In revised guidelines, the Centre has now said that students applying for the National Overseas Scholarships will no longer be able to avail the grant for courses on Indian culture, heritage, history, social studies on India-based research. The move, which has invited criticism from several quarters, comes a decade after the grant was made available for students applying for humanities and social sciences courses.
The grant, given by the ministry of social justice and empowerment, was initiated in 1952. It provides an opportunity for low income students belonging to marginalised communities to obtain Masters or PhD degrees. Started only for STEM courses, the scholarships were extended to humanities students in 2012.
In all, 100 scholarships are granted to students under the Scheduled Castes, Denotified Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes, Landless Agricultural Labourers and Traditional Artisans categories. Of these, 90 scholarships are given to SCs, six to denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, and four landless agricultural labourers and traditional artisans. The ministry allocates Rs 30 crores for these scholarships.
The application deadline for the scholarship is March 31, and the announcement of the revision of the deadlines, coming just days before the deadline, has dashed the chances of several students applying for courses in the next academic year.
The revised guidelines state, “Topics/ courses concerning Indian culture/ heritage/ history/ social studies on India-based research topic shall not be covered under NOS.” In addition to that, the guidelines say that, “The final decision as to which topic can be covered under such category will rest with the election-cum-screening committee of NOS.”
For Delhi-based Siksha*, 22, who hoped to pursue a masters in a prominent UK university regarded for its focus on study of Asian culture, says that she’s at a loss for words. If she had managed the scholarship, she would have been the first in her extended family to study abroad. “My friends have advised me to start crowd-funding for it, but I feel demoralised,” she says.
An RTI by A Meshram has revealed that in the last six years, in four terms the grant was given to less than 50% of the students. It was 39 in 2021-22, 72 in 2020-21, 46 in 2019-20, 50 in 2018-18, 65 in 2017-18 and 46 in 2016-17.
Satish Deshpande, DU sociology professor, says that the cut is unfortunate. “The financial grants as well as the standard of education in India needs an overhaul; in general India’s spending on the social sector, and education in particular, needs to be revised. Whatever the allocation should be, there should be distribution among all subjects. The amount on certain subjects could be higher, but no subject should be left out,” said Deshpande.
Mary E John, Professor at the Centre for Women's Development Studies, says that when no such restrictions are in place for students in general categories, then implementing it for marginalised communities restrict their choices.
“Reservation should be actively implemented at all levels for all streams, and one can also argue that students under SC/ST categories are drawn to apply for courses in the sciences under pressure as well as due to better prospects. And yet, restrictions such as these have come up at a time when the situation in all foreign universities is dire in a post-covid scenario and the amount of fellowship and teaching money is drying up,” said John.
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