The unilateral imposition of the University Grants Commission (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil/PhD Degrees) Regulations, 2016, is creating chaos in campuses across India. While there was no news of the notification being compulsory to implement earlier, the Delhi High Court has reportedly said that it is binding on all varsities. The notification is problematic as it has rigid admission rules and eligibility criteria for M.Phil. and Ph.D. aspirants. To be precise, it can have catastrophic effects because of two reasons.
a) A clause in the notification prescribes that the written exam will be a qualifying round after which the admission will depend solely on the viva voce or the interview. The interview has been proven to be discriminatory in nature.
b) A cap on the number of students that can be mentored by each supervisor. Since there was no such cap earlier, supervisors now have more students to mentor than what’s prescribed in the notification. Hence, the intake will drastically cut down and so will the amount of research work done in a university.
For instance, in Jawaharlal Nehru University, seats in MPhil/PhD courses have been cut down from 1,048 last year to just 130 this year. Implementation of this notification will impair JNU’s socially inclusive admission procedure. The notification gained attention with students and faculty of the college resisting the mandate fiercely with regular protests, hunger strikes and legal action as well.
They have met with the President of India, and will also be approaching the Supreme Court. Nivedita Menon, Chairperson of the Centre for Comparative Politics & Political Theory, JNU, told Campus Watch that they are in continuous conversation with the Vice Chancellor. She said, “Ad-hoc teachers might not be in a capacity to lead a protest or speak up for that matter, but we permanent members are leading a very strong resistance movement.”
While the notification will drastically alter the scope of academia in our nation, it is being portrayed as an issue exclusive to JNU. It’s even tougher for other universities since most of them do not have the kind of student-teacher unity that JNU does. Therefore, we tried to understand how universities across the country are affected by this notification.
“Although we render ideological clashes with JNU sometimes, we stand parallel to resist the notification,” says Faizul Hasan, President of Aligarh Muslim University’s student union. He condemns the clause and perceives it to be a politically motivated move to push marginalised sections to the periphery. He along with many students of AMU are strongly against the clause and think that it will harm inclusivity in campus spaces.
The notification has been received with affirmative nods by administration departments and has resulted in clashes between the students and administrations of universities all over the country. “The admin outrightly denies discussing, therefore favoring the circular. If the administration is not looking after the welfare of the students, then who will?” says a faculty member from Hyderabad Central University.
“I wanted to pursue historical studies from JNU, but now with the reduction of seats, it seems impossible. They want to target our ideologies and suppress our thoughts, that’s why seats for Geography and Economics remain intact while we are made to suffer from other disciplines like historical studies and English that forward questioning,” says Sabika Abbas Naqvi, an activist and a student of Delhi University, who strongly feels that this will privatise education and venture a space exclusive for upper castes. While a majority of the faculty members of DU are openly protesting against the implementation of the circular, ad-hoc teachers seem reluctant to take a stand. This is understandable since it has been alleged time and again that the university exploits their ad-hoc teachers and provides them with no job security.
Pondicherry University is witnessing resistance from the students’ body, but there’s a dearth of participation by faculty members. According to a professor of the University, many faculty members are also reluctant to openly protest since it will be easier to deal with a lesser number of students. K. Sivachandiran, a student from PU, puts his argument forward by saying, “The state knows very well that education is the basic philosophy behind all kinds of developments. And this is the main reason why the UGC has (taken a decision) to cut down the seats.” He thinks that the government has a Brahmanical approach to the educational sector.
Sayak Das, the general secretary of Sikkim University’s student union, said that he supports the notification for he believes viva voce is a parameter to judge a student’s true calibre. He told Campus Watch, “I don’t know about metropolitan cities and how discriminatory vivas would get, but I believe able students would surpass vivas anyway.”
Although JNU falls at the centre of this pitfall, it manages to get its voice heard almost every time they face a problem. This brings us to the statuses of many small universities, which simply succumb to such provisions because they don’t get as much attention from the media. Moreover, attempts aren’t made to make students aware of new rules either. Hence, even if they would want to, students can’t resist the notification or even stand in solidarity with those who are affected by it.
For instance, according to a student of Punjab University, the University is witnessing a strong wave of protests as their fee has been hiked because of the erratic grant of funds by the government. There’s little conversation about the UGC notification in the University even though it might affect them adversely too.
Maulana Azad National Urdu University is also facing turbulence. A student of the University told Campus Watch that the admin with the support from the Vice Chancellor has the power to implement the notification against the wishes of students and faculty members. So, the students are planning to protests against various issues – fee hike, seat cuts, raising demands for a supplementary exam procedure, and construction of hostels. Bavajan, a research student at MANUU, told Campus Watch, “Seats in MPhil have been reduced from 96 to 48 this year. There are 900 hostel seats for 3500 students in the university. Due to commercialization, private hostels and PGs are unaffordable for outstation students, and it’s disappointing to see how the university is not investing adequately despite its large fund backing.”
To conclude, I’d like to quote what a JNU professor told me when I was inquiring about the notification, “The right-wing government stand alone should not exercise insurmountable authority to let students suffer as such. Our academic spaces should let dissent proliferate, for democratic functioning and unrestricted freedom of speech.”