SAU campus protests: dream turns sour

As the new policy on scholarships being non-transferable and freeships being limited is introduced, students of SAARC countries protest against this unjust move. 

South Asian University, Chanakyapuri.

More than 120 students studying in the second semester of post-graduate programmes at New Delhi’s South Asian University are not attending online classes in a protest against the newly introduced scholarship policy. According to the new policy, scholarships are made non-transferable and freeships have become limited.

South Asian University is a premier education institute which caters to students from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Currenty, there are around 450 students pursuing their master’s degree at SAU.

There are three types of scholarships provided on the basis of merit – President’s Scholarship, Merit Scholarship, and Silver Jubilee Scholarship. These scholarships help students from various socioeconomic backgrounds to get prime quality education.

Earlier the President’s Scholarship was transferable, which meant if a student secured the first rank in the entrance exam but did not join the university, the scholarship was awarded to second rank holder. But now, it is non-transferable.

SAU merit scholarship is also drastically impacted by the new policy. Earlier, there were ten scholarships in each academic programme for top rank holders in the entrance test, five for Indian students and five for non-Indian students. But now, only one Indian student and one non-Indian student is awarded a merit scholarship. A merit scholarship has also been made non-transferable.

SAU freeship, which is offered to the economically weaker students of first-year Master’s programmes, has also been slashed. Previously, there was no limit on the number of freeships, but now it is limited to three students in the Indian list and three students on the non-Indian list.

Due to these changes, students from economically weaker nations like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Nepal are most affected. Around 20 students have reportedly dropped out because of the new scholarship policy.

WHile talking with Patriot, a student of Master’s in Economics said, “Currently, around 120 students studying in four various departments of the university are not attending classes, and soon, other departments will join us. This new policy is against the founding principle of the University which is meant to provide liberal and humane education to the brightest and the most dedicated students”.

A Bangladeshi student, who is currently pursuing his Master’s, is disappointed with the university’s new policy. “Before joining, I was assured that I will get a scholarship. That’s why I chose SAU, but I got nothing. I also tried for freeship but the result was same. I have pleaded with the university administration to provide me financial assistance. If they fail to do so, I won’t be able to continue my post-graduation at SAU”, said the student.

According to students, three out of ten students from Bangladesh have already dropped out and many are thinking of following suit if financial assistance is not provided to them.

“Our fantasy world before joining the university, and the reality after joining the university, are vastly different. I don’t know what is my future. If I cannot secure a scholarship or freeship, I will start looking for a job to support my family,” said the student from Bangladesh.

The policy of 2016-17 reads, “As per SAU mandate, no student will be denied admission to the University because she/he cannot pay the fees. Therefore, SAU will provide free education to such students by waiving the tuition and hostel fee”.

According to the new policy, total scholarships and freeships should not exceed 20% of total strength, as per the business plan of the university approved by SAARC standing committee.

A student who belongs to one of the southern states of India and is currently pursuing post-graduation from the university said, “We have been protesting for the last ten days and the administration is still silent. I am not from a financially stable family. My father is a vegetable seller and I know how I have completed my graduation. As per the old policy, I was eligible for freeship. But now, university administration says they will only provide freeship to six students. SAU is not like other universities. Many students who enroll here are from poor families and poor countries. They choose SAU because of its scholarships and freeships, but now, as a new policy is rolled out, it has become hard for students like us to continue here.”

He further adds that spending more than Rs 30,000 a semester on fees is not possible for him. “Soon, when the university shifts to physical classes, expenses will increase. Without any financial assistance, it is not feasible for me to study here,” he says.

Students from war-torn Afghanistan are the worst affected. On the one hand, their nation has become disturbed after the US pulled its forces, and on the other hand, limited scholarships and freeships have made their education journey tougher. 

An Afghani student who is currently pursuing a degree in Biotechnology, narrated his story saying, “We are not in a good shape. Currently, we should be in the hostel. This new policy has increased our tension. If this new policy continues, many students will be unable to continue and will drop out. 

Speaking about the economy not beping in good condition, he says  that his father has lost his job. “In this situation, how can I think about paying full fees without any help?”, he asks.

“We expect the university to cooperate with our people in this situation. This is great work for humanity,” adds the student.

A healthy state of mind and other essentials of education have become a big concern for students. When we talked with other students from Afghanistan, it emerged that interrupted supply of internet, electricity and shortage of books are the big issues students are grappling with.

“We are using our hard-earned savings to survive in this bad time, and right now, I am hearing gunshots. In such a situation, how can we study? I request the university to provide us accommodation in India and help us financially”, says the student.

A new grade system for renewal of freeship is also a big issue for students. Earlier, it was 4.5 CGPA, but it has been increased to 6 CGPA now. Several students are terming this new rule as unfair because of the lockdown effect on education.

One of the students from the Department of Economics scored a good rank in the entrance exam, but he was denied a scholarship because of the non-transferable clause. Being from a middle-class family, he thought scoring a good rank will get him financial help from SAU, but things didn’t go as planned after the policy was revised.

“The policy is unjust on the grounds of reducing the number of scholarships and making available positions non-transferable after we had taken admission. At the time of admission, we were aware of the existing policy”, said the student.

“It has personally affected me because I had scored AIR 3 in the entrance exam and would have been eligible for a merit scholarship. If transferability would be introduced then, I would have been eligible for the president’s scholarship. So, it has directly affected me and my peers,” adds the student.

For academic year 2022-23, the university has provided scholarships to a mere 46 students compared to 74 in the previous academic batch.

Patriot tried to contact the university authority via e-mail to understand their take on the situation. The story will be updated as soon as we receive a response.

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Anmol Nath Bali
Reporter at Patriot | anmolbali0003@gmail.com | + posts

Anmol covers education, civic and general news for Patriot.