‘I’m Concerned, I May Not be Able to Continue’: Maharashtra’s Dalit Student’s Harvard Dream in Jeopardy

‘I’m Concerned, I May Not be Able to Continue’: Maharashtra’s Dalit Student’s Harvard Dream in Jeopardy

Backlash grows against Maharashtra government’s new regulations for overseas scholarship. A PIL has been filed, challenging the restrictive criteria.

New Delhi: After earning a master's degree in education from a prestigious university in Maharashtra, a 28-year-old Dalit student successfully passed the entrance examination for Harvard University in the United States. The first-generation learner secured admission to the master’s program in education policy and analysis.

However, his future now appears uncertain due to recent revisions in Maharashtra government’s eligibility criteria for its overseas scholarship scheme. Applicants from Other Backward Classes (OBC) and Scheduled Caste (SC) categories must now demonstrate a consistent academic performance of 75% or higher from grade 10 through their latest qualification, which could be an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. Previously, the requirement was set at 60%.

In addition, the state has introduced an income cap of Rs 8 lakh for SCs — a measure not mandated by central law. Students argue that identifying a ‘creamy layer’ within SCs is “unconstitutional”.

In contrast, central and other state governments offering scholarships for education abroad typically require a minimum of 55% to 60% in the latest degree programmes. Students assert that these new criteria pose significant barriers.

Impact on Academic Careers

Hailing from a farming family, he achieved 71% in BA economics from a renowned college in Pune in 2017.

In March 2024, after receiving an admission offer from Harvard, he confirmed his acceptance on April 15 by submitting a payment of USD 250 (Rs 20,890). Currently attending online classes since June, he anticipates physical sessions starting in August 2024, pending fee submission facilitated by a university sponsor. He urgently requires a scholarship award letter from Maharashtra for continued studies at Harvard.

“I am concerned that I may not be able to continue if the 75% graduation requirement remains in place. It could disqualify me from the opportunity. I am uncertain whether Harvard would defer my offer,” he stated.

The revised eligibility criteria for scholarships for studying abroad have dimmed the hopes of many students from marginalized communities.

A 25-year-old first-generation learner from the SC community in Latur, who completed chemical engineering with 74.44% from DY Patil College of Engineering and Technology, Kolhapur in 2022, received an unconditional admission offer from Australia’s The University of Sydney for a master’s course in engineering. 

He expressed disappointment, stating, “Missing the required 75% graduation marks by just 0.56% means losing out on a scholarship and my dream university. This sudden change limits opportunities for students like me, potentially reducing diversity and talent in international studies.”

A 27-year-old first-generation learner from a lower middle-class family in Mumbai, who graduated with 72% from Siddharth College of Commerce and Economics in 2017, received an admission offer for M.Sc. in banking and international finance from the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. 

She expressed concern, saying, “Affording tuition and accommodation in the United Kingdom is beyond my means. The 75% criterion threatens to derail my dream of studying abroad. I urge the Maharashtra government to reconsider this policy so aspirants like me can pursue their dreams.”

A 22-year-old electronic engineering graduate from Nanded, who completed his degree from Yeshwantrao Chavan College of Engineering Nagpur in 2023 with a score of 73.6%, received multiple admission offers from foreign universities. 

He lamented, “Despite securing offers from top-ranked universities, the new 75% graduation marks requirement jeopardizes my study abroad aspirations. With no financial support available from my farming family, I cannot afford international tuition fees. This change in eligibility criteria is deeply disappointing.”

These individuals illustrate the potential impact of stringent graduation criteria on access to international education opportunities, urging policymakers to reconsider for the sake of inclusivity and diversity in global education.

They asked if the foreign university deems them eligible, why impose a cap based on percentages? “The government should refrain from imposing new eligibility criteria,” they argued.

Degrees of Discontent

Community leaders and Ambedkarite activists warn that these changes will hinder the higher education plans of numerous first-generation learners.

Raju Kendre, founder and CEO of Eklavya Indian Foundation, which is dedicated to democratizing higher education, noted many international scholarships annually adjust stipends to keep pace with inflation. However, he criticized state and central governments for considering capping scholarship amounts, which are already “insufficient”. 

He highlighted that students often face financial hardships and resort to part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Kendre pointed out that even if students secure admission to prestigious institutions like Harvard and the London School of Economics (LSE), the 75% marks requirement continues to restrict opportunities for those from marginalized communities. 

“This underscores the elitist and meritocratic nature of the Indian education system, revealing how our policies ultimately fail to prioritize the needs of marginalized groups,” he added.

A faculty member at the OP Jindal Global University at Sonipat in Haryana criticized the government, accusing it of discouraging marginalized communities from pursuing higher education. 

“Previously, the minimum eligibility percentage was 55%, with no income criteria. Now, there is a cap of Rs 30 lakh for masters and Rs 40 lakh for Ph.D. programmes. How can students afford other expenses when the typical cost of masters and PhD programs at foreign universities ranges from Rs 40-50 lakh per year?” he questioned.

He described the recent regulation as “exclusionary”. “Several qualified students from state universities will be overlooked. An immediate revision is necessary to ensure all aspiring scholars can pursue their international education aspirations,” he emphasized.

Appeals and PILs Seek Reforms

Students and academic leaders have urged the Maharashtra government to retract its 75% mark requirement. A public interest litigation (PIL) has also been filed in the Bombay High Court — seeking scrapping of the new rule.

Rajiv Khobragade, a student representative who is associated with an NGO, The Platform, has filed a PIL at the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. The matter is scheduled for hearing on June 17. 

“Our demands include withdrawal of the 75% criterion, abolition of the unconstitutional creamy layer limit of Rs 8 lakh for SC scholarships and a hike in the scholarship amount,” he stated.

You can also join our WhatsApp group to get premium and selected news of The Mooknayak on WhatsApp. Click here to join the WhatsApp group.

The Mooknayak English - Voice Of The Voiceless