Stipend Hike For Elite Scholars In India: Progressive Yet Dilemmatic Decision

Vikram Thakur (Ph D Student; ICMR-SRF) C/o Prof. (Dr.) R K Ratho Department of Virology Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research PGIMER, Sec -12, Chandigarh, INDIA

2018-04-22 09:59:08

Credit: Vikram Thakur

Credit: Vikram Thakur

Feb 7, 2018 when youngsters were celebrating Rose Day, Indian Union Cabinet approved implementation of a Magnus budget of Rs.  1650 crore under the 'Prime Minister's Research Fellows’ (PMRF) scheme for the Science lovers.  A long-awaited progressive move by the Indian Government is warmly appreciated   by the Indian science fraternity but also evoked a mixed reaction from Indian research scholars.

Why Inequality among Researchers?

India, a young  talent  nation  with  bright  scholars  has  a  vision  of  development  through  innovation which is reflected by the emergence of Institutes of Nation importance or Elite Institutes. We have 23-Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs); 31-National Institute of Technology  (NITs); 7-Indian Institute of Science Education and Research  (IISERs); prestigious research institutes  like  15  labs  in  Department  of  Biotechnology  (DBT,  GOI);  37 labs in Council of Scientific  and  industrial  Research  (CSIR,  GOI);  26  labs  under  Indian  Council of Medical Research  (ICMR, GOI); 20 All Indian Institute  of  Medical  Science (AIIMS); Indian  Institute  of  Science (IISc);  PGIMER;  NIPER  and  world  reputed  university like Delhi University (DU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Under PMRF scheme, “Only the students from IISc/IITs/NITs/IISERs/IIITs will be offered direct admission in Ph.D. programme in the IITs/IISc”. Why?

This is  biased  to  exclude  other  institutes/scholars  from  PMRF   scheme  and  offering  direct Ph.D. admission to few students by exempting them from the mandatory national level  exam (GATE, ICMR-NET, CSIR-UGC-NET, DBT-NET etc.).Next is an enormous hike in stipend; under PMRF scheme only 3000 fellows will get a stipend of Rs. 70000-80000 per month for pursuing Ph.D. against  the  current  Rs.  25000-  28000.


Where we stand in Research Funding

When major science funding agencies like DBT,  DST,  ICMR,  and  CSIR  are  facing  the financial crunch,  Dr.Girish Sahani  (DG-CSIR)  called  the  situation  as  funding  crises  and  urged the CSIR scientists  to  self-finance  their  research  by  transferring  the  technology  to   the  industry. The minimal 0.85% of  GDP  (66.5  billion  US$)  is  being  spent  on  R&D  which  is  very less as compared to the  United  States  (2.74%),  China  (2.1%),European  Union  (2.0), Japan (3.58%), Germany (2.86%), South Korea (4.2%) and Taiwan (3.1%) which is really disheartening. The dream  to  be  major  global  scientific  power  will  remain  the  dream with  such a low budget. Practically India, need a minimum hike to   2%  GDP  for  Research   and Development  and  funds  will  be  allocated   to   different   funding   agencies   and   ministries engaged  in  scientific research. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced  that  PMRF implementation will "help in tapping the talent pool of the country for carrying out research indigenously in cutting-edge science and technology domain". But How?

Why BRAIN Drain:

Search for Good stipend/salary in PhD/PostDoc

“Even after qualifying prestigious CSIR exam, 44% of the fellows don't join Indian institutes and look for Ph.D. in abroad because of abysmally low pay".

Job security after PhD

Due to lack of PostDoc/permanent positions in academia/industries, a researcher in early 30's not able to afford a roof over their heads.

Research infrastructure/facilities for their career

Obsolete research infrastructure needs to be updated with sophisticated and high-end facilities along with trained manpower.

Redefining Real Problem: What after Ph.D.?

 Merely raising the stipend of 3000 scholars  to  70,000  per  month  for  pursuing  Ph.D.  will not help to hold them back! Looking the current research funding scenario in India, funding agencies websites usually flashing “Call for SRF  is  on hold till further notification”; “Application for N-PDF will not be entertained till further notice due to lack of funds ” etc. Even the approved and sanctioned projects are delaying due  to  lack  or  non-availability  of funds. Even  the  research  scholars  are  facing  issues  in  getting  a  timely  stipend.  Limited Postdocs positions with a monthly stipend  of  50000  INR  in  India  against  4,500  US$  per month (~Rs.290000/month) in United States  clearly  showed  what  drives  Indian  researchers  to go abroad after Ph.D.

Do we have sufficient PostDoc or scientist positions with a decent salary in India at par with European or US institutes? Do we have sufficient budget to  fund new  and  innovative research projects?

Possible Solution:

Equal opportunity for every research aspirant

Considering the fact that every Ph.D. student needs  to  qualify  the  mandatory  reputed  national level entrance exam for pursuing painful yet fruitful 5 years PhD,  same  zeal  and  enthusiasm, facing same hardships and work stress, sip lots of caffeine for  long  working  hours, incredible stressful life and future insecurities, peer pressure of uncertain future, weight of dreams and responsibilities. In such scenario, if  PMRF   needs   to   be  implemented,  then  every  Ph.D. aspirant  should  be  given equal opportunity to  compete  and  secure  fellowship.  There should  be NO to ELITE RESERVATION in SCIENCE.

Needs and Expectations!!

Even the current Ph.D. stipend of meager Rs. 25000 is a collective  effort  of  agitations  and  protests of various government universities, Science and Medical institutes  of  India  with  the support of overseas  Indian  students. PMRF, appreciable move to raise fellowship to 70,000 for 30000 IIT scholars during Ph.D. is a progressive yet dilemmatic decision and need to be reconsidered as it will create the disparity between other Ph.D. scholars.

Researchers are also susceptible to inflation blue and do have the family  to  rise  and  dream to live with dignity “We are NOT Greedy neither we are Beggar”. Government and policymakers need to consider high inflation rate, researchers  need  to  be  paid  well  enough  to feed their empty stomach and should be treated as an intellectual human  resource  for  the  betterment of the country. Stipend needs to be raised as per inflation rate. Indian Ph.D. students are getting an average stipend of Rs.30000 to 32000 per month from DBT/DST/ICMR/UGC as compared to 30,350 to 37,500 USD from NIH in the United States with an annual increment of ~ 1500 USD till completion of their Ph.D. A system of automatic revision of stipend just  like  pay  commission  for  national  bureaucrats  need  to  be  implemented for researchers also.

Increasing the Postdoc positions in the  universities  and  institutes  will  accommodate  the  large force of  talented  PhDs  which  will  provide  them  opportunities  to   showcase  their  research talent. Even Academia has a huge money problem. If possible public-private partnership PPP) funds need to be raised for supporting research in Academia and Industries. Already sanctioned new IITs, Central Universities, AIIMS, research institutes need to be  functional  by hiring  these  intellectuals.  Funding is a perennial  obstacle   for  the  execution  of  research projects. Obsolete infrastructure in the institutes need to be renovated, new latest, sophisticated labs to be built, funding from the ministries for new projects need to be disbursed without delay to tap the brain drain. Many of the Postdocs positions in India hired once or twice for atenure of 1-3 years. Faculty positions under the various  scheme  like  DST inspire  faculty,  JC  Bose  fellow,  Ramalingaswamy  fellowship,  women  scientist  fellowship   etc. are also tenure based which are unrewarding as per career per se. As truly said by Edward Teller-"The Science of Today is the Technology of Tomorrow",  Indian researchers  really need  attention and  concern  of  the  government,  policy  makers,  science  fraternity  to  make India a global scientific power, As Science deserve funding and so Scientist!