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.”
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.
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.
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.