Over Rs 2,000 crore cut from 12 scholarship, fellowship schemes

The cuts are in 12 scholarship, fellowship, education loan interest subsidy schemes across ministries. The steepest cuts are in budgets for minorities.

Over Rs 2,000 crore cut from 12 scholarship, fellowship schemes Activists said cuts in pre-matric scholarships and others will affect girl children more. (source: Shutterstock)
Atul Krishna | Feb 13, 2023 - 11:53 a.m. IST
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NEW DELHI: At least Rs 2,000 crore was cut from a dozen scholarships, fellowships and other financial aid initiatives for students from disadvantaged communities in the Union Budget 2023-24. While funds were cut from schemes offered across ministries, the ministry of minority affairs has seen the most drastic reductions.

Seven out of the eight scholarship and fellowship schemes of the minority affairs ministry saw cuts. These include a nearly Rs 1,000 crore cut in pre-matric scholarship, merit-cum-means scholarship for professional and technical courses, Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF), and Education Scheme for Madrasas and Minorities.

The pre-matric scholarship’s eligibility criteria were revised in November 2022 to exclude children from Classes 1 to 8; this group is already covered by the Right to Education Act 2009, the government argued. The union government has also discontinued the Maulana Azad National Fellowship since it “overlaps” with the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF).

However, activists have called the government out on these claims.

“The scholarships were made to specially help a particular section of society,...people who have faced generational discrimination and disparity. If you are getting a scholarship on the minority basis then you don’t get other scholarships. Moreover, all these scholarships are income based, it is not as if you get it just because you are a minority,” said Aheli Chowdhury of JOSH.

Allocations have increased for around 15 scholarship or fellowship schemes including post-matric scholarships for minorities and SCs but in absolute terms, the government has cut more than it has increased. Careers360 examined the budgets for some of the most important financial aid initiatives offered by government departments listed at the National Scholarship Portal 2022-23.

SC, ST, OBC scholarships

An examination of budgets for departments listed on the National Scholarship Portal 2022-23 shows fund cuts in schemes offered by other departments also. The National Fellowship for SCs offered by the ministry of social justice and empowerment was cut from Rs 173 crore to Rs 163 crore in Budget 2023. The Pre-Matric Scholarship for OBCs, EBCs and DNTs was reduced from Rs 478 crore to Rs 281 crore for the year 2023-24. This scheme was meant to support and encourage children from historically-marginalised Other Backward Classes, Extremely Backward Classes and denotified tribes to stay in school.

Activists said that these cuts would further alienate disadvantaged communities from mainstream education as getting these scholarships is already a cumbersome process. They also said that girl students of these communities will bear the brunt of the fund cuts.

Given below is a list of schemes and the cuts they have faced this year.

Schemes

Budget estimate 2022-23 (Cr)

Budget estimate 2023-24 (Cr)

Budget cut (Cr)

School education




Pre-Matric Scholarship for Minorities

1,425

433

992

Free Coaching and Allied Schemes for Minorities

79

30

49

Education Scheme for Madrasas and Minorities

160

10

150

Pre Matric Scholarship for OBCs, EBCs and DNTs

478

281

197

Pre- Matric Scholarship for STs

419

411.63

7.37

Higher education




Merit-cum-Means Scholarship for Professional and Technical Courses (undergraduate and postgraduate)

365

44

321

Maulana Azad National Fellowship for Minority Students

99

96

3

Interest Subsidy on Educational loans for Overseas Studies

24

21

3

Support for students clearing Prelims conducted by UPSC, SSC, State Public Service Commissions etc

8

0

8

National Fellowship for SCs

173

163

10

Scholarship for College and University Students

252.85

243

9.85

Total

3,482.85

1,732

1,750.85

Scholarship, education loan subsidy, J-K

The PM Uchchatar Shiksha Protsahan (PM-USP) Yojna has subsumed three schemes: Special Scholarship Scheme for Jammu and Kashmir, Interest Subsidy and Contribution for Guarantee Funds and Scholarship for College and University students. However, the total outlay for PM-USP is over Rs 300 crore less than the sum of the budgets for the three schemes individually in 2022-23.The schemes have also seen gradual decrease from 2020-21 when they received a total of Rs 2,266 crore to now, when they have been allocated Rs 1,554 crore only.

Scholarship Budget: PM USP, 2020-21 to 2023-24

Schemes

Budget Estimate 2020-21 (Cr)

Budget Estimate 2021-22 (Cr)

Budget Estimate 2022-23 (Cr)

Budget Estimate 2023-24 (Cr)

Special Scholarship Scheme for Jammu and Kashmir

225

225

225

0

Interest Subsidy and contribution for Guarantee

Funds

1,900

1,900

1,400

0

Scholarship for College and University students

141

207.32

252.85

0

PM Uchchatar Shiksha Protsahan (PM-USP) Yojna

0

0

0

1,554

Total

2,266

2,332.32

1,877.85

1,554


Scholarship: Budget increase

Fifteen scholarship and fellowship schemes have seen budgets increase but most hikes have been small. The three substantial increases were in the Post-Matric Scholarship for SCs (Rs 759 crore); Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme for Minorities (Rs 550 crore), and the Prime Minister’s Research Fellows (Rs 200 crore). The post-matric scholarship targets children after Class 10.

Scholarship budget increase: SC, ST, OBC

Schemes

Budget estimate 2022-23 (Cr)

Budget estimate 2023-24 (Cr)

Budget increase(Cr)

School education




Post-Matric Scholarship for Minorities

515

1065

550

Scholarship for Students with Disabilities

580

680

100

Top Class Education for SCs

108

111

3

Scheme of Residential Education for Students in High School in Targeted Area (SRESHTA) for SCs

89

104.65

15.65

Post Matric Scholarship for SCs

5,600

6,359.14

759.14

Post Matric Scholarship for OBCs, EBCs and DNTs

1,083

1,087

4

Top Class Schools

0

100

100

Post- Matric Scholarship for ST

1,965

1,970.77

5.77

National Means cum Merit scholarship

350

364

14

Higher education



0

National Overseas Scholarship for SCs

36

50

14

National Fellowship for OBCs

53

57

4

2 Interest Subsidy on Overseas Studies of OBCs and EBCs

27

29

2

PM Research Fellowship

200

400

200

Top Class Colleges

0

90

90

Total

10,606

12,467.56

1,861.56


The Top Class Schools and Top Class Colleges schemes were not mentioned in the 2022-23 budget but according to the note in the 2023-24 budget papers, they are intended to support students financially from Classes 9 to 12 and then, through college.

Scholarships for minorities

Activists said that minority scholarships are important to ensure the target community is encouraged to continue their studies.

“They do not have an option for other scholarships because the number of participants are more. And these scholarships are specifically for minority communities and hence they have a better chance of availing these scholarships,” Yuman Hussain, executive director of Azad India Foundation, a non-profit that works with minority children.

“I think this year the cuts have been drastic. They have been reducing the budget for minority affairs for the last two years. They said that they have cut two-three scholarships saying that there is overlap with other scholarships but they haven’t said with which scholarships they overlap,” said Hussain.

pre matric scholarship odisha, national scholarship portal 2022-23, sc/st scholarship tamilnadu, tn scholarship, post-matric scholarshipActivists said that pre-matric scholarships ensured that girls did not dropout (source: Shutterstock)

Activists also pointed out that even though overall allocation on education is more, it is still much lower than what the National Education Policy has recommended. Currently, the education budget is less than 3 percent of the GDP while the NEP recommends that it should be 6 percent. Activists said that although the prospect of increasing the education budget has been there since the education policy in 1986 it has remained a “lip service”.

“They have cut the pre-matric scholarships for SC, STs and now minorities as well and the same has happened for the MANF fellowship. These definitely should be restored. Instead of cutting the funds they should have given more. They’ve reduced the overall budget for minority affairs also. It is definitely a setback for the minority community and the students,” said Hussain.

No RTE overlap

In November 2022, the central government limited the pre-matric scholarship meant for backward and minority communities to students of Class 9 and 10. The scholarship, which was earlier also available for students of Class 1 to 8, was limited saying that the Right to Education(RTE) Act covers the education of students till Class 8.

However, activists pointed out that RTE is not a scholarship but the government providing free education as a service.

“The government says that we already have RTE . However, The pre-matric scholarship is required in any case. Government schools providing free education is mandatory. Also there is always some expenditure involved. They may not get books on time. Now with online education, there is also the requirement of mobile phones or tablets,” said Naaz Khair, an education consultant who is currently working for ASPIRE India.

During the Budget 2023 speech finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a special mention of the National Digital Library for children and adolescents. However, UDISE 2020-21 data shows that only 24.2 percent government schools have internet access and only 35.8 per cent government schools have functional computers.

They also pointed out that benefits under RTE mainly cover students in government schools as opposed to scholarships that can be availed by any student provided they are within the mandated income bracket.

“For a student to complete their Class 9 or Class 10 studies they will have to spend at least Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000. Their parents can’t afford it. These are the kids that we encourage to go for scholarships so there is complete misinformation to say that it overlaps with the right to education. RTE is not a scholarship and it only can be availed if you go to a government school and moreover, it is only till Class 8,” said Chowdhury.

Scholarships for girls

Activists said that these scholarship cuts are bound to affect girl children more.

“Post-covid, in our experience, the poverty level has increased. Students are not able to come back to class because in the houses there is already hesitancy. When they are prioritising their money they don’t want to spend it on girls,” said Chowdhury. “The education of girls has been hit hard. The scholarships going down will only mean less and less girls will get back to mainstream education. Girls are disappearing from education as well as the workforce.”

Activists also said that without the scholarships, girl students tend to drop out before Class 8 as the families tend not to see the girl’s education as priority. Eventually, these students are married off as minors.

“If there is no scholarship, they will drop out. Then they will get married off at young ages. It is the case in Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh, where I work. People between the ages of 40-year-old and 50-year-olds come from Bahraich or Rajasthan or Haryana and marry young girls of 15, 16 or 18 years of age. If it is boys then they go for child labour or they indulge in criminal activities,” Reeta Kaushik of Samudaik Kalyan Vikas Sansthan (SKVS).

“When the government is giving money and scholarships the parents will be more interested in sending their children,” said Kaushik.


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