South Asian University students demand more scholarships, time to complete Ph.Ds

The SAU is witnessing widespread student unrest and dissatisfaction over issues related to scholarships, fee-waiver among other issues

December 01, 2022 01:32 am | Updated 01:32 am IST - New Delhi

The prestigious South Asian University (SAU) is witnessing widespread student unrest and dissatisfaction over issues related to scholarships, fee-waiver and additional time for completing Ph.Ds after the COVID-19 pandemic-induced delays. Students have been on a warpath with the varsity administration over these and other issues with some expelled, rusticated or suspended.

Two students who were expelled five days ago took to social media to flag this and tagged Congress MP Shashi Tharoor who promptly assured help.

The SAU, an international university which was supposed to be a dream academic collaboration of South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) nations, was established by the member-nations in 2010. It offers Ph.D and Masters programmes and attracts students from all member-nations and its degrees are recognised by all the eight SAARC countries.

The varsity has seen protests by students since October 13 over myriad issues.

In post-graduate courses, the institution provides scholarships on the basis of performance in entrance tests and free-ships on the basis of economic criteria to around 20% of students. All Ph.D students either get Junior Research Fellowship or the SAU financial support.

Charter of demands

The students, who claim that many criteria have been changed post-2019 and since the campus opened after the pandemic, have submitted a charter of demands.

Their major demands are hiking the stipend money “which has been drastically reduced to ₹4,000 from ₹7,000”, increasing the economic criteria to avail free-ships and free-ships with stipend, increasing the number of merit scholarships and making students a part of the grievance redressal and complaints committee of the varsity.

They further claimed that several students, despite having been awarded scholarships, have not yet received their scholarships in their bank accounts, specifically in the 2021-’23 batch.

The students had submitted their first charter of demands in early October. After a prolonged agitation and subsequent gherao of the administration offices, action was taken against five students — two were expelled, two rusticated for a year and one suspended for a semester.

Mass hunger strike

Following this, on November 7, a mass hunger strike was organised by around 80 students. A week later, students started getting hospitalised, with one of them being shifted to the ICU on November 22.

Possibly taking note of this, the university administration reduced the punishments on November 22.

In a statement, the varsity administration said: “After the withdrawal of the office orders of suspension, rustication and expulsion, on 23.11.2022, two students forcibly barged into the office of the Acting Registrar with a group of students, when the Acting Registrar was meeting other officials of the university in his office and made it dysfunctional/paralysed”.

These two students, Umesh Joshi and Bhimraj, were then expelled again on November 25.

Student reaches out to Shashi Tharoor

Bhimraj, who has been quoted by Mr. Tharoor in his book Ambedkar: A Life, took to Twitter to inform the Congress MP that he had been expelled from the University “arbitrarily” without any inquiry.

“I came to know that I was cited by you in your recent book Ambedkar: A Life. The citation says that I’m associated with @SouthAsianUni. I would like to inform you that a few days ago I was arbitrarily expelled from the university without any inquiry,” Bhimraj tweeted tagging Mr. Tharoor.

He went to say that he was arbitrarily expelled along with another student Umesh Joshi for demanding justice for a student still struggling for his life in ICU due to institutional harassment. “It would be of great help if you could intervene and help us against this institutional violence committed by SAU”.

To this, Mr. Tharoor responded by saying that he would take up the matter with the varsity authorities.

“Shocked to hear this. Please do write the full details in a letter to office[at]http://tharoor.in and I will take the matter up with the authorities,” he tweeted.

However, when contacted, the university administration said: “We have no knowledge of Mr. Shashi Tharoor speaking with any of the university officials so far”.

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