With the removal of TISS from the UGC’s NFST list, many scheduled tribe students enrolled in doctoral studies at the institute have been left in the lurch.
Nearly half of the scheduled tribe students enrolled in doctoral studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) are on the brink of losing their “constitutional right” to avail the National Fellowships for Higher Education for ST Students (NFST) offered by the University Grants Commission (UGC), as the statutory body has removed the premier social science institute from its eligibility list this year.
According to the Social Protection Office of TISS, Mumbai, the number of MPhil and PhD students belonging to the scheduled tribes in all four campuses of the institute stands at 26, out of which ten could not apply to this year’s NSFT fellowship.
The online application for the 2016 fellowship, which gives an eligible student a monthly stipend of 25,000 rupees, opened between September 23 and November 23, 2015. In a letter to Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oram, dated February 10, the ten research scholars wrote,
“The name of Tata Institute of Social Sciences didn’t appear in the list of eligible universities due to which many ST students couldn’t apply (the fellowship), and some have applied leaving the institute name blank on the online application form. Official letters from the Director, Registrar, Deputy Director (Research), the Student Union of TISS have gone in the month of November, December and January (to the UGC) highlighting this error in the online form but no action has been taken by the UGC to rectify the error.”
Priyanka Sandilya, a second year doctoral student at TISS’ Tiljapur campus and a signatory to the letter, told The Wire, “We now have three worries that we mentioned in that communication to the Tribal Affairs Minister. Whether we will be able to access our constitutional right of being considered under the fellowship, which is meant to support the higher education of ST students, whether students who filled up the online form without the institute name will be considered in the selection process and whether the students who have not filled up the form will get a chance to fill it up by extending the date of application for the TISS students.” Sandilya also said the students have made several efforts to get in touch with the UGC to request that TISS be added to the list, but their efforts have been in vain.
Until last year, the fellowship, renamed from the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship for ST Students to NFST by the Narendra Modi government, was available to TISS’ adivasi research scholars. Sandilya said she did not apply last year as she “was employed then.”
As per the students’ letter to Oram, the name of the institute was dropped from the list “due to an error by the UGC because of the change in the name of the fellowship.” However, the letter – copied to Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, UGC Chairperson Ved Prakash and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes chairperson Rameshwar Oraon – mentioned another reason given by the UGC to the students. “For the academic session 2015-2016, in the same scholarship for OBC, SC, Minority, Disability and Single girl child categories, the name of TISS was mentioned (in the online form) and their final selection list has also been declared. But for NFST, we have been told by the UGC officials that since we (TISS) do not fall under the 12(B) and 2(F) categories of deemed universities, this fellowship is not available to TISS students.”
In a letter to Prakash on January 16, TISS Director S Parasuraman responded to that contention by explaining the position of the institute as per the UGC Act, 1956. He wrote that TISS was recognised as a deemed university by the Ministry of Education in 1966 for an indefinite period. “Thus, it is a pre-1972 institution. Therefore, it is quite evident that section 12 (B) is not applicable to this institute and by virtue of its indefinite recognition under Section 3, the institute is automatically covered under Section 2 (F).”
Speaking to The Wire, Parasuraman said, “We have a meeting with UGC officials next week in New Delhi to discuss the issue further.” He said he wrote a letter to Oram too as “there was a question in Parliament (winter session) regarding access of ST students to higher education at a time TISS was dropped from the UGC’s ST fellowship list.” He said he received no response from the Commission.
Multiple attempts by The Wire to contact Oraon failed, as did attempts to contact UGC deputy secretary Sunita Siwach, the point person on Deemed Universities, Selection, Award and Inclusion of Colleges under Section 2 (F) and 12(B).