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Thursday, January 31, 2008


The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has taken a major initiative of facilitating educational empowerment of the Scheduled Caste students as a part of its commitment to promote ‘inclusive growth’. A new Central Sector Scheme ‘Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship (RGNF) for Scheduled Caste students’ has been introduced since the year 2005-06 for pursuing M.Phil and Ph.D. courses.

This scheme was conceived to meet a long felt need in the field of higher education. It was found that the University Grants Commission (UGC), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian Council of Social Sciences Research (ICSSR) are offering fellowships, but they could not percolate to the Scheduled Caste students. Similar was the case in the Nation-wide Eligibility Test (NET) conducted by the UGC to determine the award of fellowships for pursuing M.Phil and Ph.D Degree Courses in the universities. The Planning Commission had assessed in the year 2004 that at the all India level, only 3133 Scheduled Caste students were pursuing M.Phil and Ph.D Courses, constituting a meager 5.8 per cent of the total such registered students. Even among the registered candidates, several who could not get the general fellowships, felt constraint of financial resources. The Ministry’s Scheme of Post Matric Scholarships for Scheduled Caste students could not be of much help because of inadequate provisions for maintenance allowance.

The scenario, thus, virtually meant constricting opportunities of higher education to otherwise capable Scheduled Caste students. Additionally, education being a feeder to reservation in services, this also adversely affected the availability of Scheduled Caste students for appointments in academic, research and other allied institutions.

The RGNF Scheme has a wide range and covers all universities and academic institutions recognized by the University Grants Commission. The eligibility conditions have been tailored to meet the needs of Scheduled Caste students. Any Scheduled Caste student admitted to M.Phil or Ph.D Degree Course in a university or academic institution recognized by the University Grants Commission is eligible for award of fellowship. There is no condition regarding clearing the NET/SLET examinations. Under the Scheme, a total of 1333 Research Fellowships (Junior Research Fellows) per year are awarded to Scheduled Caste students. In the case of non-availability of adequate number of Scheduled Caste candidates, there is a provision for carrying forward of the unavailed fellowships to the next academic session. In case the number of candidates exceeds the number of available awards, the candidates are selected on the basis of percentage of marks obtained in their post-graduate examinations.

The Junior Research Fellowships are awarded for two years with a provision for extension for another three years as Senior Research Fellows. The maximum period of award of Junior Research Fellowships and Senior Research Fellowships are five years.

The Scheme is being implemented by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment through the UGC. It has received a very encouraging response with full utilization of the optimal 1333 fellowships per year. Since the introduction of the Scheme, a total number of 3999 Junior Research Fellowships and 1333 Senior Research Fellowships have been awarded at a total financial cost of Rs.103.79 crore.

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