‘Limiting Our Future’: Students from Marginalised Communities Condemn Maharashtra’s Revised Scholarship Requirements

Snobar, TwoCircles.net

New Delhi: The Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj Scholarship, aimed at supporting marginalized students from Maharashtra pursuing education abroad, has recently undergone significant revisions. Previously, the scholarship required Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Class (OBC) students to achieve a 60% academic score, while SC students needed 55%. The updated criteria now mandate a minimum academic score of 75% for SC, ST and OBC groups. This change has sparked widespread criticism across the state, particularly among aspiring marginalized community students who had hoped to utilize the scholarship to enhance their educational prospects abroad and uplift their economic circumstances.

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While talking to TwoCircles.net, many aspiring students expressed their concerns regarding the revised scholarship criteria and the challenges they foresee in pursuing higher education abroad. The new requirement of a 75% academic score has raised apprehensions among these students, fearing it may limit their opportunities to improve their economic conditions through international education.

Sachin Talkokulwar, hailing from Yavatmal district in Maharashtra, reacted strongly upon learning about the revised scholarship criteria intended for his pursuit of an M.Sc. in Environment and Sustainable Development at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom (UK).

“I was shocked,” he exclaimed. “I fail to comprehend how policymakers formulate policies based on certain assumptions. This scholarship is aimed at marginalized students who often lack access to proper and quality education. Many of us have studied in government schools, yet aspire to attend top universities worldwide. Even prestigious institutions like Oxford do not solely judge students based on academic percentages. However, our government has now imposed a 75% requirement for this scholarship. Does this imply that those achieving less than 75% do not deserve the opportunity to study abroad or are somehow unworthy of it?”

Angiras Sanjay Kharat, a first-generation learner from Mumbai, recently completed his Bachelor’s in Management Studies from Mumbai University in 2022. He received an unconditional offer from the UK-based University of Bristol, which is ranked 55th globally by QS. Despite meeting the academic criteria of 75% in his previous degree, he fell short of the 75% requirement in his 10th and 12th standards, rendering the revised scholarship criteria unattainable for him.

“Seventy-five percent is a significant benchmark that varies across subjects. Achieving 75% in engineering is more challenging than in the arts and vice versa. This criterion disqualifies almost everyone. International universities have already accepted us, so halting our progress based on a 75% limit feels unjust. Even the National Overseas Scholarship, a central government scheme, mandates only 60% in the previous qualifying exam; whereas, Maharashtra’s scholarship now demands 75%,” Kharat pointed out.

“This scholarship means everything to me; my education at the University of Bristol depends entirely on it. I did not anticipate changes to the Maharashtra Scholarship GR and assumed it would remain consistent with last year. I applied to foreign universities and received offers from the University of Leeds, the University of Warwick and the University of Bristol, with pending results from the University of Edinburgh. I was hopeful about securing this scholarship, but even if successful, the government has capped funding at Rs 30 lakh per student,” he lamented.

“My M.Sc. in management fees at the University of Bristol amount to £31,500 (approximately Rs. 33.5 lakhs). How can I cover tuition, living expenses, flight tickets and health insurance under Rs 30 lakhs? This decision has left me profoundly disappointed,” he expressed.

Raju Kendre, founder of the Eklavya Global Scholar Program, which mentors aspiring students from marginalized communities for higher education opportunities in India and abroad, discussed challenges posed by the revised scholarship scheme.

He criticized the mandatory 75% academic score requirement, stating, “Imposing criteria such as 75% creates unnecessary barriers for students from historically marginalized communities who have secured admissions to top-tier universities like Harvard or LSE. This reflects an elitist, meritocratic approach embedded in our policy systems. If a foreign university deems a student eligible, why impose additional hurdles based on percentage?”

He also highlighted the government’s inadequate provision of stipends for students, noting that while many global scholarships increase stipends annually to account for inflation, both state and central governments in India plan to cap scholarship amounts, offering insufficient monthly stipends. This leaves students in a precarious position, often resorting to part-time jobs to cover their living expenses.

Kendre contrasted this with scholarships like Felix, Chevening and Commonwealth, which provide approximately £19,000 annually for living costs (adjusted for inflation each year). In stark contrast, the National Overseas Scholarship (NOS) for SC/ST students in India provides less than £10,000, highlighting a significant disparity in financial support for marginalized students.

He emphasized that SC, ST and OBC students aspire to study abroad to break free from systemic oppression but often face challenges meeting their basic needs. Many are forced to take up part-time jobs and make sacrifices in networking and even food to survive.

“These students should not be seen merely as recipients of financial aid; they are future leaders. They deserve to be treated as global scholars, akin to prestigious platforms like the Rhodes, the Fulbright, the Chevening, the DAAD and the Commonwealth. These scholars represent tomorrow’s assets for the nation. Ultimately, investing in this human resource is crucial for our collective future,” he told TwoCircles.net.

Eknath Wagh, a 28-year-old from a farming family with modest income, completed his bachelor’s in economics and master’s from the Pune University. Recently admitted to Harvard University for an education policy course, his hopes were pinned on the Maharashtra scholarship. However, the recent changes have dashed his dreams of attending Harvard.

“These recent changes in the scholarship meant for marginalized students are unconstitutional and unjust in every way. I do not believe the government can justify this unfair change. These foreign institutions now seem out of reach solely due to this policy,” he expressed to this reporter.

Reflecting on his experience from last year’s scholarship application process, Sachin Talkokulwar also voiced his frustration, stating, “I realized the government is not genuinely committed to sending marginalized students abroad for education. Last year, results were announced on August 26, by which time most universities had completed their admission processes, leaving many of us unable to travel or confirm admissions.”

He continued, “Even after selection, the government only provides £825 per month for living expenses, yet accommodation costs alone amount to around £800 per month. Students struggle to afford food and other necessities.”

“The government’s lack of commitment is evident in these additional criteria, which seem designed to exclude intelligent and aware students from receiving scholarships,” he argued.

Discussing the impact of the revised scholarship programs on the representation of marginalized communities, Kharat emphasized that it will undoubtedly diminish their presence. He explained, “When some students from our community have had the opportunity to study abroad, it inspired us and instilled belief that we too can achieve that. However, such policies will severely impact people from our marginalized communities because more than 80% of them will no longer be eligible for this scholarship. Without funding, representation of marginalized people will be severely curtailed.”

“It is only when students from our community can pursue education abroad and excel that they can uplift society. If no students from marginalized communities can study abroad, their representation will be negligible,” he added.