UGC said that the delay was owing to a technical glitch in the transfer system and has been rectified
Debt is piling for 27-year-old Jatin Sharma, a research scholar from the School of Life Sciences, Central University of Rajasthan, as he has not received his fellowship for the past six months from the University Grants Commission (UGC).
In 2018, Sharma had secured a good rank in the national entrance test for admission to an institute under the Council of Science and Industrial Research. Having qualified for UGC’s Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) scheme, Sharma used the funds not only on his living expenses, but also helped his mortgaged family home.
However, with fellowships delayed by almost half a year, Sharma has been forced to borrow money from friends and private lenders at higher interest rates. The Covid-19 pandemic has further dented his family’s income from selling cutlery.
“I feel like the government has abandoned me at the time when I need the support the most. I urge them to clear all the pending dues so that I can focus on planning my experiments rather on how and when will I pay my bills,” said Sharma.
His plight is shared by thousands of research scholars in the country who have been waiting for their fellowships from UGC from three to 12 months.
Shahrukh Bhati, a researcher at the Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, claimed he has not received his Maulana Azad National Fellowship for minorities for the past 10 months.
“My pending fellowship amounts to Rs3.5 lakh. I am unable to continue my research work and have to manage the living expenses by borrowing money from elsewhere,” said Bhati.
UGC offers 13 types of scholarships and fellowships for postgraduate and research students around the country in various fields of education. These include fellowships for women, minorities and economically-weaker sections, among others. The funds are transferred into the bank accounts of beneficiaries through direct benefit transfer.
However, various fellowships offered to support research scholars by UGC have been delayed by three months to a year, claimed researchers.
Bhushan Patwardhan, vice-chairman of UGC, said that the delay was owing to a technical glitch in the transfer system.
“There was a glitch at the bank’s end, which has been identified and rectified. The payment for the next cycle will continue as normal,” Patwardhan added.
Researchers said apart from the financial hardships, the delay in receiving the grant is also affecting their mental health. In a survey of around 1,000 scholars conducted by the Joint Research Council of India – an organisation formed by research scholars – 87% of the respondents said they had taken financial loans to pay for expenses and 97% said the delay had affected all aspects of their lives, including mental health.
JRCI had earlier written to the central government, highlighting the delays and seeking immediate disbursal of funds, following which some beneficiaries received the fellowships in November.
“Some JRF holders got their fellowship for a few months credited to their accounts. This was not the full pending fellowship amount but something to start off with. However, now other fellowships are being held,” said Mohammed Faizan, a scholar from Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.
“With institutes closed during the lockdown, there is a misunderstanding that we don’t need the funds. What the government needs to understand is that some of us are first generation learners supporting families with our fellowships. With frequent delays in the disbursal of fellowships, there is very little incentive for research work,” said a JRF scholar from Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Patwardhan, however, contested this claim: “India is among the very few countries providing financial support to researchers on such a large scale. We have a host of programmes for various sections of students and courses they are pursuing,” he said.
According to data from the annual reports of UGC, the apex body governing all higher education institutes in the country spends around Rs1,100 crore annually on fellowships and scholarships. This accounts for around 9% of its total expenses.
In 2018-19, UGC spent Rs1,100 crore or 9.56% of its annual revenue on scholarships and fellowships. In 2017-18, the governing body spent Rs1,106.55 crore (8.89%) on scholarships and fellowships.
UGC’s fellowships and scholarships
•Single girl child
•Rank holders at undergraduate levels
•Students pursuing research in science, medicine and technology
•Students belonging to SC/ ST categories
•Junior research fellowship for various streams
•Students from minority communities
Respected Source – HT