UGC research programs stalled as Department of Education halts funding


At least three research programs have stalled due to shutdown funds from the Department of Education. In one case, the UGC provided grants from its own funds.

Dharmendra Pradhan informed Parliament on December 6, 2021 that the Center has released Rs 11.50 crore for 35 selected institutions under STRIDE. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

NEW DELHI: The Transdisciplinary Research Program for India’s Developing Economy (STRIDE) was announced with great fervor in 2019. Since then, the program has died out without government funds.

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Launched by the University Grants Commission (UGC), the initiative aimed to support research capacity building as well as basic, applied and transformative research that can contribute to national interests. Its three different components support initiatives and research projects that are socially relevant, based on local needs, nationally important, and globally significant to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and societal well-being. .

The program was launched by the then Minister of Education, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ in July 2019. Public universities that usually have large grants to conduct transformational research were invited to submit proposals. Current Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan informed Parliament on December 6, 2021 that the union government has released Rs 11.50 crore for 35 selected institutions under STRIDE. However, the funds are far from sufficient.

An advisory committee had been set up under the chairmanship of Bhushan Patwardhan, former UGC vice president, to oversee the program. Patwardhan, who left UGC 10 months ago, told Careers360 that the Department of Education has not released promised grants since the program was launched. In the absence of funds from the Ministry, the UGC paid the initial amount of its internal subsidies.

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Pending approval, funds

Three years into the program, institutions selected under various streams are still awaiting a response to the first stage – confirmation of the final proposal. According to teachers who dedicated time and resources to submit proposals, repeated appeals to the UGC and the STRIDE cell established at the Hindu University of Benares (BHU) went unanswered for three years.

In December 2019, a group of 11 establishments was selected by the UGC for the third part of the STRIDE project. This component involved funding “high-impact research projects in identified priority areas in the humanities and humanities through a national network of eminent scientists from leading institutions”. The offer was a maximum grant of Rs 1 crore for individual institutes and Rs 5 crore for a multi-institutional network. To encourage high-quality, high-impact research in the humanities, there is a provision to identify experts and invite them to develop a proposal. UGC has offered a grant of Rs 2 lakh to develop the proposals.

“We have received initial funds of Rs 2 lakh. We used this money to conduct the pilot study, the workshops and write the detailed project report. We had submitted this proposal in 2019 as per UGC guidelines,” said Arvind Jasrotia, Registrar, University of Jammu. Jasrotia is the principal investigator of a project taken over by UGC. He is leading a research project related to water and solid waste management in urban Jammu and Kashmir.

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Participating institutes were to receive UGC grants in two equal installments. Institutions would only receive the second installment after having used the first.

Ruchi Sinha, a teacher at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, is another researcher awaiting confirmation of her proposal by UGC and the STRIDE cell. “We tried to contact the UGC and the STRIDE cell for the first seven months after the proposal was submitted, but there was no response,” Sinha complained, adding, “I don’t even know. not who to call at this stage as all numbers are fixed and no one chooses.Hopefully we will get some clarity on the final approval of the projects so that there is at least some closure.

Delay due to COVID-19?

While others had no news for three years, Munisamy Govindaraju, a teacher at Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli, was told the delay was due to COVID-19.

“I submitted the UC [utilisation certificate], the audit report as well as the detailed project report before the last date in 2019. We tried to get in touch with the UGC and the STRIDE cell but there was no response from them. They did not say if the project has been approved, or when they will release the money. A few months ago I was told by the responsible professor at BHU that there was a delay in releasing the funds due to the coronavirus,” Govindraju said.

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Ministry of Education, UGC, “financial shortage”

The problem, however, is the scarcity of funds caused by the education ministry, said an official familiar with the program, asking not to be named. “The pre-proposal has been reviewed and some 11 IPs [principal investigators] received Rs 2 Lakh [each]. Additionally, institutes were eligible to get up to Rs 1 crore. The pre-proposal was funded and the final proposal was also reviewed, but due to lack of money, none of them received final funding,” the official said.

In addition, UGC had to release initial funding from its internal grants to selected institutions under Component 1 of STRIDE. “Component 1 is intended to strengthen the research capacities of institutions. This is done at the institutional level. For more than 20 institutions, the UGC has released funds from its internal grants. The UGC office has released funds from its internal funds and is still awaiting money from the Ministry of Education. An amount of up to Rs 1 crore has been granted after consideration of the proposal from around 20 educational institutions,” said BK Singh, Project Coordinator, STRIDE Cell.

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“We were trying to get in touch with UGC, but in 2021 we received reports that UGC was facing financial shortages and there was no money for STRIDE. three years that we haven’t received any information about our plans and we have stopped trying,” said a teacher at a public university on condition of anonymity.

Component II

A group of 35 aided universities and colleges have been chosen to receive funding of up to Rs 1 crore each. However, they were paid from UGC’s own funds rather than from a separate budget for the program promised by the ministry. For component II, for more than 500 research projects, UGC demands Rs 200 crore which is also pending. The research projects are not yet finalized.

“Under the second stream, around 500 shortlisted projects and their principal investigators are with us and it requires a lot of money, around Rs 200 crore. UGC doesn’t have that much money in its internal grants. They are in discussion with the Department of Education, the Secretary for Higher Education, and hopefully a solution will come out before March 2022,” Singh said.

Patwardhan, who oversaw the program between 2019 and 2021, said: “At first when it started we paid from our internal funds but it was not enough. No funds have been released by the Ministry of Education for the STRIDE program itself. He added that the higher education regulator had asked for Rs 400 crore, to be spent over a period of five years.

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“We had sent an appropriate budget requirement and tried to follow up with the department, but there was no response from them. We tried to do what we could,” he added.

The ministry’s sudden stop on the program also affected the research potential of the institutes. “This [absence of funds] must have hurt the promising projects. STRIDE is a model program because it aims to promote research in areas that can solve real-world problems. It meets the needs of society. I don’t believe that an important program like STRIDE should be left behind solely because of budget constraints. I don’t think the department is short of money; they run so many research-related programs, why should that be left out,” Patwardhan explained.

Reduced research funds

Besides STRIDE, other programs funded by the Union government have also been halted due to lack of funding. “Everything is in transition mode. There is another program called SPARC [The Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration] from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur, which is pending. Then there is the STARS program, from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru which is also on hold. All funding agencies have put everything on hold due to lack of funding,” Singh said.

The SPARC and STARS programs are both centrally funded applied science research programs. In the 2021-22 budget, the department had significantly reduced funding for research programs. The SPARC program budget has increased from Rs 40 crore in 2020-21 to Rs 10 crore in 2021-22. STARS budget has been halved from Rs 50 crore in 2020-21 to Rs 25 crore in the current financial year.

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Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had also announced the establishment of the National Research Foundation (NRF,) as recommended by the National Education Policy 2020, suggesting an increase in research spending. In his budget speech, Sitharaman announced that the government would spend Rs 50,000 crore over the next five years on research through the NRF.

Close to the announcement of the 2022 budget by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Patwardhan hopes the government will stop neglecting “important research projects” like STRIDE. “I sincerely urge the Government of India to approve a budget for programs like this much more than what UGC had submitted. This money is enhancing the research potential of the country’s tertiary institutions. The 2022 budget session will begin on January 31 and end on April 8, 2022.

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