Maharashtra: New regulation requiring marginalised students to score 75% in UG/PG to avail overseas scholarship questioned

A new government regulation on the Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj Scholarship Scheme for marginalised students in Maharashtra has come under scrutiny with the revised minimum criteria. Would this dissolve the purpose of the scholarship?
75% cutoff for scholarship application questioned
75% cutoff for scholarship application questioned(Source: EdexLive Desk)

The overseas scholarships allocated for the Scheduled Caste (SC), Other Backward Class (OBC), and Scheduled Tribe (ST) students by the Government of Maharashtra are currently under scrutiny. This is due to the government setting the minimum qualifying percentage for the scholarships at 75%, in contrast to the central and other state governments, which have set the cut-off at 55% to 60%

Government regulation sets a minimum cut-off at 75%
The Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj Scholarship Scheme for students provides financial assistance to SC and Neo-Buddhist boys and girls to pursue masters' and research courses (PhD) abroad. As per a government regulation (GR) released this year, 2024, "A student admitted to a Master's degree course abroad must have passed the degree examination with at least 75% marks from a recognised university in India." This applies to PhD students as well.

According to Raju Kendre (@RajuKendree on X), a social entrepreneur who works at the grassroots level for the marginalised, the contention with the decree is its exclusionary nature. Speaking to EdexLive he further adds, "If someone is already admitted to top-tier universities, criteria like this can gatekeep opportunities for students from marginalised communities. This reflects the elite-centric, meritocratic approach of the Indian education system."

Marks are important?
"How can the government decide merit based on marks when the grading system is different in different colleges in Maharashtra," said Deepak Chatap, an advocate with the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court. He further calls this decision arbitrary and unreasonable, especially as it places the condition of merit on a student's dream.

As per Deepak, foreign universities already have a designated criterion for merit, where they expect the student to score a minimum of 60 per cent marks. He questions if these students already secure admissions to these universities, then why another criterion, similar in nature, is additionally imposed by the government?

Deepak is a former Chevening scholar and a SOAS London alumni. He says that the scholarship made it viable for him to earn his degree without any hurdles as scholarships such as Erasmus Mundus, Chevening, and Commonwealth allot a full scholarship, where they examine students on the basis of their work experience, leadership and other networking abilities, career plans and so on.

Dismissing the grounds of exam scores being the ultimate scale to judge a student's ability, he adds that the state and central governments must look into the student's portfolio and other determining factors such as their ambition, aspirations, and contribution to their field of interest, rather than judging them based on marks.

"This is an act of prejudice and discrimination when a student especially from a marginalised community has to prove his merit via marks," emphasises Deepak.

Policy to further corner the marginalised?
Raju Kendre is the founder of Eklavya India Foundation which empowers students from such communities by mentoring them to gain admission to prestigious colleges and universities in India and abroad. 

On the increase in cut-offs, he says that it has inadvertently affected the scholars. "Under our Eklavya Global Scholars Program, a year-long mentorship programme, more than 30 students have already received offers from many top global universities featuring in the top 100 of QS World University Rankings. But due to this 75% policy, they are now stressed," Kendre explains about how the announcement affected Eklavya scholars.

Critiquing the absurdities of education policies in India, Kendre adds that such policies are ultimately planned and implemented in a way that does not focus on serving the marginalised. Kendre further calls these students assets who can serve as beacons for their community and increase their representation. However, he says that they are merely rendered as meagre subjects for the government's myriad schemes designed for their "empowerment".

Education, a play-thing for the government?
"Don't treat these students just as financial aid beneficiaries; they are tomorrow's leaders. Treat them as global scholars, like those supported by platforms such as Rhodes, Fulbright, Chevening, DAAD, and Commonwealth. These scholars are the future assets of our nation. Ultimately, we should invest in this human resource," says Kendre, a former recipient of the prestigious Chevening scholarship, which allowed him to pursue his Master's in Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

These scholarships are granted annually to 75 SC, 40 ST ,75 OBC students, and are quite crucial for bridging the lack of representation of these communities in spaces such as law, media, policy, bureaucracy, development, art and culture, asserts Kendre.

On the importance of these scholarships for a reserved category student, he says that students who cannot afford such an education vie for these scholarships, as it grants them an exposure that is otherwise amiss from the Indian academia, due to a prevalent prejudice against reserved category students.

"An abroad education gives them the chance to break free from systemic oppression," stated Kendre.

Not the end of the problem
Recipients of the National Overseas Scholarship (NOS) also have to face several adversities despite receiving these scholarships. Kendre, whose organisation mentors several individuals every year, says that students find themselves in a quagmire when they struggle to meet basic daily needs, and often have to do part-time jobs, and cut back on food, networking and so on, to make ends meet.

He further states that these scholarships are rarely revised by the government in accordance with the rate of inflation every year, whereas, scholarships provided abroad function as per the market regulations. "Scholarships such as Felix, Chevening, and Commonwealth pay approximately £19,000 for living costs (revised for inflation every year), but the NOS for SC/ST students provides less than £10,000."

He also claims that instead of focusing on increasing the number of students and the amount of scholarships, the central and state governments are further limiting them.

Netizens did not welcome the move
Professor Ravikant Kisana aka Buffalo Intellectual (@ProfRavikantK), an academician and a vocal advocator for the rights of the marginalised, questions the logic behind this via a post on social media platform X. Bringing forth the issue of lingering discriminatory stances shown towards marginalised students in academic spaces, he says that these students suffer great disadvantage as casteist teachers regularly control marks to punish students and this would give them more power to assert their control over these students.

Given that these marginalised students suffer from a lack of resources, Ravikant Kisana exclaims, via his tweet, that first-generation SC/ST/OBC learners from state boards and zilla parishad schools, cannot complete education due to economic and social hindrances, and now, the new 75% rule is further crippling their wings when it comes to choosing to pursue academics abroad.

The response was made in reply to a user's comment named Rahul Patil (@iRahul23), who says that this may crush students' dreams as even with offers from top universities, many will not be able to afford the education without sufficient scholarships. He reiterates Prof Kisana's claim that in a casteist academic environment, scoring more than 60% is a painstaking task.

Will this be an end to the dreams and aspirations of many? What do you think of this imposition, let us know in the comment box below.

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