University Grants Commission (UGC) amended the UGC Regulation, for the third time in 2009 which said that NET (National Eligibility Test) or SLET (State Level Eligibility Test) shall remain the minimum eligibility condition required for recruitment and appointment of lecturers in universities, colleges or institutions. The UGC regulation of 2009 actually talks about the minimum qualifications required for the appointment and career advancement of teachers in universities and institutions affiliated to it.
The candidates, who have already been awarded the PhD Degree in compliance with the UGC Regulation 2009, will be exempted from the requirement of the minimum eligibility condition of NET or SLET for recruitment for the post of an Assistant Professor.
The exemption of these candidates has sparked a huge debate on the impact of the decision on the academic community. It also resulted in litigations in High Courts.
The debate began since the regulation exempted the candidates having obtained MPhil degree on or before July 10, 2009 and also those candidates who had registered themselves for PhD degree on or before July 10, 2009 or have been subsequently awarded the PhD degree.
Many academicians are of the view that exempting these candidates will pave way for a back-door entry, thereby affecting the quality of higher education. On the other hand, a section believes that it will help the education industry which is currently facing an acute shortage of faculty. Also it will save candidates significant time who have completed their MPhil and PhD, and now want to get into the teaching profession but are waiting to clear the NET or SLET examination.
According to experts, the higher education sector is currently facing a massive shortage of faculty amongst all courses. It is estimated that the shortage of faculty in institutions like IITs, IIMs, IIITs and central universities has gone up to 30 per cent. Above all, some of the new IITs and other institutions and universities are reported to be facing an acute shortage of faculty which is as high as 70 per cent.
In technical and professional education, where the private sector is significantly involved, the shortage is almost 50 per cent; however, with the help of visiting and professional faculty, it comparatively appears less.
According to the Sam Pitroda Report there are already over 1,500 universities in the country, and there are plans to set up another 14 innovation universities, but with such shortage of faculty in the existing institutions, it is hard to imagine how the new universities will cope.
Prof S K Khanna, former vice chairman of UGC, said, “The question is whether allowing a candidate with MPhil degree being eligible for teaching position and exempting him for NET can help reduce the existing shortage of faculty. In my opinion, gradually, we have to learn to respect our own universities and their degrees. The basic question is why do we need to test someone who already possesses an MPhil or PhD degree? We only do this because we still do not trust our universities.”
Prof Khanna further said, “Instead of holding such tests, we should monitor our universities through peer groups and accreditation for their programmes and make them better in their education pursuit so that we believe in their quality of post graduates and PhDs. These national tests must be held for relaxation of qualifications, if necessary.”
There has been widespread sentiment that exempting only those who have qualified before July 2009 is unfair. Ila Joshi, a JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) student who recently submitted her MPhil paper in International Relations, said, “If they are exempting students, then as per a general opinion, they should exempt everyone. This exemption is not good as you do not know the quality of other universities who are awarding MPhil degrees to students. This will lead to a dilution in the quality of higher education.”
Since the UGC regulation has come into effect, several litigations have been filed against it in different courts. One of the litigations filed in Madras High Court is challenging the UGC’s order. The union HRD Ministry has also said that the UGC's decision was ‘inappropriate’ and ‘unacceptable’.
Madras High Court, in its judgment passed on December 7, 2010, re-affirmed that a pass in NET or SLET will continue to be the mandatory qualification to apply for the post of an Assistant Professor in colleges. On the other hand, Delhi High Court, while upholding the decision of UGC for appointment of Lecturers and Assistant Professors in colleges, ruled, “The courts should not venture into the academic arena, which is best suited for academicians and experts.”
When asked if the regulation might pave way for a back-door entry and hamper the quality of education, Prof Khanna said, “I do not agree with this. Earning an MPhil degree is attaining a status; it is a degree awarded by universities and cannot be fake. We must learn to respect and make our universities strong. Back door entry could be through front door as well.”
There is another section which thinks that the decision of UGC is right as this decision solves many problems of MPhil candidates. According to them, the MPhil candidates obtain their degree after a lot of hard work in universities which requires submission of dissertation and collection of primary and secondary data. Also, according to them, NET or SLET cannot find a merit student only with a single-day long exam.
Manita Harit, a student who has cleared the NET examination, said, “I do not think that those who have done MPhil or PhD do not have any knowledge. They possess high quality knowledge but are waiting to clear the NET to become a lecturer. It is a welcome move for those, as it will save their time.”
In its earlier two amendments, UGC said that those who possessed a PhD (up to April 2002) would be eligible for the post of a lecturer, even without the NET qualification. Whereas, on June 14, 2006, it came up with another amendment which said that the NET qualification would be a compulsory requirement, but for those who just have a Post Graduate degree. Candidates with a PhD degree were exempted from the NET requirement for teaching at both Under Graduate and Post Graduate levels, whereas, the MPhil holders were only eligible to take Under Graduate classes.
Looking at the current scenario of Indian Higher Education, which is facing some acute shortage of faculty, many universities have welcomed this move. The vice chancellor of a central university, who did not wish to be identified, said, “The quality of education totally depends on the university and this regulation will certainly help us in the recruitment of faculty. No university would like to put its name in bad light by recruiting unqualified people. There are several other provisions of UGC which keep an eye on the recruitment process of lecturers in various universities.”
As per available statistics, there are just 12,500 NET and 15,000 SET certificate holders in the country which makes it difficult to correct the student-teacher ratio in the higher education without undertaking significant steps. The regulation has been welcomed by many, but leaves some questions unanswered and the prominent one is, what will those students do, who have completed or will complete their PhD or MPhil after July 11, 2009?
In August 2010, the UGC appointed an ‘Anomaly Committee’ to assess the representation on ‘UGC- Regulations on Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education, 2010’.
The committee is yet to submit its report and there is widespread opinion that UGC needs to come up with a full fledged regulation which answers all the questions, improves the quality of higher education, solves the problem of acute shortage of faculty in many institutions and not impact negatively the aspirations of candidates who want to join the noble teaching profession.
by Abhay Anand