#Occupy UGC Movement

As this piece is being written there has been a second police crackdown on protesting students outside the UGC headquarters in New Delhi within a span of one week. The students belonging to Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Ambedkar University and Jamia Milia Islamia have been protesting against the UGC decision to scrap the non NET fellowship from the next academic session which is provided to M.Phil and PhD students presently studying in central universities. This decision was made public through the minutes of the meeting held by the UGC on the 7th of October, 2015. Ironically the meeting was supposed to deliberate on the report submitted by the committee setup to look into extending the fellowship to all state universities and a hike in the amount provided. Currently approximately 35000 students avail of this fellowship, for which passing the NET (National Eligibility Test) is not mandatory. However, shockingly the UGC took a decision to completely end the fellowship. 

This decision has brought students across the country on the streets. The protests began in the capital, where students from the four central universities gave the call for registering their voice against the decision outside the UGC headquarters. The first police crackdown on the students came on the 23rd of October, when about hundred students were forcefully picked and detained by the Delhi Police. SFI noted the act as a black day and have condemned it in the strongest words. A large demonstration was called on the 26th of October again outside the UGC headquarters to give a loud message to the government. A huge mobilization took place on Monday. The call was taken up by other central universities across the country. Students of Hyderabad Central University, North East Hill University, Wardha University and various institutions in Mumbai also registered their protests in the respective cities. The second police crackdown on the students took place on Tuesday, 27th October afternoon when large contingents of police lathi charged and manhandled student protesters outside UGC headquarters in the capital. Many students were seriously injured and 33 students were detained by the police. 

SFI General Secretary and Member of Parliament Ritabrata Banerjee had written to the HRD Minister, Smriti Irani demanding that the UGC decision regarding scrapping non NET fellowship should be pulled down completely, double the fellowship amount and extend the fellowship to all universities and research institutions. On Sunday, 25th of October evening, after a meeting with ABVP workers, Smriti Irani told the press that the fellowship would not be scrapped. However, she also said that the fellowship would be given to students based on merit, the selection criteria for which will be decided by an expert committee. The protesting students have seen the Minister’s response as an eye wash and have rejected the ‘merit’ criteria. Therefore, the students across the central universities went ahead with the demonstration on Monday (26th of October) demanding universal coverage of the non NET fellowship. 

Currently research students enrolled with central universities receive a non NET fellowship amount of Rs 5000 at the M Phil level and Rs 8000 at the PhD level. Given the rising inflation, the fellowship amount is meager. However, even this small amount is crucial for continuation of higher education for many. A scrapping of the fellowship has been considered to be detrimental for participation of women and marginalized sections in research by various academics. This decision of the UGC and MHRD has to be seen in the light of the budget cuts in higher education by the present government and move towards a greater commercialization of education. 

A stronger and more forceful struggle lies ahead for the student community. A united student movement is the need of the hour for ensuring public funding of higher education and turning ‘education for all’ as a reality. 

Ranjini Basu
PhD Student
TISS