At IIT-M, Hike for Researchers Not a ‘Gift’ but a Disappointment
On 30 January, the Department of Science and Technology announced a revision in the fellowship for Junior Research Fellow (JRF) and Senior Research Fellow (SRF) to Rs 31,000 and Rs 35,000 respectively from Rs 25,000 and Rs 28,000. The MHRD minister called it as a “major gift to researchers” from the Narendra Modi government.
Research scholars however, have had a different reaction to the hike. The last fellowship revision was made in October 2014 after which there was massive hike in tuition fee. In Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) around the country, the fees has increased by 276 percent since 2014, and in IIT Delhi the fees has been doubled for postgraduate and research courses as well.
The current proposed hike in stipend, at 24 percent, is the lowest since 2006. Data collated from government reports show that there was a hike of 60% in 2006, followed by 50% in 2007, 33% in 2010 and 56% in 2014. Ironically, then, this ‘hike’ has been a decrement in percentage when compared with previous years.
Scholars across the country were demanding 80 percent hike in fellowship since April 2018. They have resorted to different forms of campaigning – like drafting letters to the ministry and science bureaucrats, starting signature campaigns, and organising protest marches, lab boycotts, hunger strike, etc.
Over 700 research scholars also faced arrest on 17 January while protesting in front of MHRD, New Delhi. These concerns echoed at the IIT Madras campus, and research scholars organised a protest to express their dissatisfaction on the same evening of the announcement. They gathered in the Himalaya lawns and categorically rejected the office memorandum by burning it. Scholars have decided to continue their protest until the original demands are met.
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Given that there was a hike after four years, the general sentiment in IIT Madras is that 24 percent is very less of a percentage hike. In this duration, there has been a 42.5% increase in academic fee and 32% in hostel fee – students themselves are witness. They also share the concern that the tuition fee will shoot up as the government is trying to privatise the institute through its various schemes and ‘Institute of Eminence’ tag in the name of financial autonomy.
Lakshmi, a third year PhD scholar, told me that low stipend would force people out of research.
“After paying a hefty sum of around Rs 76,000 per year as fees, the stipend we receive is not adequate for scholars to live a decent life. This will force many students, especially women, to choose better paying jobs over research as they would prefer to be economically independent after 5-6 years of college education. Lack of proper fellowships also discourages students from socially and economically backward communities from pursuing research.”
Scholars are shocked with the government, whose new slogan is ‘Jai Anusandhan’ to build a future channelled through technological and scientific development, but the hike to foster research is a meagre 24 percent. Students had in fact demanded a 80 percent hike. Their demands for annual revision of scholarship in accordance with inflation and hike in non-NET fellowship were also turned down.
“The hike in fellowship announced can only be seen as an election gimmick of central government. Moreover it has now become clear that the central government has no interest in solving the actual issues related with the research scholars of the country. Nothing is mentioned regarding the non-NET fellowship which has not been revised from more than a decade and the plight of fellow research scholars under the non-NET category is even worse than ours.”Ummen, a fourth year PhD scholar
(The author is a research scholar at IIT Madras. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)