JNU: How the UGC Notification would destroy the character of the institute

The University Grants Commission’s notification on M.Phil/Ph.D admissions will undermine JNU’s decades-old deprivation point and make education inaccessible to the marginalised.

ByMohit K Pandey
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JNU: How the UGC Notification would destroy the character of the institute
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The Jawarhalal Nehru University (JNU) student community is extremely concerned over the unilateral imposition of the May 5th 2016 UGC Notification through the 142nd Academic Council meeting held during the winter break.

While the MHRD-UGC-JNU Admin nexus is keen on pushing their anti-student, unconstitutional agenda of closing the gates of higher education for marginalised and weaker sections through regressive policies. From last many years governments after governments have pushed the policies with a top-down approach. Policymakers never tried to assess what the students of this country want, or what will be beneficial for weaker sections of society. To imitate foreign countries (without providing proper infrastructure and resources) and to create a fertile ground for privately-funded education, government policies reflected serious lack of reasoning. This is why students have relentlessly protested them, from the Foreign University act, bills in higher education, Four year Undergraduate Program, Choice Based Credit System, Central University Bill, Fellowship-cut, Attack on autonomy and Freedom of speech. We have also seen that how agencies like the University Grants Commission have been used to fulfil agendas such as opening the route for foreign universities. After facing strong opposition on ‘one size fits all’ policies like the Central Universities Bill, BJP government is again trying to make its backdoor entry through UGC Regulations. The current 5th May 2016 Gazette is also part of that agenda where government want to snatch universities’ autonomy to make policies, to have unique and diverse course structures, to provide social justice and reservations mandated in the Constitution and to open the gates of public funded higher education for marginalised sections of the society.

JNU has character unique to publicaly funded educational institutions. JNU’s present admission policy has several unique features for ensuring social inclusion and academic rigour. In fact, JNU’s admission policy for M. Phil/PhD. admissions already addresses all due concerns for “quality” along with “social justice” and “social inclusion”, far more effectively than the UGC notification. In this context, such arbitrary imposition of the UGC Notification, which is essentially a “one-size-fit-all” model, has several detrimental effects.

Why Should The UGC Notification Be Revoked?

The 5th May 2016 UGC notification, far from being a “guideline,” is in effect a “straightjacket” with rigid examination criteria, admission rules and the criteria for the eligibility of research supervision, which grossly compromises the autonomy of universities, particularly those like JNU which are already following a rigorous and far more socially inclusive admission policy evolved through decades of students’ struggle, dialogue and research, and a rigorous model of time bound, regular system of research evaluation.

In particular, adoption of UGC notification will undermine JNU’s unique and decades-old deprivation point system in admissions, the Prof. Nafey Committee Recommendations (obtained after years of felt need and struggle) to reduce viva weightage in M.Phil./PhD. admissions and other specific provisions which have made JNU one of best universities in the world in terms of inclusive social composition and academic rigour and quality.

1) Dangers of Massive Seat Cut: To begin with, the UGC notification lays down strict rules regarding the eligibility of “research supervision”. It says: “A Research Supervisor/Co-supervisor who is a Professor, at any given point of time, cannot guide more than three (3) M.Phil. and Eight (8) Ph.D. scholars. An Associate Professor as Research Supervisor can guide up to a maximum of two (2) M.Phil. and six (6) Ph.D. scholars and an Assistant Professor as Research Supervisor can guide up to a maximum of one (1) M.Phil. and four (4) Ph.D. scholars.”

  • On cue, JNU’s Director Admissions has sent a letter all to the departments/ centres dated January 11 with the following order: “Accordingly the number of students intake for M.Phil./PhD programmes will be recast on the basis of faculty strength of each school/centre/special school as per clause 6.5 of the above said UGC regulation.” This is nothing but a clear order for drastic reduction in the available number of MPhil/PhD seats, with many centres unable to provide a single seat over next several years.
  • It is important to note that the current number of seats for M.Phil/Ph.D. in different departments of JNU was fixed by the 93rd Constitution Amendment which mandated expansion of seats for implementing OBC reservation during 2008-11. The number of seats since then has remained unchanged. So, it would be a gross violation of the constitution if either the UGC or the JNU administration attempts to curtail existing number of M.Phil./Ph.D. seats in the name of adhering to some specified number of “supervisor/research student” ratio. We believe, UGC should ensure “supervisor/research student” ratio by expanding faculty recruitment in the universities and not through reduction in student intake.
  • Indeed, the fundamental question is, is it correct to restrict admissions/enrolment in higher research based on the existing faculty strength? Should not the UGC and the Government instead plan to expand faculty strength in research programmes depending on the increasing number of new aspirants?
  • It is also important to note that the JNU faculty is not complaining of ‘overburden’/ ‘excess research scholars’; on the contrary, they have strongly opposed the UGC notification – yet the VC is using the UGC notification to disregard the specific needs and potential of our university.

JNU is one of the last few universities in the country which provides a hope for students from remote areas and marginalized backgrounds to pursue affordable quality research. Rather than taking up the responsibility of expanding faculty strength and filling up vacant posts, the UGC notification is being used to do the opposite: forcing students to bear the brunt of the lack of infrastructure by reducing the number of seats.

2) Multiple Challenges to Socially Inclusive Features of JNU’s Admission Policy for M. Phil/ PhD: The adoption of UGC notification will undermine the recommendations of the administration constituted by the Nafey Committee which recommended reduction of viva weightage in M.Phil./Ph.D. admissions; JNU’s unique and decades-old deprivation point system in admissions and other specific provisions which have made JNU one of best universities in terms of inclusive social composition and academic rigour and quality.

  • 100% Viva Weightage: The UGC notification states that the M. Phil /PhD admission will be based on a two step entrance process consisting of written and viva. It also states that written test will be a qualifier. In JNU entrance for integrated M. Phil/PhD is already a two step entrance test and a qualifying mark is fixed. The fact that the UGC notification mentions that the written will be qualifying is being interpreted by the JNU Vice Chancellor to mean that the written will be a mere qualifier and that final selection will be based only on viva, raising viva weightage in admissions to 100 per cent!

It is to be noted that the Abdul Nafey committee constituted after JNUSU’s sustained struggle has come to a conclusion (based on the analysis of the admission related data) that discrimination based on caste and ‘social group’ is indeed a reality. Hence, it recommended that the viva marks be reduced from ’30 per cent to 15 per cent’ to mitigate this discrimination. But, with the imposition of the UGC Notification, we are being pushed towards a 100 per cent viva-based admission process with the written examination reduced to a mere qualifier. This would open the door for 100 per cent discretion, discrimination and favouritism in the admission process.

It is also important to note that there is a 1980 5-judge Constitution Bench verdict (Ajay Hasia) which forbids any selection process to have more than 15 per cent weightage for viva because of the discriminatory potential structurally embedded in any interview process.

  • High and Exclusionary Eligibility Criteria: The existing eligibility marks (of the last qualifying exam) for applying in M. Phil/PhD in different centres of JNU vary from 45 per cent to 55 per cent keeping in terms with the diversity of JNU’s academics. The UGC notification dictates blanket 55 per cent criteria in the last qualifying exam for all subjects. The implementation of such rigid straight-jacketed criteria will deny thousands of students the chance to even apply for JNU’s M.Phil./Ph.D. programmes, students from deprived sections being the largest casualty.
  • High and Arbitrary Qualifying Marks in the Written Test: In JNU, till now, in order to be called for the viva voce for M.Phil. admissions, students need to obtain a minimum marks (35 per cent for unreserved categories, 31.5 per cent for OBCs and 25 per cent for SC/ST/PH out of 70; in the written exam). According to the UGC circular, all students now have to obtain a minimum of 50 per cent marks in the written exam, with no mention of relaxation to students from deprived backgrounds. Hence, this model will act as a ploy to restrict the implementation of the constitutionally guaranteed reservation policy, and amounts to a serious violation of Constitutional principles.
  • Several technical lacunae in the UGC notifications about necessary “relaxations” for reserved category admissions which is being misused to scuttle reservations in final admission: Admission process for M.Phil./Ph.D., specified in the UGC notification, involves 3 stages of elimination- a) eligibility for applying, b) eligibility to qualify in the written to be called for viva and c) final viva-voce. To ensure that the reserved seats are duly filled after the final selection stage, it is essential, there should be relaxation in the eligibilty criteria for reserved category applicants (compared to UR applicants) at all stages which involve elimination, or else, there will never be enough number of reserved category students to be selected at the final stage. So, giving relaxations in eligibility criteria to reserved category applicants (compared to UR applicants) is not a matter of arbitrary discretions of different universities but an essential step for guaranteeing fulfilment of reservation. The fact that UGC notification fails to mention the same for each stage of elimination is not only fallacious but is also granting undue powers to different institutional heads to indulge in deliberate misinterpretation to deny reservation.
  • Undermining Deprivation Points: In the current admission system of JNU, the marks of the written and the viva components are added to get the final scores. Hence, the deprivation points can be added to the written marks. However, in the new scheme of things, wherein the marks of the 2 components cannot be added- what will happen to the deprivation points? If written is made a mere qualifier then, addition of deprivation point at written level will not create any impact in the composition of the final admission list. If deprivation point is given at the level of viva then it will be ineffective in ensuring that the students of deprived background are even called to appear for viva. The UGC notification will act to erase the gains of the iconic deprivation point model, which has ensured the entry of female students in large numbers in JNU, along with the students from the most deprived regions and sections of this country. It is indeed unfortunate and shocking that the JNU administration is mindlessly imposing the UGC Notification without even recognising these concrete unique features of JNU’s admission policy which evolved through decades and provides a far more rigorous model than that of the UGC’s present notification.

3) Further, there are rigid pre-submission requirements, which, in its present form, do not make any sense really for many departments and subjects.

In the light of the points made above, – particularly its specific technical clauses- in a blanket fashion as long as the basic concerns of “quality”, “academic rigour” and provisions of “social justice” underlying those technical clauses are fulfilled by the institutions. Universities like JNU must have and should exercise their autonomy in defence of best models of academic excellence and social justice in its admission and research process.

JNU should not be forced to surrender its institutional autonomy to Unconstitutional and anti-student 5th May 2016 UGC Gazette. To pave the way for inclusive and socially just higher education in the country JNU should prepare a robust defence of its present MPhil/PhD admission policy along with the Nafey Committee recommendations and present it to the UGC as a model that already fulfils the principles that might have guided many of the specific technical provisions of the UGC Notification. In fact the UGC Notification should be improved upon by incorporating the best practices from various universities.

Mohit K Pandey is the president of the JNU Student’s Union and is on sixth day of indefinite hunger strike against the UGC notification.

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