The Akshaya Patra Foundation’s AVSAR Scholarship Programme serves to address the concern of school dropouts due to financial constraints by bridging the gap between the students and scholarships. Akshaya Patra essentially plays the role of the facilitator and sources scholarship opportunities for deserving students from the wide array of scholarships offered by the Government and corporates. In 2019-20, scholarships worth ₹2,33,02,871 were provided to over 1,547 students across the country. All the students were chosen based on merit and need after profiling over 14 thousand students and reviewed 5,831 applications.
AVSAR is a part of Akshaya Patra’s flagship initiative, National Endeavour for Student Transformation (NEST) through which the Foundation seeks to go beyond mid-day meals to facilitate the holistic development of children. The initiative aims to “identify deserving students from underserved sections of society and nurture their aspiration by providing financial aid.” It empowers students in Government and Government-aided schools, motivates them to make the best use of Government and private scholarships and helps address the issue of school dropouts due to financial constraints. For students, scholarships assure financial freedom that, in turn, leads to a more encouraging and holistic environment to continue their education. However, over 60% of students are not matched to any funds due to limited reach, online process and tedious documentation. Nearly 40% of funds are not matched to any students due to lack of awareness and support, mistakes in the application or their lack of proficiency in English. In such cases, the team at AVSAR revisits these applications after consulting the donors to check if the cut-off percentage can be relaxed. In some cases, the applications are re-submitted with more details or converted into digital forms to reduce errors and provide assistance to the students and their families in the application process.
One of these beneficiaries is 18-year-old Veerendra. The scholarship has not once but helped him thrice to continue his studies. Son of a single parent and garment factory worker, his dream of becoming a microbiologist is a step closer, he quips. A scholarship of ₹20,000 was first offered to him when he was in 2nd PUC. Subsequently, he applied for the same for the next two years. He is one of the beneficiaries of the programme for the academic year 2019-20. “As a child, I wanted to study science and was always excited about it. Though I wanted to study MBBS, lack of funds in my family made me opt for the next best thing that will keep me close to the medical field–microbiology. I want to pursue a career in chemistry, botany and microbiology. I want to pursue a career in biochemistry and hopefully, do my PhD in it,” says the aspiring scientist.
For 23-year-old Dhanush, a former beneficiary of the programme and now an architect at a reputed firm in Bangalore, the scholarship was a highlight of his job interview. He jumps at reminiscing the day he gave his interview. He shares, “Earning a prestigious or merit-based scholarship can make the awardee a more attractive job candidate. Employers who understand the competitive nature of the scholarship will recognise it as an accomplishment. This not only reduces the school dropout rates but also increases confidence and support system to these children.” The AVSAR scholarship programme empowers students like Veerendra and Dhanush to follow their aspirations by addressing their financial difficulties. In 2014, the year of inception of this scholarship programme, Akshaya Patra sourced annual scholarships worth ₹3,51,129 for 20 students from corporates. Since then, the programme has seen significant growth, covering over 300 educational institutions and impacting the lives and aspirations of over 4,000 students.