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UGC’s new rules will plunge students into PhDs with no research experience, say wary academics

The UGC, earlier this week, notified significant modifications to the PhD programme, including in the qualification for admissions and evaluation procedures.

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New Delhi: Academicians are wary of the University Grants Commission (UGC)’s latest regulation which says that students who have completed a four-year undergraduate course can now directly pursue a doctoral degree. Academics say these students will have no research experience and will be lost in the first few years of their study.

The UGC, earlier this week, notified significant modifications to the PhD programme, including in the qualification for admissions and evaluation procedures.

Another argument raised by academicians was that the implementation of the four-year undergraduate programme, as devised under the National Education Policy (NEP), has not been brought into effect in all universities. Since this undergraduation is a prerequisite for a direct entry into the PhD program, current students will have to continue to pursue a Master’s degree to be eligible for the same.

Rohit, Assistant Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), said that in the Indian higher education system, every programme has served a purpose. The bachelors course introduces the student to a subject, master’s offers a specialisation, an M.Phil degree gives them an interim training to conduct research and then ultimately the PhD helps them establish themselves as a subject matter expert. The latest regulations disrupt this structure.

He said “It does seem like the UGC is trying to emulate the American system of an integrated PhD but it stands to do more damage than good. Without specialised knowledge in a discipline, no student can write a doctoral research paper, be it a humanities or a sciences student.”

Adding that the move will discourage students from joining doctoral programs, he argued “At JNU we have seen the academic rigour of students improve with time and degrees. Students who have not had excellent education in their undergraduate degree will naturally shy away from going for a doctorate when they are not able to perform on par with their contemporaries in their graduate degree courses or masters courses itself.”

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Removal of M.Phil, master’s programmes 

Associate Professor Debraj Mookerjee of the Ramjas College in Delhi University said the scrapping of the clause mandating students to publish research papers in journals is a positive move. However, the decision to remove the M.Phil and master’s programme will force students to spend the first couple of years of the doctoral study in learning research methodology.

He said “The bachelors and master’s programme in our country is designed in a way where students do not get to conduct any research. While the M.Phil programme gave them the space to conduct a full-fledged research, its removal will pose an issue for aspiring doctorate students. They will be forced to spend the first couple of years of their doctoral study trying to figure out the process.”

Srikanth Kondapalli, the Dean of School of International Studies and a Professor of China studies at the JNU, said that while the move seems to be a measure by the UGC to implement the NEP, there are not enough undergraduate colleges with a four-year programme.

“The scrapping of the M.Phil degree made sense since it now makes the pursuit of a doctorate degree at par with universal standards. However, at JNU, where students from all regions and strata of the society come in, the M.Phil served as a preparatory course for those students who did not have the calibre to pursue a doctoral degree.”

He added, “Since the implementation of the NEP’s four-year-long undergraduate programmes has not been brought into effect in all universities across the country, this provision stands to help tech students more.”

On removal of the need for publishing research articles in peer-reviewed publications, Prof Mookerjee said, “For the past couple of years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of bogus journals in which students would pay money to get published. This provision will put a stop to publication of poor quality research papers.”

Learning right methodology is vital

Prof Pankaj Kumar of the Allahabad University said that the UGC has made the higher education institutions a field of rigorous experimentation. Research for all doctoral students has to be an endeavour that they can achieve only if they have an academic bent of mind and have the motivation to conduct research on their own.

He said, “Students have lost the bent for research post the coming of the internet. Most of their work is a simple copy and paste. In addition to this, with the removal of courses that teach them how to conduct research, students will not be able to conduct research.”

He added that pre-doctoral courses, at par with international standards, is the need of the hour so that interested students can learn the right methodology and design to work towards their doctorate degree.

New Rules 

The new PhD regulations — “University Grants Commission (Minimum Standards and Procedures for Award of PhD Degree) Regulations, 2022” — says a candidate should have a minimum of 75 per cent marks in “aggregate or its equivalent grade on a point scale wherever the grading system is followed”.

If not, the student has to pursue a one-year master’s programme and score at least 55 per cent.

The rules further say “A 1-year master’s degree programme after a 4-year bachelor’s degree programme, or a 2-year master’s degree programme after a 3-year bachelor’s degree programme, or qualifications declared equivalent to the master’s degree by the corresponding statutory regulatory body, with at least 55 per cent marks in aggregate or its equivalent grade in a point scale wherever grading system is followed” will be required.

The UGC has removed the clause “publishing paper in a peer-reviewed journal” as mandatory for a PhD. The 2016 regulations had said that PhD scholars “must publish at least one research paper in a refereed journal and make two paper presentations in conferences/seminars before the submission of the dissertation/thesis for adjudication”.

The latest regulations by UGC have also brought in several provisions to improve the quality of research by students and aid provided by their mentors/guides. Women candidates and persons with disability will be given extra time to finish their research.

Scholars who were previously required to appear before the Research Advisory Committee to present their findings and progress once every six months will now have to do so every semester.

The new rules bars faculty members with less than three years of service left before superannuation from taking new students. While the move encourages the entry of an increased number of students into PhD programs, the previously proposed common entrance test for PhDs has been left out.

The new regulations also allow each supervisor to guide up to two international research scholars in addition to their domestic students.

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

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