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IIM fee breather for SCs, STs

New Delhi, Jan. 21: Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students who win national higher education scholarships will no longer need to pay tuition fees up front to join the IITs, IIMs, NITs and other central universities.

At present, such students get the scholarships a few months after admissions, because of which many from poor families fail to arrange the required funds and can’t be admitted.

The HRD ministry has now issued a directive under which such students will only have to submit an undertaking that they will deposit the fees after getting the scholarships.

The directive, which covers over hundred centrally funded higher educational institutions, asks them not to insist on fees from such students at the time of admission, saying it puts a burden on those from poor backgrounds.

Ministry sources said the new rule would ensure that failure to arrange admission cash did not deny deserving SC/ST students the chance to pursue higher education.

The directive, issued by HRD ministry economic adviser R.C. Meena on January 8, also wants the central institutions to make “special efforts” to get education loans for other SC and ST students, the ones not covered by scholarships.

The scholarships are for SC and ST students who are selected in central institutions and whose parents’ annual incomes are less than Rs 2 lakh.

The scholarship includes tuition fees and boarding expenses but so far such students were having to make the payments at the time of admission from their own resources and then wait for the government funds to flow in.

The tuition fees in central institutions range from a low of Rs 250 (Delhi University for example) to Rs 2.5 lakh (the IIMs). The ministry of social Justice and empowerment hands out the funds to SC students and the ministry of tribal affairs to those in the ST category.

“Many students find it daunting to pay the admission fees. Arranging the funds becomes very difficult for them. Many do not take admission. This step (the change in rules) will reduce the hardship of these students,” said P.S. Krishnan, former secretary of the National Commission for Backward Classes.

According to him, over a lakh students get scholarships from the Centre each year.

A panel set up by the Planning Commission had suggested that there should be no income ceiling for such scholarships. But the government is yet to accept the proposal.

Another key element is education loans. All students with parental incomes up to Rs 4.5 lakh per annum are entitled to get such loans without interest.

But the latest ministry directive focuses on the deserving SC/ST students and says the central institutions should ensure they apply and get such loans.

A ministry official said the step had been taken following a commitment made in the 12th Plan (2012-17) that no student should be deprived of higher education opportunities for lack of money.

But the drive isn’t limited to funds.

A senior official of the University Grants Commission (UGC) said all central universities had set up “equal opportunity cells” to help SC and ST students in every way possible, whether it involved financial, academic or any other intervention.

The IITs and the IIMs have appointed professors for students’ welfare, which includes helping students from the weaker sections get loans.

This month’s directive from the ministry takes the process further, asking the institutions to provide books and other equipment to SC and ST students by tapping funds from two central schemes, the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan and the Tribal Sub-Plan. Similar benefits are planned for physically challenged students.