UoH VC increases Non-NET Fellowship amount, announces perks for researchers. Wins students' hearts!

This move by Prof BJ Rao, who took over as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad in 2021, has garnered praise from students   
Read and rejoice | (Pic: Edexlive)
Read and rejoice | (Pic: Edexlive)

As the demand for an increase in Non-NET Fellowships abounds across universities in India, the University of Hyderabad (UoH) has taken a major decision to grant this demand. This move, supported by Professor BJ Rao, Vice-Chancellor of the university, has won the praise of students. The declaration has brought respite for the students, who have been campaigning for a year and a half.

Here’s how the protests took shape. The students had submitted a written note enumerating their demands to Professor Appa Rao, who was the former Vice-Chancellor of the university, on October 4, 2021. After they were met with no response, the students had called for a boycott on the university campus and another note highlighting their demands had been sent to Prof Appa Rao. However, this note also did not initiate any response from the then Vice-Chancellor. Kiran Kumar, Founder and now Co-ordinator of Youth for Inclusive and Sustainable Society (YISS), UoH, who is also a research scholar at the university, says that Prof Appa Rao had never met the students readily or discussed matters with them.

“There had been no opportunities to raise our democratic rights,” he said. “A series of representations with respect to our demands were sent to him, along with pictures of various protests. But he always maintained an anti-students stand. He did not have the will to listen to students,” he added. “The university received an amount of Rs 1,000 crore under the Institution of Eminence (IoE) tag. However, the scholars were only given a Fellowship of Rs 8,000, which was highly insufficient. The mess and academic fees totalled up to Rs 3,500. It was difficult to manage the expenses with this little money, especially for Science students who have to purchase lab equipment and Social Science students who have to go on field trips,” Kiran explained further.

Earlier, there had been a notice that Non-NET Fellowships would be stopped in the Indian universities, following which there were protests. Kiran states that the first protest regarding the Fellowship amount had taken place on March 26, 2021, at the UoH's Academic Council. The issue was taken up to Prof Appa Rao, the then-VC, by various student bodies, but no move was made by him. On October 4, 2021 another protest had been staged by the students. And by this time Prof BJ Rao had been appointed as the new VC. 

Prof BJ Rao, after assuming his office recently, has not only heard the students but also understood the problem, the students say. In the circular issued on May 4, the varsity's Institution of Eminence (IoE) Directorate said that registered, full-time non-NET scholars will be awarded a Fellowship of Rs 20,000 per month if they publish one research paper in the University Grants Commission's Consortium for Academic and Research Ethics (UGC CARE) list or in peer-reviewed journals. Similarly, scholars with two such publications will get a Fellowship of Rs 25,000 per month. These scholarships will be eligible until the entire duration of the course, or until the availability of their IoE grant, whichever's earlier, added the circular.

To avail of this hike in Fellowship, students who are eligible will have to apply through the IoE Directorate on its website. “This immense and vital step put forward will be considered as a futuristic beholder of success for non-NET Fellowship holders and the university as a whole,” said Mousmi Kirtania, President of YISS.

“It was unfair actually. The scholars with JRF (Junior Research Fellowship) get a stipend of Rs 35,000 to Rs 40,000. But every student is not fortunate enough to qualify for JRF. The Non-NET Fellowships, thus, had to be increased. And we had been placing this demand from time to time,” said Kiran. “A decision has also been taken that selected scholars will receive Rs 1,00,000 to attend international conferences and seminars. Earlier, this privilege was given only to some faculty members. The current decision will increase the university’s research output and improve its rankings, which had slid down from the 4th to the 11th spot between 2018 and 2021. So, it is a win-win situation,” he stated.

However, the students say that this move will benefit only meritorious students. “There are students from marginalised and rural backgrounds who are unable to write or speak good English. So, to help them cope and get on par with the other students to access the Fellowship benefits, we have asked the university to arrange special classes and provide academic support for such students. The VC has shown a positive response to this concern of ours too,” Kiran added.

He also said that the decision to increase the Fellowship amount was taken a few months after the issue was taken to Prof BJ Rao and as the IoE Committee visited the university. The students seem very much content with the new VC, who, they state, always has a warm attitude towards them. Kiran stated, “He readily attends all the events and functions organised by the students and participates in everything keeping aside his central ideologies,” something which the students allege the former VC did not do.

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