New Delhi- In the backdrop of the eagerly anticipated interim budget for 2024-2025, the initial aura of promise quickly gives way to disappointment, particularly for students hailing from marginalized communities. A discernible reduction in budget allocations for fellowships and scholarships aimed at supporting these students signals a concerning trend of neglect within the system.
The Mooknayak spoke to Bina Pallical, the General Secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, to understand public spending on scholarships. First and foremost, she acknowledged the increase in budget allotment, saying, 'It seems that there has been a slight increase in the Post-Matric Scholarship from last year. I recall it was around 5,000 crores previously, and now it's approximately 6,000 crores.'
She continued, 'While we appreciate this uptick in the scholarship amount, it remains inadequate to support all eligible students from diverse backgrounds. Our consistent demand has been for an increase to 10,000 or more.'
According to Dalit Adivasi Budget Analysis 2024-25, 15% of university seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes, including in technical education institutions. 'Despite efforts to reserve seats for Scheduled Castes in higher education,' the research states, 'particularly in technical and professional courses, vacancies still persist. Some universities disregard guidelines set by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which are meant to support Dalit students. Ensuring effective implementation of rules and quotas is crucial, given the prevalent discrimination against Dalits in the educational system.'
Another key scholarship for SC and ST students pursuing higher education abroad is the National Overseas Scholarship (NOS), which covers master’s and Ph.D. courses. In FY 2024-25, the allocation for NOS for SC students is Rs. 95 crores under the SHREYAS umbrella scheme, while for ST students, it remains at Rs. 6 crores.
"SHREYAS" is a scheme introduced by the Ministry of Human Resource Development of the Government of India. This umbrella scheme includes four central sector sub-schemes: "Top Class Education for SCs," "Free Coaching Scheme for SCs and OBCs," "National Overseas Scheme for SCs," and "National Fellowship for SCs."
Talking about an extra push students from marginalized communities might need, Pallical said, 'We must advocate for increased allocation of funds. It's crucial to push for the introduction of new schemes to ensure that our children have access to quality education and opportunities to study in reputable institutions. For instance, there could be a greater allocation for the National Overseas Scholarship to enable more students to pursue education abroad.'
Similarly, key fellowships, such as the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship (now part of the National Fellowship for SCs), have been allocated Rs. 188 crores, while the National Fellowship and Scholarship for Higher Education for ST students have been allocated Rs. 165 crores. The PM Research Fellowship under AWSC witnesses a decrease from Rs. 72 crores to Rs. 63 crores, and Rs. 30 crores under AWST, down from Rs. 34 crores. These crucial schemes receive minimal funding in comparison to non-targeted schemes like Grants to Central Universities, UGC, and PM-USHA.
Dr. Maya John, an assistant professor at Jesus and Mary College of Delhi University, expressed her disappointment regarding the continuous reduction in fund allocations for scholarships and fellowships. She noted a 12.5% decrease from INR 400 crore in 2023-24 to INR 350 crore in 2024-25 for the PM Research Fellowship, a 4% cut from INR 57 crore to INR 55 crore for the National Fellowship for OBC students, and the absence of any mention of the Special Scholarship Scheme for underprivileged students of Jammu and Kashmir. The discontented teacher added, 'The interim budget 2024-25 shows no effort has been made to provide more funds to the education sector to ensure quality education for all.'"