Nasreen Banu, 29, was elated when her daughter’s name figured in the list of the Centrally sponsored scholarships for pre-matric students for the last two years running. This would have entitled her daughter Nuzhat, now in class VII, to pay Rs. 1,000 per annum as tuition fees. However, the 13-year-old is yet to receive the money.
Nasreen herself is struggling to pursue her own Bachelor’s degree in Management Studies at a city college. Her annual fees amount to Rs. 21,000 and she has only managed to raise half that amount in the first year. She has applied for the Central government’s post-matric scholarship, but like others she is unsure of getting it. Her husband works at a sweet shop and the funds are low. She has little option but to take a loan to fund her studies.
Thus, Nasreen was forced to send her daughter to a school, a little far away from her home, where she can afford the tuition fees. “Schools are expensive and there are a lot of extra fees to be paid. The applications are online and I don’t have an internet connection. It is very difficult for us to fill out these forms without help,” she said.
In 2008, the scholarship at pre-matric level was introduced to encourage parents from minority communities to send their children to school. However, while there has been an overwhelming response, every year students have to put up with numerous glitches. This year the pre-matric scholarship site stubbornly refused to open, the Students Islamic Organisation’s (SIO) scholarships cell coordinator, Nadeem Rasoul, pointed out to The Hindu. After several complaints the deadline for applications was extended from August 31 to September 10, which won’t solve the problem, since many schools don’t have access to the internet. Filling out forms in internet cafés, too, takes ages and is of no help to the students thronging the cafés with their parents.
Students belonging to Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Parsee communities, who have not scored less than 50 per cent marks in the previous final examination and whose parents-or-guardians earn not more than Rs. 1 lakh, are eligible for the benefit.
However, it is the backward Muslim community which is having the biggest problems. Mr. Rasoul says there are major issues with the post-matric (from standard 11 till PhD) and the merit cum means (for professional and technical courses) scholarships, as well. Mohammed Ali, an MA student from a Pune college, said: “Last year I filled the form and opened an account but I did not get the fellowship. More than 300 Economics students from the University of Pune did not make the cut. I don’t know if I should apply this year, as it is very demotivating.”
There is confusion over the website where post-matric forms should be filled and there is no space for full names. “My name has eleven letters but the form has only space for nine,” said Ali. His father, a shopkeeper in Mumbai, managed to raise Rs. 14,300 for a year’s fees plus Rs. 1,500 for room rent. “The scholarship was worth Rs. 14,300 but I didn’t get it. This year I may have to take a loan,” he added.
A second year student of air conditioning in a technical college, Abdul Aziz unsuccessfully applied for a post-matric scholarship last year. His father, a tailor, is already in debt for last year’s fees and is facing difficulties paying for his son’s education. Again, this year the website does not show the name of Aziz’s college and no one knows how to apply. Last year only two students from his college got the scholarship while 21 did not.
Maharashtra Minority Affairs Minister Arif Naseem Khan, besieged with complaints regarding the pre-matric website and other issues, is monitoring the matter on a daily basis. Nasreen Contractor, co-director, Women’s Action and Research Group (WRAG), who has been informally networking on the issue of scholarships, said: “It’s very piecemeal and carelessly handled and there is no internal coordination. There must be some way of ensuring accountability and transparency and at least a helpdesk.”
Technology, a hassle
Technology is a hassle for the people for whom the scholarships are meant, said Dr. Farrukh Waris, principal of Burhani College. Last year the college created a special cell for helping students with these scholarships and the result was disappointing — only one of the 31 students who applied was granted funds. This year the cell has been scrapped. “Minorities are in desperate need of education and if only this process could be simplified,” she said. Decentralising the funding process and trusting colleges to do it would be a big step in increasing administrative accountability and transparency, she pointed out.
The former vice-principal of Nirmala Niketan College of Social work, Farida Lambay, demanded more scholarships for students. Reducing the paper work and administrative hurdles, and creating a one window approach would make life easier for students, she said.
Not reflecting reality
From 58,000 students in 2008-09, the numbers of Muslims from Maharashtra who got pre-matric scholarships has swelled to 4.60 lakhs in 2011-12. Last year Rs. 54 crores was spent on this scholarship scheme.
The number of those who availed of post-matric scholarships in 2011-12 went up to 31,733 from 5,169 in 2008-09. With students complaining that they have not received the funds, these statistics may not give the real picture. While the intentions behind the scholarships are noble, the implementation is in a sorry state.