Published: 06th September 2022
Indian research scholars demand regular stipends and hikes, organise Twitter campaign
The scholars state that because a hike is not coming through, with continuing inflation, they are unable to dedicate themselves to their research
Research scholars from various institutions across India are troubled that they do not receive regular stipends, and more importantly, they want the scholarship amounts hiked. The scholars state that because a hike is not coming through, with continuing inflation, they are unable to dedicate themselves to their research. The All India Research Scholars Association (AIRSA) staged a Twitter campaign yesterday, September 5, regarding this issue.
Mandeep Singh, Vice-President of AIRSA and PhD scholar from NPL (National Physical Laboratory) said that a hike in scholarships was a basic necessity and should be provided every four years. “Last time in 2018, we held a protest regarding this. A hike was provided and the government had assured us that it would consider our proposal for increasing the stipend every four years,” he said. However, four years have passed, and this year, the scholars have come out with the request for a hike once more.
Mandeep informs that for the last three months, AIRSA has been sending letters in this regard to all the concerned authorities, including Professor Ajay Sood, the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA) to the Government of India, the Ministry of Higher Education, the DST (Department of Science and Technology) and the UGC (University Grants Commission). But they have received no response yet.
“If our requests are not met, we are planning to initiate more online campaigns on Twitter and video campaigns on YouTube. We will also try to submit more representations and personally meet the authorities to discuss the matter. We may also have to initiate institute-wise campaigns” he says.
The NPL scholar informs that having an offline protest is not feasible for them. “Scholars are facing problems all over India. It makes no sense in calling them to one place and staging a protest,” he says. He also states that the scholars are hard up as it is and asking them to travel will only increase their expenses. Additionally, they do not have the will or the time to protest. “We just want the government to listen to our problems and help us,” Mandeep says.
Powering PhD with passion alone?
“We undertook PhD because we want to dedicate ourselves to research. But we can only focus on research if we do not have to constantly worry about our financial situation,” says a research scholar from IIT Indore who wishes to remain anonymous. He mentions that scholars do not get their stipends for about 8-10 months at a stretch. Most of the scholars have families to take care of, and there are people from financially weak backgrounds as well, for whom the stipend is the only means of survival. “This becomes very problematic,” agrees a scholar from IIT Kharagpur, who also wishes to remain anonymous, but states that she hasn’t received her stipend since August 2021.
The scholars state that most of the time, they have to borrow money from others, and when they finally receive the stipends, it goes into paying back their debts. So, regularisation of the stipends is the need of the hour for them. The researchers also state that since inflation is on the rise, especially after COVID-19, the stipends should be increased. The scholars find it an extra burden that the semester fee keeps increasing, but the scholarship amount doesn’t. “The scholars cannot opt for jobs, because if they do, they lose the fellowship, as per the conditions,” Mandeep explains.
“The institutes want us to provide quality research, publish papers, attend workshops and attend national and international conferences. But with a limited and irregular stipend, how will we manage all this? And that too when some of us have families to maintain?” questions the IIT Kharagpur scholar. “If our personal lives are rolling well, so will our professional lives. But financial difficulties are affecting our personal lives, so the research is also affected,” adds the scholar from IIT Indore. They state that they do not have enough money even for buying books for their research.
The researchers explain that though they are offered a contingency amount of Rs 20,000 per annum to meet extra expenses, they claim that it comes with no guarantees. “If I apply for it now, there is no guarantee that I will get it even after three years,” a researcher asserts. She also states that government schemes like Prime Minister's Research Fellows (PMRF) are insufficient. “There are only 1,000 slots and so many research scholars,” she laments.
Highlighting a few fresh issues
AIRSA has additionally taken the problem of medical security for scholars up to the authorities. Mandeep says that at present, no medical allowance or security is provided to the scholars. On top of that, as per the regulations, they stand the risk of losing their fellowships if they fall victim to accidents in the research labs. “Researchers face financial scarcity as it is and no medical insurance or security worsens the problem. So we have raised this issue for the first time,” he claims.
He also discussed with EdexLive the condition of mental health of the research scholars in India. They are overworked; there are no specific holidays for them; they are constantly pressurised with deadlines and their work is also not properly acknowledged, as seniors mostly take the credit. This is why suicide cases at top institutions like IITs are on the rise, the Vice-President reasons.
“Scholars should get proper rest and leaves. Psychologists and HRs should be provided on campus to address these issues. The institutes need to treat scholars as employees as they are the ones who do most of the research work,” Mandeep suggests. He additionally states that more fellowships and job opportunities should be opened up by the government, as the number of people interested in research is increasing.