On 30th June 2023, several research scholars in IIT Madras assembled on the Himalaya Lawns as part of an ongoing nationwide protest, spread across centrally-run institutions in the country. They demanded a 60% hike in the fellowship stipends. This protest was organised in association with All India Research Scholars Association (AIRSA) and the All India Scholars Representatives Council (AIRSC). The attendance was exceptional despite short notice.
The last fellowship stipend revision was done in January 2019. Since then, due to various factors including the rising inflation, institutional expenses and reduced spending on education by the central government, the current fellowship amount has proven to be insufficient to cover the research scholars’ expenses towards academic and other needs. Married students are hit the hardest by this inadequacy. Hence, research scholars in central educational institutions across the country came together to demand a 60% hike in the fellowship. As a part of this, ChintaBAR, an independent student organisation at IIT Madras, conducted a protest on the 15th of May in solidarity with the research scholars.
In answer to these demands, on the 22nd of June, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) announced a 20% hike for Senior Research Fellowship (SRF) and a 19% hike for Junior Research Fellowship (JRF), with no explanation as to the logic behind the said numbers. This was received with dissatisfaction because the demand for a 60% hike had been decided upon keeping the yearly inflation and other factors in mind. In correspondence with T5E, one of the protesters said, “We haven’t been provided a justification. So, we will not accept this.”
The protest on the 30th of June rejected the hike and demanded that the DST reconsider it and raise it to 60% as per the original stipulation. Moreover, the hike must extend to students pursuing PhDs and Master’s as well.
The primary concern expressed by the protesters surrounded the unsatisfactory fellowship hike and the associated adverse effects. It was pointed out that Indian educational institutions enjoy remarkable global rankings, which are improving rapidly in recent times. In India, IIT-M has been repeatedly ranked number one by the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). The reason for these rankings is primarily the exemplary research that the institutions facilitate. However, the research scholars aren’t compensated for their efforts. If this continues, consequently, the quality of research will be affected, causing a decline in the global rankings. Therefore, the scholars requested the Ministry of Education to look into the matter and ensure that the researchers are adequately funded. Moreover, they also called for the regular disbursement of the fellowship.
Some of the other issues raised included the increasing harassment of scholars all over India and inconvenient delays in graduation. The protest also called attention to the fact that several research scholars are reluctant to step forward with their concerns due to the fear of negative consequences. The proposed solution included establishment of dispute resolution committees where these grievances could be aired and addressed.
Failure to resolve these issues could prove hugely detrimental to the academic landscape of the country. For instance, the higher stipends and assured graduation within 3-4 years offered by some foreign countries will inevitably lead to research scholars moving abroad in search of better work environments, causing a brain drain.
The protest is set to continue and expand until the demands are met by the government.
Edited by: Garima Sane
Designed by: Yash Suryawanshi