There has been a marked increase in the number of students applying for various fellowship programmes

Students generally pursue their master’s or take up a job after graduation. However, a few academicians as well as students point out that a new trend is emerging: opting for fellowship programmes as they provide a good platform for experiential as well as academic learning.

Fellowship programmes are usually for one or two years and are designed for professional development. They also help students work at the grassroots and help them hone their leadership skills. While internships provide work experience for a short duration of time, fellows state that fellowships provide both academic exposure as well as work experience.

If the number of applications can be considered as an indicator of popularity, statistics reveal that fellowships seem to be featuring in the list of options for budding professionals. The Hindu EducationPlus spoke to some of the faculty members of various fellowship programmes who also stated that they had seen an increase in the number of applications. For instance, the number of applications that the Teach for India (TFI) fellowship received has increased from 1,200 in 2009 to 7,738 in 2012. Interestingly, the number of applications for the Legislative Assistant to Member of Parliament fellowship has also increased from 700 in 2011 to 1,200 in 2012.

The Gandhi Fellowship that started with 12 in Rajasthan in 2008 has now spread to 280 fellows in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The Prime Minister Rural Development Fellowship (PMRDF), which started in 2012, received as many as 9,000 applications.

Academicians and faculty members point out that the fellowships are designed to impart rigorous training as well as make the students reflect on the core issues.

Serving society

Dev Tayde, Project Development Manager at Indicorps, states that a commitment of one or two years gives fellows the time to learn, understand and serve society. Neha Inamdar, Alumni and Development Manager at TFI, said the programme aims to instil a sense of long-term change among the fellows and help them address the issue of educational inequity even after they finish their fellowship.

Some fellows stated that they prefer these programmes over a two-year master’s for various reasons. For instance, Harpreet Gill, a 2010 Indicorp Fellow, chose to pursue the programme after completing his bachelor’s as he want to work at the grassroot level and understand the nuances of community development. “Studying development at graduate school will be a lot more meaningful now that I've had the privilege of living in a village,” he added.

Karthik Ram, a 2011 TFI Fellow, mentioned that he considered this programme as an opportunity to partner with some of the country’s best professionals. As TFI fellows teach students in under-resourced schools, Karthik saw this as an opportunity to touch the lives of 50 children and their families and said, “As I always wanted to get into teaching, TFI seemed to be the fastest way a 21-year-old could get into a classroom.”

However, some fellows candidly admitted that the programmes help them buy time and explore career options. Swaha Ramnath, a LAMP 2011 Fellow, was unsure of what she wanted to study for her postgraduation. She said, “The fellowship gave me relevant work experience, time off to make an informed decision and incidentally helped me get a job.”

Karthik also mentions that these programmes are the first stop for youngsters whose thoughts are beaming with idealism. “For that sense of adventure, the satisfaction to work at a grassroots level, to clear your head or to find that passion and as clichéd as it sounds, to ‘make a difference’, whatever your motivations are, join the fellowship,” he added.

Some stated that this platform provides hands-on experience and helps them gain insight about policy issues and their implementation. Chandrasekhar Prasad, a Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF), said that the fellowship runs in 78 earmarked backward areas, some of them shared by Naxals, such as Kendujhar district in Orissa, where Chandrashekhar is stationed. “This is where you get to work on the implementation of the exact policy made at the Centre,” he said.

Harpreet said the fellowship helped him derive inspiration from the community he was working with.

While some fellowships offer gritty on-the-ground experience, some offer a more academic approach to solutions, like the Young India Fellowship (YIF). Utkarsh Amitabh at YIF, who also got the ‘Young India Fellowship Torchbearer Award,’ said that the programme has a syllabus that covers a wide range of topics. “There was a mix of subjects ranging from statistics, algorithms and economics to sociology, philosophy and art appreciation, conducted by top faculty from across the globe,” he said and added that he was attracted to the programme because of the faculty members.