BENGALURU: Indian Institute of Science (IISc) students have now sought the intervention of the Prime Minister to correct the mechanism in the Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship (PMRF) Scheme, which is meant to retain research talent within the country. STEM researchers in India, who had enrolled for PhD in universities overseas, said they decided to stay back in India and pursue their PhD here, expecting support from the government of India. However, over the past two years, they say they have felt letdown by the eligibility criteria of the scheme, which they call “unfair and variant”.
The existing eligibility criteria has allowed several ineligible research students at IISc, IITs and other premier institutions to get nominated or apply for the programme. Students had submitted petitions to the PMRF authorities, MHRD, and other offices, but have failed to get the issue resolved. The final approach was the Prime Minister’s Office.
Since the scheme was launched, the eligibility criteria has not been consistent, said students who do not know what to look forward to in the next round, because of the unpredictability. Students with ‘research output’ were not considered, vis as vis those with a ‘higher CGPA’ (Cumulative Grade Points Average) and low or nil research output, they said. “For instance, those who completed their bachelors and then joined the PhD programme in 2018 were eligible for the fellowship this year, whereas students who had completed their masters and joined in the same year were ineligible, though both would have sat in the same class and gone through the same course work for two years,” said one of the signatories.
A masters programme student would potentially have at least one research paper, because students who graduate with an MSc in IISc and IIT would have a masters through research, which includes course work, lab work and a paper publication. Yet, the PMRF did not take this into account, the student added.
Difficulty levels of masters programmes across India’s premier institutes vary. While the top six IITs and IISc have a more rigorous framework, they are put on the same pedestal as other IITs and NITs, leaving several students ineligible for the fellowship, a student added. Until May 2020, the fellowship did not take into account the research output in the two years of PhD, and only considered the masters score, she said.
Students said research output of PMRF scholars has not been gauged -- two researchers in the same lab, one funded Rs 31,000-Rs 35,000 a month under MHRD Scholarship, and another about Rs 70,000- Rs 80,000 under PMRF exist, reporting to the same guide and having similar trajectories and work output -- but the output of the latter is not known since the start of the scheme two years ago.
At least one or two papers should have been published in renowned journals such as Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineer (IEEE) or Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), Nature, Science Direct etc, a scholar told TNIE. But there is nothing on the portal about the work the students have done, said the researcher.“Many students have communicated these issues to PMRF authorities but there has been no amendment. Nor is there an explanation for the current criteria,” students said. They had hoped that the amendment would be made on the last date of submission of applications by September-end.