Holding a PhD degree has, yet again, been made compulsory for appointment to the post of an assistant professor in Indian universities. The regulation released by the Ministry of Human Resource and Development on June 14 2018 will be applicable from 2021.
However, a Masters degree with National Eligibility Test (NET) will still be the minimum eligibility criteria for recruitment of assistant professors; though those candidates holding a PhD, held equivalent by AIU (Association of Indian Universities), from foreign universities will be exempt from the NET.
In the most recent development on November 29 2018, doctoral degree holders from the top 500 foreign universities are now eligible for direct recruitment as an assistant professor in Indian varsities, according to the UGC; and the minimum requirements related to Masters programme have been waived off for international PhD holders.
Adding to the line of developments introduced by the University Grants Commission (UGC), the Academic Performance Index (API) has also been scrapped, for professors to be able to invest all their time in adding value to their teaching. “Now it won’t be mandatory for college teachers to do research, but they will have to essentially concentrate and give better education to undergraduate students,” HRD Minister Javadekar told reporters in New Delhi.
These regulations have been incorporated to “attract and retain best quality teachers and other academic staff in Universities and Colleges.” The UGC will be introducing a ‘new simplified teacher evaluation grading system.’
In the past, a Masters degree was considered enough for teaching, but eventually, a PhD became compulsory for teaching positions. As the number of enrolments for both Masters and PhD programmes increased, along with the number of institutions offering the courses, there was absolutely no check on the quality of the degrees being awarded.
Subsequently, the NET replaced the PhD as the minimum criteria for eligibility. The incorporation of NET was attributed to the reasoning that if someone could obtain a PhD, and gain in depth and thorough knowledge on a subject, they could breeze through the NET; so it was introduced as a ‘check’ on PhD holders and as an added check on the aptitude of professors.
Even the Supreme Court upheld this regulation to maintain a high standard of education in the country. In 2016, the UGC declared the NET not to be a compulsory requirement for those who had completed or registered for PhD before 2009. Add to that, the most recent regulation where, both, PhD and NET are compulsory requirements for the post.
The changing stance of the UGC is more inconvenient than it sounds.
Firstly, while the NET was supposed to act as a check on the increasing number of ‘junk’ PhDs being awarded, it’s not even close to serving the purpose. The ‘objectivity’ of the NET is at loggerheads with the ‘subjective’ approach that academics encourages and adopts. The mechanical measures of good memory and thorough knowledge, which are enough to pass the NET, do not guarantee the presence of essentials like critical thinking and intellectual depth in a professor. Hence, this also calls into question the credibility of the NET as a measure of the aptitude and skills required by these professors.
Avijit Pathak sums this up quite aptly. He says, “It is impossible for me to give one and only one ‘correct’ answer to a typical NET question like this: What is sociology? The reason is that I love to engage with multiple possibilities – from a study of Durkheimian ‘social facts’ to Weberian interpretative understanding of meaningful social actions, from the description of the ‘taken-for-granted’ intersubjective world phenomenologists talk about to an engagement with the process of what Anthony Giddens would have regarded as ‘structuration’ – the dialectical interplay of agency and structure. My uncertainty or pluralistic vision, I fear, would make no sense to a typical academic bureaucrat obsessed with the certainty of ‘correct’ answers, and from whose mind the idea of an examination of this kind comes.”
Secondly, the changing minimum eligibility criteria for appointment of professors, over the past two years, is disturbing. It highlights our inability to pinpoint flaws in the system and introduce measures to fix the same, further delaying academic reform and stability.
Thirdly, now that the NET and holding a PhD both have become essential requirements, we need to discuss the impact they are having on the education system. While handing out ‘junk’ PhDs has become an alarmingly common practice, so has awarding jobs without NET clearance. These issues are kept limited to in news spaces, and not addressed at the platform of academic reform.
And lastly, making both these requirements compulsory massively adds to the dearth of eligible professors, let alone competent ones. While holding both Masters and PhD degrees will assure quality and competency in teaching, it may leave professorial seats unoccupied because of the current incompetency and ineligibility.
Similarly, the scrapping of API might just do more damage than good. API refers to academic performance indicators, which forms the evaluation criteria of a performance-based appraisal system.
When I say removing the API will be problematic, I say it because API was the only tool that was mandating research. My argument goes beyond taking sides and arguing for or against the removal of API. I wish to talk about the reason for the existence of such a system in the first place – research; which is, gradually and sadly, becoming a lost cause.
API evaluates a teacher in a point-based format in three separate categories- Teaching, Learning and Evaluation Related Activities (Cat. I), Professional Development, Co-Curricular and Extension Activities (Cat. II), and Research and Academic Contributions (Cat. III).
It tried to lay as comprehensive a format as it can for evaluation – from rewarding the teacher for using innovative pedagogies, taking them for field visits and introducing practical exposure benefitting the students, to also rewarding their potential by scoring them for attaining national and international national fellowships.
Among the hundred other things that overlap in the Indian education system, one is the overlapping of the academic and administrative functions (the latter becoming ancillary to the former) which a teacher has to perform. While juggling these two, the importance of research loses its essence and it becomes limited to the forced mandate of indicators like API.
I do not have a problem with the API on paper. Saying that API didn’t account for the mediocre state of academics is simply a way of closing the argument because it’s not API that’s wrong; what’s wrong are the factors that influence these indicators. For instance, the increasing number of ‘pay and publish’ journals is paving the way for good research points in API; so how do we blame it?
But to meet the API requirement, teachers often plagiarise, write papers on a superficial level and get them published in journals lacking credibility or by paying a price; this complementing the already existing ineptitude of these teachers to even teach, let alone write and publish.
So, these poor quality publications are in turn reviewed by people who are actually incompetent to judge the quality of the research, thus making peer review a sham. This vicious circle raises some very pertinent questions. Is there one domain that can be specifically made amends in to better the status quo?
Only papers published in a list of accredited journals by the government are to be a measure of one’s academic performance. On May 3 this year, the UGC found 4,305 titles unqualified from the previous list, also excluding Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), a premier Social Sciences journal, among other important names.
The reason cited was ‘low score.’ What parameters constitute the low score? How do we justify the exclusion of such widely read and acclaimed journals? This leaves the credibility of these regulations in doubt.
The scrapping of the API can be viewed from two different angles. In the contemporary scenario, API has become a tool for further promotions. The teaching faculty concentrates on improving their API scores to access promotions, thereby defeating the very purpose of the indicators – value-based teaching.
But, the assumption that getting rid of the API is going to make teaching better seems rather frivolous. The futility of certain measures of API is bothersome, yes, the measure of student feedback, for instance. While students’ feedback is crucial to bettering academic delivery, it cannot be made a tool that would influence something as significant as a teacher’s career advancement. Student feedback is often biased and unrealistic. Competent teaching is a subjective term and there are no set of universally accepted norms for the same.
But, the API mandated research, which made up for degrees being picked up from the market. Research augments teaching by exposing the teachers to wider horizons in their subjects. The new ‘teacher evaluation grading system’ will concentrate on teaching hours and the number of lectures taken as gradations of evaluation, which is a flawed way to calculate performance, with absolutely no guarantee of the credibility of the quality of the lectures.
One argument is that scrapping of the API will let them teach and devote more time to teaching. But, will they? Considering their ineptitude as the premise, can they?
I think my stance of not taking a side is excusable, for there are better and more pressing matters that deserve attention. The problem runs deeper than we think. The increased plagiarism; the persisting ineptitude of teachers crushing an ideal academic class environment, the repeatedly changing stance of the UGC with regards to the eligibility criterion for professors leading to instability, the brutal ignorance of the pressing need of good librarians and academicians who can work better on the journal lists, the rising cases of predatory journalism – all are interwoven with each other.
There aren’t specific solutions that can be listed to make API better individually. All thanks to this vicious circle, every domain within education needs to be revisited and reformed. What we need to do is to nourish this system from the root – hire and train better teachers; infuse competency at the grass-root level. At the cost of sounding verbose, futures are shaped in classrooms and teachers are the single determining force behind it.
The institution’s dynamism and absence of a streamlined plan in all these matters is dangerous. It’s about time we get the bigger picture right and start devoting enough resources (financial and otherwise) to such matters.