DST to incentivise quality research by PhD students

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An empowered committee that has been formed will periodically visit the quantum of fellowship and incentivise research. Besides other incentives, there will be one for patents and quality publications. The hike is not restricted only to research scholars who have cleared the CSIR/UGC NET exam.

More than four years since the last hike in research fellowship, on January 30 the Ministry of Science and Technology announced a 24-25% hike in research fellowship for Junior Research Fellows (JRFs) and Senior Research Fellows (SRFs) respectively. The revised emoluments of Rs.31,000 per month for JRFs and Rs.35,000 per month for SRFs will take effect from January 1, 2019.

The percentage hike is lowest compared with previous ones — 60% in 2006, 50% in 2007, 33% in 2010 and 56% in 2014. Research scholars who have been demanding 80% hike in fellowship for the last six months are unhappy with the hiked fellowship and plan to continue the protest.

Reacting to this, Prof. K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India in an email to me said: “Previous hikes were steps taken at about four-year intervals. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has put in place a mechanism for regular review. So, this is better seen as the base of a ‘ramp’”.

The empowered committee that has been formed will be looking atperformancebased enhanced fellowship.”

Dispelling the wrong notion that the hike is restricted only to research scholars who have CSIR/UGC NET exams, Prof. VijayRaghavan said: “In addition to the these exams, the hike is applicable to those qualifying through a set of national level exams. Thus, institutions can set up ways by which ‘non-NET’ students, now paid very low levels can take these [other] exams, set by the host institutions and benefit. This greatly expands the pool of students getting the fellowships. This will benefit people in many institutions, including M. Tech students.”

Empowered committee

“An empowered committee has been formed to bring all ministries together to periodically visit the quantum of fellowship and incentivise research,” DST Secretary Prof. Ashutosh Sharma said at a press conference. The committee is yet to meet and look into the operational part.

Besides looking into the issue of fellowship hike periodically, the committee will look into incentivising quality research through various measures, the DST website says.

Dangers of rewarding paper publication

“There will be incentives for publications and patents. This will be calibrated carefully, allowing a baseline standard to be rewarded, making it accessible to the median population and, in addition, excellence being rewarded too,” Prof. VijayRaghavan noted. “The goal is to gently nudge a turn towards quality (not quantity), driven by the student also taking the initiative. This will have the collateral consequence of an enhanced award, which can be significant. But the purpose is not to chase the latter metric, but to focus on quality science. The DST committee will welcome feedback and thoughts here.”

Dispelling fears that incentivising research might have negative fallout, Prof. Sharma said: “The idea is to help students and not punish them. There are twin goals. One is to recognise and reward students for excellence in research both monetarily and motivationally. At the same time, use it as a tool to improve the quality of science being done.”

The sudden increase in the number of predatory journals published from India and number of papers published in such journals can be directly linked to UGC’s policy introduced a few years ago. The UGC made it compulsory for PhD students to publish at least two papers prior to thesis submission and recruitment of lecturers and promotion was also linked to number of papers published. This led to the spurt in predatory journals published in India.

Other incentives

Incentives for teaching and research assistance are also being considered. “This will have the important impact on career opportunities becoming clearer,” Prof. VijayRaghavan said in the email. The committee welcomes feedback on this issue as well.

Finally, contingencies for travel to meetings and workshops are also expected to be enhanced.

In a tweet on February 3, DST said: “Recommendations expected within four weeks for continuous enhancement based on performance”.

The other demand by fellows was concerning regular disbursal of fellowship. There have been instances where fellowship has not been disbursed for up to eight to ten months. The committee has been tasked to look into this issue as well. “The committee will also set in a place a mechanism to ensure speedy and timely disbursement of fellowships,” Prof. VijayRaghavan said.

Published in The Hindu on February 2, 2019

4 Thoughts

  1. The quality of Ph.D. student’s research depends not only on the student’s ability and performance but substantially on the quality of guidance and infrastructural and moral support she/he receives. Similarly, as the final outcome of the work is reflected in the quality of the publication, which in turn is dependent on the presentation skills, quality of data, the importance of the problem and the site/journal of publication, I wonder who is going to decide the quality of output and how! In most funding institutions, the screening is done by a committee of members who are inclined to push their candidates first up the list before worrying about finding out who is really at the higher section of the ladder. The worst part of the story is that the choice of the so-called referees is rarely objective and subject-related and based on truly objective outlook.. There is also a real need to remove regional bias from such selection/ assessment committees.. It is time that Vijayraghavan looks into this anomaly before proceeding further. Well, the cats are members of the players in musical chairs and who will bell these cats?

    1. Hi, You [Prof. Sohan Prabhakar Modak] have rightly said and emphasized about the regional bias from such selection/assessment committees. I would like to tell you that the situation at University level is worst, specially between guide, administration and student. Some solid mechanism is highly needed to measure/monitor the research work done by research scholar and accordingly his/her eligibility for such other incentives/rewards. In India, we are lacking such mechanism.

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