off the stipend. But the candidates refused to agree. "We had asked them to give an undertaking since there was a fund crunch. But when they did not agree we decided to go ahead with it in January," Dean of Academics, Dr Arunagshu Mukhopadhyay had told Edex. "Now the situation is different. The stipend is given for teaching assistantship, which majorly includes lab work, and in times like these, it seems improbable. Without the teaching assistantship, the stipend is not justified. Whoever can manage (the expenses) themselves have registered," he added, confirming that those scholars who have been sponsored by external bodies like DST or DRDO have registered.
In the last week of August 2020, the institute released a revised schedule where they changed the entrance examination mode from offline to online mode and announced the date of examination — September 7, 2020. "After a few weeks of the entrance examination being held, on September 28, NIT Jalandhar released the result by informing selected candidates individually through e-mails with a provisional selection letter and an undertaking that the institute is offering admission to the PhD programme without any institute scholarship or stipend during the entire duration of the PhD degree. Out of 109 available seats for PhD, 89 seats got filled," the letter further read.
On October 3, the institute released a fresh notification mentioning admission will be considered in January-February 2021 and said that there was no need to submit the undertaking at that point. Further, in a notice dated December 30, 2020, the institute had asked PhD scholars who had got Institute Fellowship and were provisionally admitted for this term to look for other universities as they would not be able to admit them. The reason? To keep them safe from COVID-19.
The students said that the institute has left them hanging. "I have quit my job and was preparing for my PhD. I have a family to support. I cannot go ahead with my PhD without a stipend. There is no time to apply anywhere else either. it would be difficult to even get a job in the midst of a pandemic of this scale. I have to probably give up my dream and start a business," said an aspirant who was provisionally admitted for PhD in Computer Science. "I do not understand how an NIT can not have funds. If they let me do my PhD it would have added to the institute's body of work and helped us as a country in whatever way," he added.
One of the selected candidates filed an RTI application with the Ministry of Education seeking information regarding the delay in commencement of PhD classes with institute fellowship and to know whether funds have not been given by the Ministry of Education to NIT Jalandhar. "In their reply, the ministry informed that grants released to all NITs are based on the consolidated demands raised by each NIT subject to fulfilment of conditions contained in Gross Ratings Points. The response of two other RTI applications has also been evasive and misleading. Apparently, there is no justification for not granting admission to Full Time PhD students at NIT Jalandhar. The Ministry of Education has not asked NIT Jalandhar not to admit Full Time PhD students. It is also not true that the Ministry of Education has stopped providing funding for scholarship to Full Time PhD students," said the students in their representation.
Director Dr Lalit Kumar Awasthi had denied any instance of a fund crunch in recent times when we spoke to him in January and said that they can only take a decision when the government gives them the go-ahead. "The students have been waiting for a long time. We cannot yet ask them to come to the campus either. Research has to be done for them to be paid. How can they do research without joining the institute?" he asked.
Vikrant Singh, President of the Joint Research Council of India, a students' body in support of the students, said, "It is to be noted that these students were denied chance of admission even after clearing the due process on the basis of made up ground of COVID-19 extremity, and Institute being unable to sustain fellowships of these meritorious students. COVID-19 was an unwarranted calamity, and struck hard on every enterprise and individual equally, but the students are the biggest victim of them all. This is indeed shameful for an academic institution to step back from its duties when it is an obligation to admit passed students irrespective of the calamity or not."
The students said that if they do not get a favourable decision within a week's time to allow them to continue their PhD programme, "we will be constrained to seek judicial remedy and for that the addressees of this representation will be solely responsible."