Not enough of a raise

The government of India recently hiked the stipend for researchers. Sanchayan Bhattacharjee speaks to students and faculty members about what they think of this initiative

After years of petitioning and protests, the Centre finally announced a significant hike (almost 50 per cent in some cases) in the emoluments of all research scholars and associates working on programmes funded by the Central Government. According to the increase, scholars entering PhD courses will now be given a fellowship of Rs 25,000 per month as against the previous Rs 16,000 per month. “It is necessary to value researches for what they are worth and not just pay them survival money. This hike was highly overdue,” says Ravindra Kumar, professor, Tata Institute of Fundamental Sciences.

While students and faculty members have welcomed the hike, the popular belief is that a structured increase rather than an arbitrary one would be preferred. One important demand that went unheeded was to introduce a Dearness Allowance component which is linked to inflation. “These amounts must be revised regularly as daily expenses increase every year. The amount paid must not remain stagnant for a decade,” says Angana Mondal, a PhD student from Mumbai. “In cities like Mumbai, even 30 per cent of Housing Rent Allowance is not enough for senior researchers who have to often support their family as well,” says Plawan Das, junior research fellow, Center for Excellence in Basic Sciences, Mumbai.

Despite the increase, stakeholders agree that it is not enough. “Most researchers have a lot of responsibilities. A senior researcher is around 25 years of age and according to the new guidelines will only be paid Rs 28,000. This amount is not even close to what these qualified professionals could have earned from corporate jobs,” says Kumar. This stark comparison is not lost on students. “Many of my peers are applying abroad, just because of the huge difference in stipend,” adds Mondal. In USA, PhD students at leading universities get a stipend between 2000 – 3000 dollars (Rs 1.47 lakh). According to Das, these hikes must happen naturally and not always be the result of protests. “Hopefully, this increase will motivate researchers to continue work in India but the government still has to implement more attractive programmes to attract a bigger crowd,” he adds.

Another complaint is that the contingency fund of researchers i.e. the fund used for travelling to conferences, buying books, stationery etc. has remained unchanged at Rs 20,000 per year. “It severely limits the scope of research. It becomes next to impossible to collaborate for a project on a global level or even at the national level on a large scale with this budget,” says Mondal.

While there is no doubt that the government must do more, Kishor Munshi, professor, IIT-Bombay emphasises the need to be accountable in research. “There must be some responsibility attached to the outcome of research. Money must be spent with equal regard to time and productivity. Merely increasing the amount won’t help,” he says.

Ultimately the common goal for all the stakeholders of the research wing in India, is to attract and retain talented students, thus ensuring quality work. “We are short on manpower when it comes to research. Making this profession an attractive one will certainly help in reducing this shortfall,” signs off Kumar.

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