Research scholars who come from poor families and marginalized communities are among the most vulnerable due to the lockdown imposed to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
With the spread of this deadly virus or COVID-19 pandemic, almost all the academic institutions are affected and majorly the Research scholars. The delay in the disbursement of fellowships from the University Grants Commission (UGC) and their respective universities has affected many of them.
And even among them, those belonging to the marginalized communities are facing extreme and severe situations as their families have lost every source of income and they have very little or let say nothing in the name of financial support from their families.
The president of the JNU Student Union, Aishe Ghosh, said that over 50% of students depended on non-NET fellowships and it had been around 10 months that they hadn’t received any assistance. Now with the pandemic lockdown has them brought their situation down to worse.
Many students are enrolled in universities like the University of Hyderabad (UoH), Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), English and Foreign Languages Universities (EFLU) and Osmania University. They are unable to get a non-national Eligibility Test (NET), fellowships.
Several scholarships are offered by the University Grants Commission (UGC) like:-
⦁ the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF),
⦁ JRF through Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),
⦁ the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship (RGNF) Scheme for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes students,
⦁ the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) for minority students
These scholarships are offered to support and assist higher education research and these fellowships award around Rs. 25000 to the scholars.
Those students who do not receive funding from these schemes are given either given the University’s BBL (BBL (Boarding-Boarding cum Lodging) or Non-NET fellowship.
The Non-NET fellowship is worth Rs 5,000 for MPhil and Rs 8,000 for Ph.D.
Several other students from English and Foreign Languages University who requested to be kept anonymous informed that a few of them had received fellowships for the month of March, while some got only half the fellowship.
Non-up-gradation of Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) to Senior Research Fellowship (SRF) is also among reasons for several scholars who are also not receiving their fellowships.
A fourth-year Ph.D. scholar shared that fellowships were stopped since September, seeking submission of the three-member committee report to UGC.
The entire up-gradation process requires preparation of reports and a lot of paperwork along with the presence of external experts, he added, but many of them are unable to do that because of the unanticipated COVID-19 pandemic.
As per him, several scholars even found their reports missing even after due submission and that too without any explanation
He said, “UGC should relax conditions for up-gradation for a while and disburse the pending fellowships.”
“This has pushed us into a situation of acute financial deficiency and mental disturbance. We are working on research without fellowship for months now, exposing us to bankruptcy and downgrading our morale. We can hardly afford the living essentials and rent of houses without fellowship in this COVID-19 lockdown,” said a group of research fellows from different universities in a letter to the Chairman of UGC recently.