Is JNU killing research in the name of UGC regulations?
JNU has decided to do away with a tradition of allowing a research scholar to return after some years to finish an incomplete PhD
Research output is a key to making higher educational institutions world-class. And it is also the key to knowledge production: something that makes nations rise on the world stage.
And it is precisely this that Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University – India’s second-best university, as per official NIRF rankings – has inexplicably decided to scuttle.
JNU had a unique provision that took into account students’ requirements to get into a job and offered them a break to complete their PhD. Students could earlier de-register for some years and re-register to submit their thesis. The university administration has suddenly decided to do away with the tradition that maximised research output, citing a recent UGC regulation.
“The students whose names were removed under 9 (a) (iv) before 18.11.2013 or who left the University after confirmation before 20.11.2012 may be given a chance to reregister and complete their PhD by 31st July, 2020, as a special case. Clause 9 (a) (iv), 8.2 and 9 (b) of the Ordinance applicable from winter semester 2018 regarding de-registration/removal of name and re-registration respectively may be deleted as these are not in conformity with UGC regulations 2016 adopted by JNU in July 2017,” the circular, issued by the university on July 8, says. “As per clause no. 4.3 of UGC Regulations 2016, an extension beyond six years may be given, but there is no concept of de-registration and re-registration. In case of any contradictions in JNU Rules and Ordinances, the UGC Regulations 2016 will prevail.”
A JNU professor said all ordinances require the accent of the EC, JNU Court and the Visitor and this deletion of de-registration hasn’t gone through the route yet.
What is the implication of this circular? It simply means that the earlier opportunity researchers had to start a career – often, family expectations necessitated getting a job – and then return after some years to submit their thesis no longer exists. The rule has been retrospectively applied and, as a special case, those who de-registered before 2012-13 are being given one chance, as a special case, to register now and submit their thesis next year. Many may not be able to do so, because re-registration is a decision taken after factoring in one’s career and family situation at the present moment.
The earlier system worked like this: after three-four years of PhD, a student could de-register under a provision called 9(a). The student’s name was struck off the rolls, her identity card taken back and hostel facility terminated, so that the student had the opportunity to start a career.
Yet, if she gradually pursued her research and could finish a few chapters, the student could return in some years to re-register under clause 9 (b). After a 9 (b) application, a panel of professors would go through the former student’s chapters and take a call on whether she could complete her PhD within one year. If so, the student could again register – paying the total fees of the intervening years so as to mark a continuity – and get all facilities, like an identity card and library access, for one year.
Within this year, the thesis had to be submitted. Else, it was lost forever.
The clause was helpful both individually and socially. Those who came back for 9 (b) were the ones who really valued their research. And the submissions often led to rigorous, publication-worthy theses that would enhance the corpus of research that JNU was known for.
At the same time, many of these students who got fellowships from the UGC or other premier research institutions in India after a rigorous selection process could do justice to the taxpayers’ money that subsidised their higher education.
A disclaimer: this writer used the de-registration provision to become a journalist and returned after some years to submit his PhD at JNU. He had also been awarded a Junior Research Fellowship by the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), which is offered on the understanding that the recipient would take the research to completion, acknowledge the ICHR and also submit a copy of the thesis to the institution.
There are many who are unable to honour their commitment, as they get a job and drop out of the PhD. The de-registration provision of JNU helped students to return and complete a project that they got public money for as a subsidy. It also helped the institution produce research that was widely seen as better than most Indian universities.
The rationale of uniformity that the JNU administration has offered – it says a UGC regulation the university is conforming to has no such provision – signals what exactly is wrong with higher education in India.
Uniformity has not been able to make many central and state universities – and most private universities – competitive. If it is evoked to hit the few islands of academic worth that India has had, it is a uniformity in mediocrity and nothing more.