Kottayam: Mahatma Gandhi University University has decided to grant maternity leave to Under-Graduate (UG) and Post-Graduate (PG) girl students, similar to that being extended to research students, on the basis of a directive in this regard from the University Grants Commission (UGC). An order in this regard is expected to be issued after the nod from the Syndicate.
Presently, maternity leave as per the UGC provisions is allowed only to M Phil and PhD students.
It was way back in 2014 that a group of 200 girl students of the Ernakulam Law College shot off a letter to the Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, demanding maternity leave to female scholars of all courses.
Their main demand was that the women students pursuing degree courses too should be extended the maternity leave benefit. However, it took another eight years for University to finally come out with a favourable decision.
Other universities in Kerala too are set to initiate measures to issue an order allowing maternity leave to UG and PG students.
What the UGC says
As per the UGC order, the respective universities can decide on matters relating to leave period and relaxation in attendance.
The UGC in December 2021 directed all higher education institutions to frame necessary rules and regulations, including that for relaxation in attendance and extension of the deadline for submitting applications for exams, as part of granting maternity leave to women students enrolled in UG and PG programmes. The order made it clear that the same is applicable to all institutes and affiliated colleges coming under a higher education institution.
Students welcome move
The student community has welcomed MG University's decision to grant maternity leave to graduate and post-graduate scholars. However, they feel the decision has arrived a bit late. There are many who let out a long sigh of despair over lost opportunity as they were forced to discontinue studies owinf to pregnancy and childbirth. A select few seem to be content with the degree, PG certificates they have got, still wondering how they managed to complete the studies while simultaneously taking care of their babies.
A majority of institutes extend the relaxation in several matters, like stipulations with regard to minimum attendance, practical classes, and deadline for submitting assignments, to the students who get pregnant during their study period on humanitarian grounds.
Now with women students being finally entitled to maternity leave, they can utilize the benefits aptly, and more importantly, should no longer wait for the generosity and mercy of others.
Grab your right
The biggest advantage of the decision is that maternity leave is no more a generosity bestowed on girl students, rather it’s their right now, remarked Dr Jyothimol P, Vice Principal, Baselius College, Kottayam.
“Earlier, the situation was such that the students going on maternity leave had to depend on friends and teachers for timely completion of assignments and for obtaining minimum attendance. Often, things would fall in place only because of mutual understanding and the generosity showered on them by others. There existed a situation when students would be ousted from the course itself upon them not turning up for classes for 15 straight days," Dr Jyothimol recalled.
The university decision will be a remedy to all the disadvantages pregnant students face. It will aid students to fully focus on their studies without any worry, she added.
"Normally, students join for degree, PG courses when they attain 18 to 22 years. With age no more a determining factor for getting admissions, candidates above this age group are now joining the courses,” noted Jyothimol.
Alphonsa Vijayan Joseph, St Teresa’s College principal, also welcomed the MG university decision.
Gain for teachers too
Though the students requiring maternity leave at degree course level are less, this is not the case with PG scholars, she pointed out. In the case of such students, the practice so far was to allow relaxation in attendance and submission of assignments. Now the job of teachers and the department will become easy upon extending the relaxations, based on an order.
It’s easy to do things on the basis of laid down rules and regulations. Besides, the student community can have a clear idea of their rights. The UGC rule provides that each University can decide on the period of maternity leave to be allowed. Only when the decision of the Syndicate meeting turns into an order will there be clarity on these matters, Alphonsa pointed out.
Roshan Jabeen, a former student who struggled with studies during her pregnancies, narrated her plight.
When Roshan bagged the first rank in MSc Electrical Power systems Engineering from the Coimbatore Government Engineering College, the Kasaragod native had just given birth to twins.
She sat for the third-semester examination, being eight months pregnant. She completed the test with great difficulty, sometimes standing and jolting down answers when she couldn't bear with the discomfiture. She was directly taken to the hospital from the examination center for delivery. She took just 28 days' leave and was soon back at the college.
Roshan had to overcome a lot of challenges during this period.
After taking the 28-day leave, she could only obtain 76% attendance against the mandatory 80. The college authorities refused to allow her to take the fourth-semester examination due to this.
She then submitted an application to the departmental head and the concerned authorities to allow her a relaxation in the attendance rules. However, the authorities took the stance that they couldn’t grant her any special concession. Either she had to pay a fine or attend classes on weekends to gain 80% attendance. She chose the latter and began attending classes on Saturdays too.
Since her stay was nearby, she would leave for college after feeding her babies. Once the bell rings for the noon interval, she would rush back home.
Finally, Roshan passed the fourth-semester exam with flying colours after attending classes for six days a week, often staying back in college to complete her assignments. She struggled to obtain the minimum attendance and complete assignments on time.
“The students will be a relieved lot, upon being entitled with the right to avail maternity leave. They should no longer need to wait for the generosity of others to get on with their studies,” a beaming Roshan said.
Roshan, who completed her MTech course in 2018, is presently doing PhD at the Indian Institute of Space Science & Technology, an autonomous institute under the ISRO.
However, not everyone could emulate the feat of Roshan and manage to cross two key hurdles in life simultaneously just by sheer hard work. While some manage to tackle such situations through determination, self-confidence, and fighting spirit, many stumble on the hurdles.
Anila still rues her lost chance
When Anila was forced to marry at the age of 18 years due to horoscope-related issues and became an expectant mother two years later, she was left with no choice but to discontinue her degree studies.
She had then not even heard of maternity leave and stopped her studies midway through the course. However, Anila is much sad she didn’t even have a degree certificate with her. After she became a mother of two, she turned her focus to PSC coaching.
Currently, she is a government employee, serving as a Last-Grade Servant (LGS). She rues the fact that a degree would have resulted in her name being included in the Public Service Commission ranklist for the job of Assistants. Today, she very much wants to resume her degree studies that she had discontinued 15 years ago.
Calicut University leads the way
The Calicut University was the first Indian varsity to grant maternity leave for woman students, back in 2013. For this, the University changed the regulations for MCA course, allowing new and expectant mothers to go on long leave and rejoin the courses after the maternity leave.
The students were allowed to appear for examinations, as their first chance and not supplementary. For this, the University effected a change in the 2010 regulations for MCA course.
Family, institution support still crucial
There are several students who couldn’t complete their studies owing to marriage and childbirth. When they come back to resume their education after several years, the syllabus would have undergone a sea change.
Since they have to start all over again, a herculean task, normally many would drop their renewed attempt to complete the courses then and there.
The new decision could bring about a change in such situations, pointed out Dr Sumi Joy Oliyappuram, the Head of the Malayalam Department at Maharajas College, Ernakulam.
“Even if a student is entitled to maternity leave as her right, the educational institution and her family should extend all support. This is because they have to meet the requirements of both the maternal role and that of a student simultaneously. The new decision is a beacon of hope for all those hapless girl students forced to marry at a young age. The decision should have come much earlier,” she noted.
In short, the new university rule would pave the way for many, who are forced to marry at a young age and become expectant mothers due to social circumstances and other reasons, to harbour dreams of a bright future.