Education for All: Join the #Occupy UGC National Campaign

90 days down, the build up to an All India University Strike

It has been close to three months since the‪ #Occupy UGC movement started as a spontaneous response of students to UGC's utterly rash decision of discontinuation of the non-NET fellowship scheme.

Due to the sustained protests, the government was compelled to review the decision, pass it on to the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) which has further passed the matter on to a Review Committee. There is still no clear communication from the Government about the proceedings or decisions of the MHRD, the UGC or the Review committee on the status of the non-NET fellowships.

Over two months ago, on November 5, 2015 the HRD Minister, Smriti Irani had given certain reassurances to the protesting students. There has been no clear-cut reassurance however, from the MHRD, backed by any written order (government resolution) indicating clearly that the fellowship(s) would be either enhanced or expanded. When she met the protesting students, Irani had also assured them of fair representation before the Review Committee; far from representation, for over a month after the first protest, students were not even given an appointment with the Ministry. On January 13, 2016 when irate students finally blocked the road in front of the MHRD, they were given an audience with officials in the MHRD, but not with the Minister.

The workings of the Review Committee meant to look into the usefulness of the fellowship are also suspect. Students were first put in touch with the head of the Review committee who informed them of the Committee’s meeting slated for January 16, 2016. Since then however students have been informed that no further date for any meeting has been fixed. This has been the reason, among others of the decision of the protesting students to intensify the protest. The #Occupy UGC group of protesting students has called the attitude of the government towards students' issues ‘irresponsible’ and further criticized the government for lack of accountability in the functioning of the UGC and the MHRD.

The indefinite delay on part of the government in resolving the issue — discontinuation of the non-NET fellowship scheme that benefits students with lack of opportunity and access—is completely unjustified and intolerable. There is a sense of restlessness and impatience at the absence of any written commitment, Order or GR from the MHRD.

Hence the next one month will see spiraling protests:
1)   A nationwide signature campaign will be started on the January 18, 2016 reiterating the demands for an increase in the budgetary allocation to the non-NET fellowship and an expansion of the non-NET scheme to state universities without any exclusionary criteria, for all research scholars. Also, the signature campaign will raise the demand that the overall budgetary allocation for education be increased to 10 per cent in the upcoming budget session, as fund-cuts in education under World Bank and WTO diktats are undermining the education system in the country.

2)   The signature campaign will conclude by the February 15, 2016 and students from all Universities have been urged to send signatures sheets to the JNU Students' Union office till February 17, 2016. The signatures will be submitted to the MHRD, the President of India and the Prime Minister of India. The signature campaign will also run online, to ensure maximum participation.

3)   The #Occupy UGC Campaign has also called for an All-India University Strike on the February 18, 2016 in all Central and State universities, demanding adequate funds for research fellowships. On the day of the strike, the signatures collected thus far will be submitted to the MHRD.

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