The weaker the students’ voices grow, the easier will be to ‘govern’ them.
On February 8, 2018, the Union cabinet has given a green signal to the Prime Minister Research Fellowship scheme. This scheme will allow “around 1,000 best students who have completed (or are in the final year of) B.Tech or Integrated M.Tech or M.Sc. in Science and Technology streams from IISc/IITs/NITs/IISERs/IIITs under this scheme will be offered direct admission in PhD programme in the IITs/IISc. Those students will be offered a fellowship of Rs.70, 000/- per month for the first two years, Rs.75, 000/- per month for the 3rd year, and Rs.80, 000/- per month in the 4th and 5th years. Apart from this, a research grant of Rs.2.00 lakh will be provided to each of the Fellows for a period of 5 years to enable them to participate in international research conferences and present research papers. A maximum of 3,000 Fellows would be selected in a three year period beginning 2018-19.”. This comes after 3 years have passed following the last fellowship hike for research scholars in 2014, when there has been a recent pan-India ‘March for Science’ movement in 2017, and at a time when the CSIR and UGC research fellows are not receiving fellowships and contingencies on a regular basis. Amidst such events, the announcement of such a differential fellowship to a select few is bound to raise few eyebrows!
The attractiveness of this scheme lies in its financial benefits to the PhD scholars, which is has been claimed to encourage students from IISc/IITs/NITs/IISERs/IIITs to stay back in India after completing B.Tech/M.Tech/M.Sc. and pursue PhD in IITs and IISc. And as per the Minster for Human Resource and Development, Shri Prakash Javadekar, “Prime Minister’s Research Fellows Scheme will convert brain drain to brain gain” . Now such claims appear to be promising from outside. But alas, all that glitters is not gold!
The main criticism that this scheme is facing is the differential treatment of the research scholars, as well as the research institutes and universities. The default assumption underlying this scheme is that students pursuing B.Tech, M.Tech and M.Sc. from a select few institutes are more ‘valuable’ to this country, and hence should be made to stay back. Now there is no denial of the fact these students under question are intelligent and perhaps constitute most of the so-called ‘creamy layer’, but that does not prove that students pursuing degree courses other Indian institutes and university are less intelligent than the former.
Also, the direct admission of the former set of students in PhD programmes of IISc and IITs might also deny opportunity to several deserving students just because they have not received training from one of the ‘elite institutes’.
Next, not everyone enrolled for B.Tech/M.Tech/M.Sc from the set of elite institutes mentioned are eligible for the fellowship, and the criteria for selecting the ‘1000 best students’ has not been described anywhere till now. This not only leaves substantial doubt about the implementation of the schemes, but also probably leaves room for corruption to creep in. If this fellowship scheme is materialized, such differentiation might eventually end up creating a sharp division among the research scholars (not only intra-institute but inter-institutes as well), who till now have remained united, have organised the country-wide hike fellowship movement and are still struggling together for regular disbursal of fellowships and contingencies. Who will benefit from such division? To find an answer to this question, one could look into the infamous ‘divide and rule’ policy implemented by the British during the pre-independence era. There is a certain possibility that such a differential fellowship scheme will create a division among the research scholars, and hence might eventually weaken the growing protests and movements across the country in demand of increasing research funding, regular disbursal of fellowships etc. And the weaker the students’ voices grow, the easier will be to ‘govern’ them.
The very claim that such a scheme will reverse the brain-drain situation has numerous flaws. First, PhD is not the end of the academic career, rather it is the beginning. If academic jobs are not created, research funding is not adequate, these ‘elite’ fellows will eventually end up leaving the country for post-doctoral research and other academic jobs. Second, the major brain drain happens during post-PhD phases, and no change at those levels of career will not reverse brain drain at all; in fact, the fellowship scheme under question might eventually add to that brain drain scenario. If the government really wants to reverse the brain-drain scenario in this country, then it must first create lucrative opportunities to attract scholars who have completed or are towards completion of post-doctoral research in this country or abroad and are all set for starting independent research careers, and not fall prey to the divisive policies which might do more harm than the good.
Anindita Brahma is a Research Associate at Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science