The Kerala State Higher Education Council has started a higher education scholarship fund to provide substantial financial assistance to needy and meritorious students.

The Kerala State Higher Education Council has kick-started a mammoth effort towards ensuring equity and excellence in the higher education sector by launching its ambitious higher education scholarship scheme.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh officially inaugurated the higher education scholarship fund at a function held at Government Women's College at Thiruvananthapuram on January 3. Dr. Singh awarded the first batch ofscholarships to six students.

The scholarships will be awarded utilising the interest on the contributions received from the public and the government. The government has already contributed Rs.15 crore and has agreed to give a matching grant of 50 per cent of the funds raised by the council. The council hopes to constitute a corpus of Rs.100 crore within the next one year, including public and private contributions.

Stating that the launching of the higher education scholarship scheme is the most ambitious project of the council, Education Minister M. A. Baby said that it is the first of its kind in the entire country in a number of ways.

It would simultaneously address many concerns in higher education-providing substantial financial assistance to needy and meritorious students; extending the benefit to SC/ST/BPL/differently-abled/general categories through a system of quotas; promoting the study of basic disciplines by offering a large number of scholarships to students pursuing the study of Humanities, social sciences, sciences and business studies; supporting government /aided institutions by awarding scholarships to bright students in such institutions; attracting charitable private contributions along with public support to the fund, thereby reviving the tradition of philanthropic public-private partnership in education, as an antidote to commercialisation and privatisation of higher education.

Pointing out that the scholarships will be awarded to first year undergraduate regular students pursuing full-time aided courses in sciences, social sciences Humanities and business studies at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels in government/aided colleges and departments/institutions under the universities in Kerala, Vice Chairman of the council K. N. Panikkar said that the available scholarships will be distributed among different universities in the State.

The number of scholarships set apart for each university would be decided on the basis of the student strength in first degree regular/aided courses in Humanities/ social sciences/ sciences/business studies in the aided/ government colleges/ departments under each university.

Explaining that the scholarships will be renewable during the subsequent four years, on condition of continuance of study and satisfactory performance, as per guidelines laid down by the council, Thomas Joseph, Member Secretary of the council, said that the universities will distribute the available scholarships to different streams on the basis of student strength in each stream and award the scholarships stream-wise among the following categories: 10 per cent for SC/ST students; 3 per cent for differently-abled students; 37 per cent for students belonging to BPL families, excluding SC/ST/differently-abled categories; 50 per cent for students in the general category.

If adequate number of eligible candidates is not available in the SC/ST/differently-abled category, the surplus will be added to BPL category and if adequate numbers are not available in such category, the surplus will be added to general category, Prof. Joseph said.

Only those students who have obtained at least 50 per cent marks / C+ grade in the aggregate in Plus Two/ equivalent will be eligible for the award of scholarship.

Scholarships under this scheme will not be awarded to a student who receives any other scholarship / stipend for a course of study, other than fee concession provided.

Students who are awarded more than one scholarship will have the right to surrender other scholarships in favour of higher education scholarship. Students belonging to SC/ST category will be eligible for scholarship in addition to the lump sum grant provided by the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribe Development Departments. The scholarships under this scheme are initially awarded for one year only, but it is renewable for the next four years, subject to satisfactory performance report.

The college council/ university department council will be responsible for monitoring the scholarship scheme on behalf of the college/ university department, which will also act as the grievance redressal body at the college/university department level. The Vice Chancellor can appoint a committee for monitoring the scholarship scheme on behalf of the university, which will also be responsible for taking decisions on appeals against college level decisions. The executive council will be responsible for monitoring the scholarship scheme on behalf of the Higher Education Council, which will also be responsible for taking decisions on appeals against university level decisions.

The funds required for the administration of the scholarship scheme by the Higher Education Council will be met from the grant-in-aid of the council. No part of the contributions should be utilised for the administration of the scheme.

To make the scheme more comprehensive and broad based by attracting more funds and making the award of scholarships more inclusive, the executive committee of the council has also decided to create special funds by attracting endowments. It has also laid down certain terms and conditions for the endowments.

Assuming 10 per cent interest on long-term fixed deposits, three typesof endowments worth Rs.5 lakh, Rs.15 lakh and Rs.25 lakh will be created, making provision for using a part of the interest for awarding scholarships and merging the unutilised interest with the corpus every year, so that the corpus could continually grow and make provision for upward revision of the amount of scholarship every five years.

According to the committee, an endowment of Rs.5 lakh may be sufficient to award one scholarship, every five years, for a period of five years; Rs.15 lakh would be sufficient for awarding one scholarship every year for a period of five years; Rs.25 lakh would be sufficient for awarding scholarships every year to students undergoing professional courses/ advanced studies within/ outside the country. While the period and amount of scholarship in the first two categories would be same as that of the general scholarships, the amount and period under the last category would be decided on the basis of availability of funds and requirements of the scholar.

The interest on the endowment will alone be utilised by the council for the award of scholarships.

Describing that the offer of support for the scholarship scheme has been quite overwhelming, Prof. Joseph said that the State Ministers and Vice Chancellors have set the ball rolling by offering one month's salary.

The council is also taking steps for registering the fund under FCRA and under 80 G of the Income Tax Act, to make contributions more attractive.