National Overseas Scholarship: State must undertake vast expansion of scheme; will benefit nation in long run
For marginalised communities, modern education is a precious asset and a way for acquiring socio-economic mobility in an unequal society
In the past few weeks, several students belonging to marginalised communities such as Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) have received offers to study in prestigious universities abroad including Royal Holloway London, Oxford University, SOAS, London, among others.
However, privatisation in education has meant that the amount of wealth required for these courses is enormous. Unable to secure scholarships for these offers, students have taken to social media to crowdsource the amount for their education.
With support pouring in from the community and the larger civil society, some of them have raised part of the amount needed. However, in this situation, one is pressed to ask whether this model of raising funds from civil society is a workable one, especially as hundreds of students from these communities are securing admissions in prestigious universities abroad each year.
Role of State
In this scenario, one is bound to question where the State is?
The responsibility of nurturing their citizens, especially from marginalised communities, must fall upon the State.
Funding higher education in prestigious universities abroad is a beneficial investment in human capital.
For this purpose, the Government of India runs two central schemes National Overseas Scholarship for Scheduled Castes (hereon NOS SC) (Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment), which awards 100 scholarships (90 SCs, 06 Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes, 04 Landless Agricultural Labourers and Traditional Artisans) and National Overseas Scholarship for Scheduled Tribes (hereon NOS ST) (Ministry of Tribal Affairs) which awards 20 scholarships (17 STs, 3 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)).
The data shows that there is much that can be done.
|NOS SC||NOS ST|
|Year||Scholarships Awarded||Budget allocation||Expenditure||Scholarships Awarded||Budget estimate||expenditure|
#as on 31/12/2020
^separate data of the two years was not mentioned in the report.
Blank columns show that the data were not found in the Annual Reports.
All amount is in crores.
Fewer awards, low funding
Although the number of scholarships awarded under NOS SC has been increased over time (30 per year in 2007-08, 60 per year in 2013-14, 100 per year from 2014-15 onwards; in 2016-17 and 2017-18, the number of awards was supposed to be 191 and 183 respectively, including unfilled slots of the previous year(s)), the actual number of scholarships awarded has been lower several times (28 in 2007-08, 29 in 2008-09, 23 in 2012-13, 50 in 2015-16).
Similar fluctuation can be seen in the scholarships under NOS ST, where the mandated 20 has not been awarded in 2015-16 (16) and 2016-17 (15). What is even more disappointing is the lack of utilisation of the budgetary allocation over several years.
Of the yearly allocation of ₹15 crore, ₹14.02 crore, ₹4.59 crore, ₹5.97 crore were utilised in 2016-17, 20170-18, 2018-19, respectively. The underutilisation of funds is more a norm than the exception in NOS ST, where between 2007-08 to 2019-20, the total budget estimate was utilised only twice.
One could argue that the underutilisation is due to a lack of applicants. However, this is clearly untrue as the number of applicants is high and increasing each year.
According to PIB release on 27 June 2019, there were 43, 96 and 124 eligible applications received under NOS ST in 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 respectively.
For NOS SC, 312 applications in 2019-20 and 498 applications in 2020-21 were rejected.
This means that on the one hand, there are unutilised funds, while on the other hand, there are several students who have secured admissions abroad but had their applications for scholarships rejected.
This is a rather unfortunate situation and a suboptimal distribution of opportunities and resources.
The question of income limit
One of the major reasons for the rejection of the candidates is the limit on the Annual Income of the Family. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been identified based on social oppression and exclusion historically. The scheme offers no logic behind the inclusion of an additional income criterion.
One might argue that such a criterion is needed to exclude the affluent sections among SC/STs. This raises two questions. Firstly, what is the logic behind drawing this arbitrary line at Rs. 8 lakh per annum for SCs and Rs. 6 lakh per annum for STs?
Secondly, it is illogical to argue that on the one hand those having Annual Income below Rs 8 lakh per annum among the non-SC/ST/OBCs are considered Economically Weaker Sections, and on the other hand those above this line among SC/STs are deemed so rich that they should be denied scholarships for education.
According to the All India Survey of Higher Education 2019-20 (Ministry of Education), the percentage of SC and SC students across universities was very low at 11.03 percent and 4.87 percent, respectively, against the constitutionally mandated 15 percent and 7.5 percent, pointing to the high level of dropouts in these sections due to varying factors.
Should we then expect that the few students among them who could apply abroad and get selected to be able to generate ₹30-40 lakh from their family income? It is fair to assume that the hundreds of rejected applications under these schemes have meant an end of the dream to study abroad in most, if not all, cases.
The need for a vast expansion
In response to a question in Parliament on 03.03.2020, the Minister Of Social Justice And Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot, answered that “at present there is no proposal for expansion these Schemes”.
This is unfortunate.
Our analysis shows that a vast expansion of the NOS is needed.
Firstly, considering the increasing number of applicants who have secured admissions in the most prestigious universities and institutions, the number of awards must be significantly increased to around 400 in NOS SC and 200 in NOS ST and subsequently be increased every few years.
Secondly, as a consequence of the first, the budgetary allocation must be increased substantially. In case of funds remaining unutilised, additional scholarships must be awarded. Thirdly, the limit of annual income must be done away with, or at least greatly incremented to a realistic level of measuring the capability to fund their education at around ₹20-30 lakh per annum.
One can similarly argue the same for expansion of schemes for other marginalised sections like students with disability, Other Backward Classes etc.
For marginalised communities, modern education is a precious asset and a way for acquiring socio-economic mobility in an unequal society. As early as 1854, Savitribai Phule wrote, “Sit idle no more, go, get education/End misery of the oppressed and forsaken,/You’ve got a golden chance to learn/So learn and break the chains of caste.”
Instead of leaving the responsibility to civil society, the State must take charge and ensure that maximum students receive a high-quality education. It is bound to have a spillover effect on the community and will only benefit the nation in the long run.
Until then, one can only hope that civil society continues to be generous in its contributions.
The author is a PhD student at Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
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