An announcement by India’s University Grants Commission (UGC) to discontinue the non-National Eligibility Test fellowship for M.Phil/Ph.Ds has spurred mass protests in Delhi and elsewhere. India’s student community responded to the news with ‘Occupy UGC’ which took place outside UGC’s offices.
The UGC back down on its plan a few days later.
The University Grants Commission said they proposed the discontinuance of the fellowship in view of misuse and non-transparency incidents in the grant’s awarding to qualified students. The mass protest in Delhi and other major cities forced UGC to withdraw its plan to scrap the fellowship.
The fellowship offers financial aid to researchers that did not pass the academic exam for the Junior and Senior Research Fellowships, The Times Higher Education explains. If the scholarship had been abolished, M.Phil and Ph.D students would no longer receive financial aid of Rs 5,000 and Rs 8,000, respectively.
The protesting students opposed the abolition of the fellowship for two main reasons: first, they contend that it would negatively impact students from poorer backgrounds who rely on the fellowship to do their job. These disadvantaged students would more likely have to work part-time to cover expenses, a reality that could negatively affect their performance.
Second, they believe the move by the UGC aims at making India’s Higher Education comply with the World Trade Organisation – General Agreement on Trade in Services (WTO-GATS). In December 2015, the Indian government is expected to sign a WTO agreement during the 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi that will put into effect the fair, equal treatment of national and foreign organizations in terms of qualifications, licenses, services, and subsidies, Aranya Shankar for The Indian Express says.
Students from the University of Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia, and the Ambedkar University participated in the mass protests. Organizations also participated, not only for the maintenance of the fellowship but also for its increase. The Teacher Association at Delhi University expressed its solidarity and support to students and student unions that protested against the discontinuance.
During the second day of the mass protests, students reportedly burned effigies of the prime minister and University Grants Commission (UGC) Chair Professor Ved Prakash.
Protests also took place in Hyderabad, Allahabad, and Bihar. In Delhi, about 30 protesters were detained at a local police station. According to The Times of India, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was injured when police tried to force protesters into a bus.
“We will not let this action break our spirit. We appeal to students from all over the country to rush to Delhi and join the movement here. We will come in even larger numbers and reclaim our right to education,” Shehla Rashid Shora, vice president of the Student Union said.
The NET test is a multiple choice exam that has been criticized for not being capable of assessing a candidate’s teaching and research capacity accurately, Ayesha Kidwai explains for the Wire. When students pass their Junior Research Fellowship exam, they are qualified for taking the NET test that in turn enables candidates to become Assistant Professors.