Early-career Indian researcher in a lab.

Credit: Pallava Bagla

Indian research scholars welcome big bonanza in stipends

NEW DELHI—An announcement yesterday from the Indian government that young scientists will receive a roughly 60% increase in their stipends drew a mixed reaction from the scientific community. Although the graduate students and postdocs are certainly grateful for the economic boost, they resent the government’s description of it as a “special gift.” And they are disappointed that it apparently took prolonged protests to force the government’s hand.

“No doubt this is a long-overdue, much-needed relief to research scholars,” Raghavendra Gadagkar, an evolutionary biologist and president of the Indian National Science Academy here, told ScienceInsider. “But what is really required is a policy by which there are periodic and predictable revisions in scholarships roughly along the lines of [what] is paid to salaried employees. In the present system, every scholarship hike is preceded by agitation, disrupting normal work, and creating a bitter environment. More importantly, the present system conveys the impression that one can get anything through agitation but nothing without agitation.”

The larger stipends come after months of protests, including a gathering of 800 scholars outside the gates of the science ministry here. India’s science minister, Jitendra Singh, said “the demand was legitimate and the science ministry worked doubly hard to get this pay hike implemented quickly even in these times of economic hardship.” Without the increase, he said, “many would have left their research jobs for other lucrative avenues.” Singh called the boost a “special gift” from the government on the eve of Diwali, the festival of lights where Hindus pray to the goddess of wealth.

The raises are “a welcome step,” says Pankaj Jain, a Ph.D. student in molecular biophysics at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and a leader of the institute’s Students' Council that led the fight for a pay boost. But Jain feels more reforms are needed to attract students into science, including a regular pay ladder.

The increases, which went into effect on 1 October, apply to some 71,000 young scientists receiving support from the federal government. A graduate student in a Ph.D. program will receive Rs 25,000 per month ($410), up from Rs 16,000, and a research associate (equivalent to a postdoc) will get a hike from Rs 24,000 to Rs 40,000 per month. In addition, the trainees receive a housing allowance and medical benefits, which vary according to location and institution. The increases will boost overall government spending on fellowships by 45%, to Rs 24,130 million ($400 million).

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