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More time, but no grants: What PhD, MPhil students have to say about UGC’s extended deadline

UGC extended thesis submission deadline by 6 months in “larger interest” of research scholars, but students say they need funding extension too.

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New Delhi: The University Grants Commission (UGC) announced Thursday that it had granted an extension of six months for the submission of theses by MPhil and PhD students. The shifting of the deadline from 31 December 2021 to 30 June next year was done “keeping in view the larger interest of the research scholars”, the statutory government body said. However, some research scholars across the country have pointed out that the deadline extension has not accounted for their financial hardship in the wake of Covid-related delays and restrictions.

These students claim that over the last two years, they have not been able to conduct field research satisfactorily and that simply living on campus has exhausted their grants and personal savings. Students on UGC fellowships receive modest grants between Rs 31,000 and Rs 42,000, spread across two or three years, as well as a “contingency” fee that ranges between Rs 12,000 and Rs 70,000 per year. Scholars argue that the extension of time to submit their work has not been matched by an extension of grants.

Aishe Ghosh, a PhD student and the president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) tweeted about the matter, saying though the deadline has been extended, scholarships will still be provided only for five years. “JNU was shut down during the lockdown and is still in the process of reopening. Not only did we miss out on time to research but also used up our personal savings and the scholarship funds to live on the campus,” Ghosh told ThePrint.

 

Students in other parts of the country have also raised similar concerns, including Kiran Kumar, a final year PhD student in the Central University of Hyderabad and the president of the All-India OBC Students’ Association. He told ThePrint that it was difficult to continue with research in the absence of funding. Raja Kumar, a PhD student at the Central University in Assam, further said that scholars at the university were already dealing with lags in receiving funds.

ThePrint reached out to UGC secretary Prof Rajnish Jain over mail but did not receive a response till the time of publishing this report. Calls to the office of the UGC under-secretary were not answered.


Also Read: What is ‘lota’ doing in PhDs? Why UGC is worried about Indian research


‘Financial and mental health both suffering’

Due to Covid lockdowns and restrictions, many PhD students have struggled to conduct fieldwork and research. With the deadline extended, students will also need funds to continue their work, Kiran Kumar said.

“The pandemic has created problems from the financial and mental health perspective. Financial assistance during the extended time period will help continue the research. Fieldwork was not possible due to the pandemic, with the fear of a third wave there are so many restrictions on travel. We have about 230-240 final year students in CUH. There are students who have finished their time of study since 2019 but haven’t been able to finish research due to the pandemic,” he told ThePrint.

He also outlined the financial and medical struggles of students. “Students who were getting a grant ended up using it to pay their medical bills when they were down with Covid or simply living on the campus,” Kiran added.

ThePrint also spoke to students at Central Universities in Assam and Puducherry, who said they were concerned about their ability to finish their research projects. “Students haven’t gotten their PhD grant and contingency funds in the last eight months. The university administration says that they haven’t received the fund themselves from UGC. How will we continue our fieldwork now if this keeps happening?” Raja Kumar, a PhD student at Central University of Assam, said. Another student (who requested to not be named) at the Central University of Puducherry worried about completing their thesis. “Most of the PhD scholars are required to conduct field research. How can we do this without funding?”

Individual universities can’t do much

Several students said that though they have reached out to their respective universities for assistance, little can be done since the matter comes under the purview of the UGC.

Dr Kanchan K. Malik, a PhD advisor at Central University of Hyderabad, told ThePrint that the rules were clear. “According to UGC rules, fellows can receive grants only up to five years. If students want to continue their research post that period, they are expected to finance it themselves. Of course, since these are special circumstances and the students feel the need for continued financial assistance, they can represent their case to the UGC,” she said.

However, Malik also told ThePrint that the extension applied specifically to writing and submitting theses, and not for research. “The extension in date of submission means that final year students have been given more time to write their thesis. Generally, doctoral students conduct the research in the first two-three years of their fellowship. The last year is used to write their doctoral thesis,” she said.

A path forward for students is still unclear. According to Aishe Ghosh, several student unions have reached out to JNUSU due to its location in Delhi, but no headway has been made. “When we spoke with a UGC official they asked us to take the issue up with the Ministry of Education,” Ghosh told ThePrint.


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