Impact: MANF scholars finally get hike in stipend; to be on par with other UGC fellowships

Last year, around September, a spirited social media campaign ignited on X, with the rallying cry encapsulated in the hashtag #HikeInMANFtoo.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Feb 13, 2024 | 2:30 PMUpdated Feb 13, 2024 | 2:30 PM

Impact: MANF scholars finally get hike in stipend; to be on par with other UGC fellowships

In mid December of 2023, South First broke the story about the resounding demand of MANF (Maulana Azad National Fellowship) scholars for a substantial hike in their stipends, on par with their counterparts in other UGC fellowships. Adding to their woes was the issue of untimely disbursal.

Fast forward to 2 February, 2024, the Ministry of Minority Affairs, the overseeing authority for this scholarship, has made a groundbreaking announcement. A stipend hike that resonates with the standards set by other UGC fellowships was declared, addressing the long-standing concerns of the MANF scholars.

Making the announcement on X, the Ministry of Minority Affairs tweeted, “Pleased to inform that Ministry of Minority Affairs, GoI has revised the rate of MANF scheme at par with Department of Science & Technology and Ministry of Education in consonance with UGC Norms w.e.f. 01.01.2023.”

MANF scholars get hike

Post this significant enhancement, MANF scholars are set to receive fellowship amounts equivalent to those under various UGC-approved schemes. From ₹31,000 to ₹37,000 for Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) and from ₹35,000 to ₹42,000 for Senior Research Fellowship (SRF), the new rates will be applicable from the 1 January, 2023.

Last year, around September, a spirited social media campaign ignited on X, with the rallying cry encapsulated in the hashtag #HikeInMANFtoo.

Expressing elation, Yasir Altaf, a third-year PhD student in Computer Science at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) and a recipient of the MANF, shared with South First, “Students are very happy and are feeling relieved after the Ministry of Minority Affairs’ decision to hike the MANF scheme on par with other UGC-regulated scholarships. We are also eagerly awaiting the disbursement of our pending scholarship funds, which have been cleared up to September 2023.”

Responding to the development, the All India Research Scholars Association conveyed their gratitude on X, stating, “Thank you immensely for acknowledging the concerns of MANF research scholars and considering their plea for a revision/hike in fellowship. Equality is paramount in fostering a thriving research community. Let’s ensure fair compensation for all Indian research scholars!”

Also Read: MANF scholars demand hike on a par with other fellowships

Background on the issue

On 7 December, 2023, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor urged the Union government to consider hiking the stipend for the non-National Eligibility Test (NET) research fellows.

Echoing a demand quite akin to Tharoor’s, the “existing” scholars of the Maulana Azad National Fellowship (MANF) began demanding a hike on par with other Union government fellowships. The students also raised the issue of timely disbursal of their stipends.

The MANF is named after India’s first education minister, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. It was launched in 2009 to provide five-year fellowships as financial assistance to students from six notified minority communities — Buddhists, Christians, Jains, Muslims, Parsis, and Sikhs.

Initially, the Union government decided to scrap the MANF from the 2022-23 academic year. Union Minority Affairs Minister Smriti Irani then informed Parliament that the scheme would be stopped as it overlapped with other, similar scholarships.

In October 2023, the Ministry of Education (MoE) increased the emoluments of the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF), Senior Research Fellowship (SRF), and Research Associates (RAs) for UGC fellowships. The stipend for the JRF was hiked from ₹31,000 to ₹37,000, for the SRF from ₹35,000 to ₹42,000 and to at least ₹11,000 for the RAs.

The research scholars pursuing PhD at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) in Hyderabad expressed their distress and confusion over why their stipend had not been considered for a hike by the MoE.

The students had also written to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, demanding equalisation of the MANF stipend with other schemes.

Also Read: Minority students dismayed as Maulana Azad fellowship scrapped

Why students needed the hike

The students’ primary demand was a hike on a par with other Union government-run fellowships, as it would uphold the principles of justice, transparency, and equality. They, however, listed some other reasons as well.

Sheikh Ruksana, a third-year PhD scholar from Andhra Pradesh at the MANUU, had earlier pointed towards rapid inflation as well as the logistical costs she has to bear, when speaking to South First in December.

“We have to regularly take part in conferences, which itself cost around ₹8,000-9,000. Then there is the huge responsibility of getting a paper published. They entail massive article publishing charges (APCs) — at least ₹30,000-40,000 for a paper. A significant amount is required for all this, as it otherwise affects the quality of our research,” she explained then.

Kashmir-origin Yasir Altaf, a third-year Computer Science PhD student at the MANUU, had pointed towards increasing house rents. “I came to Hyderabad in 2021 and the rent for my three-sharing PG was ₹5,500. It has gone up to ₹12,500 now,” he had said.

Imran, a former faculty in the Commerce Department at a private college in Bengaluru, was supposed to attend a conference at the University of Delhi (UOD), but could not. “I could not attend the conference due to the cost of flight and accommodation. The organisers were not providing a travel grant. I was rendered helpless due to the irregular disbursement of the MANF stipend,” he had added.

He had said that he also has to regularly send home money for his mother’s chemotherapy for the treatment of blood cancer.

Students had also said they have to borrow money from their friends and sometimes even professors.