The new UGC guidelines will lead to disruption of teaching and research functions across the centres in universities.
University Grants Commission (UGC) in its new guidelines for Women’s Studies 2019, released on March 12 has cut funds on women studies’ centres (WSC) across the country by up to 40 pc.
According to World Bank data, the women labour force participation rate in India is 27 pc against 33 pc in Bangladesh, 61 pc in China, 51 pc in Myanmar, 57 pc in the UK, 55 pc in the US and 82 pc in Nepal. Even the gender pay gap is high since women workers earn 19 pc less wage than men on an average, according to a recent report by Monster India.
At a time when the government should be supporting WSC’s the decision to cut down the fund could mean the end for many of these centres. The first university research centre for women’s studies was set up in 1974 by the SNDT Women’s University followed by the Institute for Social Studies Trust (ISST), and the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) in New Delhi. Women’s Studies Cell in SNDT University initiated the feminist intervention in academia and “domains where knowledge is self-reflexively produced.” These centres through its teaching, training, research, scholarship and advocacy have had a far-reaching impact on modern academia.
Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS) president Meera Velayudhan said that of late there has been no communication between IAWS members and UGC before any major decision. “There are about 200 centres in the country in universities and colleges. Why are they targeting women studies centres, which are doing a wonderful job on raising issues which are important to women in society, especially in this time and age?”
The new guidelines
As per the IAWS, the new guidelines would mean a ‘drastic cut in annual fund allocation.’ The established women centres are divided into different phases like phase 1, phase 2 and advanced centres. Earlier the salary budget was distributed ranging from INR 4 million to INR 6 million, where phase 1 centres receive INR 4.75 million, phase 2 centres receive INR 6.4 million and the advanced centres receive INR 7.5 million per annum.
However, in the new guidelines, the phases receive no mention. The budget will be fixed at INR 3.5 million for each centre and INR 2.5 million for each college.
In the new guidelines, “They have been given a flat figure. Most centres are already in higher phases. By giving this flat figure, these centres are also facing a cut. There will simply not be the budget to pay salaries of those already appointed,” says Indrani Mazumdar, ex officio member of the IAWS.
There are about 200 WSCs in the country, of which six centres are in Telangana state, where undergraduate and postgraduate courses are offered. Research scholars on women’s subjects also carry out studies at these centres.
“Many women’s studies centres around the country were started because the UGC gave funding for the faculty and researchers. The UGC was supposed to keep funding the centres but the present guidelines are silent on this. Many faculty members who are dependent on the UGC for salaries can be affected,” says Mini Sukumar, head of the women’s studies department at the University of Calicut.
The previous guidelines spoke in detail about teaching and training in women’s studies centres, in addition to BA, MA, MPhil and PhD qualifications. The new guidelines do not address teaching and training and say almost nothing about the four degrees.
The letter released by IAWS states that the new guidelines will lead to disruption of teaching and research functions across the centres in universities, while MA students, MPhil and PhD scholars will also be affected and left without teachers and guides midway in their courses and research activities.
The budgetary allocations for WSCs will lead to the non payment of staffs who are already working in various colleges and universities, leading them to lose their jobs. Also scholars that are currently pursuing women’s studies will not be able to compete for teaching and research positions that were previously being funded by the UGC.
Firdous Azmat Siddiqui, an associate professor at Jamia Milia Islamia, who was part of recent talks with the UGC on the issue, says “When we met with concerned authorities in the government, we were told that the provisioning for women’s studies centre has diminished so some staff positions would also be wound up.”
Congress criticised the action and said Modi government’s coinage “Beti bachao Beti padhao” and “New India” were at war with each other when it came to ground realities and implementation. Meanwhile IAWS will submit a memorandum to the chairperson of UGC with signatures from the WSCs across India, asking the Commission to reconsider and revise the new guidelines to ensure that the university level WSCs, their teachers and staff are able to continue and expand their teaching and research activities.