Maharashtra's 75% Scholarship Criteria: A Blow to SC/ST/OBC Students’ Dreams?

The government has decided to set the minimum qualifying percentage for overseas scholarships designated for the students belonging to marginalised communities at 75%, which sharply contrasts with the 55% to 60% cut-offs set by central and other state governments.
Maharashtra's 75% Scholarship Criteria: A Blow to SC/ST/OBC Students’ Dreams?

New Delhi: The scrutiny over overseas scholarships designated for Scheduled Caste (SC), Other Backward Class (OBC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) students by the Maharashtra government has stirred controversy. The government’s decision to set the minimum qualifying percentage in udergraduate and post graduate courses for these scholarships at 75% contrasts sharply with the 55% to 60% cut-offs set by central and other state governments.

The Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj Scholarship Scheme for students offers financial assistance to Neo-Buddhist and SC students pursuing masters and PhD courses abroad. According to a government regulation (GR) released in 2024, “A student admitted to a master’s degree course abroad must have passed the bachelor’s programmes with at least 75% marks from a recognised university in India.” This criterion also applies to PhD students.

Raju Kendre, a social entrepreneur working for the marginalized, criticized the decree for its exclusionary nature. Speaking to The Mooknayak, he remarked, "Setting such criteria could hinder opportunities for students from marginalized communities, especially those already admitted to top-tier universities. This reflects the elitist, meritocratic approach of the Indian education system.”

Calling the decision “arbitrary” and “unreasonable”, he argued that since different colleges in Maharashtra have varying grading systems, relying solely on marks is flawed. He also questioned the necessity of an additional criterion similar to those already in place at foreign universities.

How Policy Shifts May Exacerbate Marginalization

A research scholar at a prestigious university in London emphasized the need to evaluate students based on factors beyond exam scores, such as work experience, leadership, career plans and contributions to their field.

“The new guideline is anti-Dalit and aimed at ensuring that meritorious students from the marginalised communities do not get scholarships,” he alleged while talking to this reporter over phone from Heathrow airport.

To cement his arguments, he listed out a series of decisions, which, according to him, will bring down the number of students belonging to the Dalit and other marginalised communities going abroad for higher studies, “Minimum percentage criteria in bachelor’s or master’s degrees for scholarship application has been raised to 75% from 55%. Only one member of a family can now apply for a scholarship. Earlier, two members were allowed. Percentage of 10th, 12th, bachelor’s, master’s and QS ranking is now considered to get a score out of 100 to award scholarship. Earlier, only QS ranking was considered. Scholarships can be awarded once. Previously, students who got scholarships for master's were eligible for the same for Ph.D. This scholarship is awarded only for master's and PhD.”

He pointed out it’s only Karnataka, which awards 250 scholarships every year for bachelor courses and 150 for master's & Ph.D. programmes. It means, the state grants scholarships to a total of 400 as compared to Maharashtra, which gives 75 scholarships for master's and Ph.D. programmes.

He further claimed the government does not encourage and flourish a critical society; and therefore, students who go abroad for research are discouraged from choosing Indian politics, economy, culture, caste and religion as their topic.

Kendre, founder of Eklavya India Foundation, voiced concerns over the increased cut-offs affecting scholars. He highlighted how the 75% policy under the Eklavya Global Scholars Program has caused stress among aspiring scholars who had already received offers from top global universities.

He criticized India’s education policies, alleging they fail to prioritize the marginalized.

“The legacies of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj and Sayajirao Gaikwad, who supported Dr Ambedkar’s educational journey and addressed marginalization in Indian society, are profound. Baba Saheb, upon his return from global education, dedicated himself to advocating for marginalized sections, contributing significantly to nation-building through his scholarly endeavors,” he reminded.

He said the scholarships introduced by the Maharashtra government for SC, OBC, ST, and Kunbi Maratha students represent commendable efforts to nurture future leaders from underserved communities. These scholarships hold the potential to address the lack of representation in critical decision-making domains such as law, media, policy, bureaucracy, development, art and culture.

“However, it is imperative to establish mechanisms to extend support to a larger number of marginalized students, benefiting thousands. Moreover, the reduction in scholarship funds, as indicated by the current GR, is worrisome. While many global opportunities increase stipends annually to adjust for inflation, our state and central governments seem inclined to cap scholarship amounts, despite already offering insufficient monthly stipends. Consequently, students face immense challenges in meeting their basic needs, often resorting to part-time jobs and making sacrifices in essentials like food and networking,” he added.

While scholarships such as Felix, Chevening and Commonwealth provide approximately £18-19,000 for living expenses, with annual adjustments for inflation, the National Overseas Scholarship (NOS) and state government scholarships for SC/ST/OBC students offer less than £10,000.

Challenges Faced by Scholarship Recipients

Despite receiving scholarships, recipients of the NOS encounter numerous challenges. Kendre explained how students struggle to meet basic needs due to inadequate funding. He criticized the government for failing to adjust scholarship amounts for inflation, unlike scholarships abroad, which adhere to market regulations.

“For SC/ST/OBC students, pursuing education abroad represents an opportunity to break free from systemic oppression. However, they find themselves grappling with the harsh reality of struggling to afford basic necessities. This forces many to undertake part-time jobs and make sacrifices in crucial aspects like networking, impacting their overall academic experience,” Kendre pointed out.

He urged the government to view these students as assets and invest in their potential, akin to prestigious global scholarship programs.

“It is imperative not to view these students solely as beneficiaries of financial aid but rather as the potential leaders of tomorrow. They should be regarded as global scholars, akin to recipients of prestigious platforms like Rhodes, Fulbright, Chevening, DAAD and Commonwealth. These scholars embody the future assets of our nation, deserving of substantial investment in their development,” he said.

Wishing to remain anonymous, a Dalit professor, who teaches at a private university in the country, expressed concerns over the “discriminatory” impact of the new policy. He highlighted how “casteist” academic environments disadvantage marginalized students and inhibit their academic pursuits, especially those aiming to study abroad.

“The criterion for awarding scholarships based on the total income of a student’s family, including the earnings of siblings, rather than solely on parents’ income, is not only discriminatory but also aimed at denying monetary aid to students for higher studies,” he alleged.

As discussions continue regarding the implications of the 75% cut-off policy, the fate of many aspiring scholars from marginalized communities hangs in the balance.

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