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  India   All India  08 Jul 2020  Research scholars struggle to cope up COVID-19 pandemic

Research scholars struggle to cope up COVID-19 pandemic

THE ASIAN AGE. | T SUDHEESH
Published : Jul 8, 2020, 7:48 pm IST
Updated : Jul 8, 2020, 7:48 pm IST

The pandemic has created an unprecedented situation in the education sector especially among the research community

IIT Madras
 IIT Madras

Chennai: Amidst all the hurly burly of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, has anybody thought about the struggle of young research students in various institutions in the country?

Highlighting the plight of research scholars, Rohit Jhunjhunwala, a scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), has started an online campaign that has struck a chord with over 2000 research scholars across the country.

The petition asks the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to extend the research period as well as fellowship to all scholars as their work has been affected by the pandemic and the lockdowns.

“Due to the lockdown, all institutes were shut down and scholars were asked to vacate campus in March 2020. Due to the urgency and short notice period given by institute authorities, manny scholars left their valuables, laptops and research notes behind in the hope that they would be able to return soon and restart their research. However, that was not to be, says Jhunjhunwala.

"Educational institutes remained shut, leaving scholars with no access to research infrastructure. This has resulted in a lot of anxiety among scholars about the expiry of their fellowship.

"All experimental setups have already either degraded or unusable due to a long delay. Scholars now have their fellowships expiring in the middle of the nationwide lockdown leaving them without any means to survive. The financial pressure is a huge mental stress for us along with their health and future uncertainty’, the petition says.

As per the procedure, it takes five years to finish a PhD degree in institutions. During the research period, a doctoral fellow in a national institution gets a fellowship of Rs.31,000 per month for the first two years and Rs. 35,000 per month for the remaining three years or till they submit their theses, whichever is earlier.

T. Pradeep, a Professor in the Department of Chemistry at IITM, told Deccan Chronicle that MHRD has to extend the tenure of research by at least 6 months along with the fellowship.

The pandemic has created an unprecedented situation in the education sector especially among the research community. Many who had been pursuing research programmes abroad have now returned without completing their work.  They do not have new assignments, and even if they do, there is no way to proceed with them. They too remain unpaid.

Research fellows after completing the PhD programme often go for post-doctoral fellowships (PDF) for higher studies and independent research.  Many of them are now stuck even if they have postdoctoral offers. They have no support from parent laboratories as well as institutional resources are limited.

In order to deal with the situation, the government must announce a package of Rs.200 crores to help the young scientific community.  In addition to this, the MHRD must fast-track the filling up of scientist posts vacant in various institutions. The government has also to come up with the decision to create favourable atmosphere in research institutes lifting the restriction imposed due to the pandemic’, said Prof. Pradeep   

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