New PhD Rules Have Professors Worried About Research Quality, Academic Rigour

“In many ways I feel that the quality of the PhD thesis would in general go down,” a DU professor tells The Quint.

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"Teachers found supervising PhD programmes tough even after three years of graduation, two years of masters, and two years of MPhil – all this training wasn’t a waste of time," Sucharita Sen, a professor at Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, tells The Quint.

Last week, the University Grants Commission (UGC) notified glaring modifications to the eligibility and evaluation procedures of PhD programmes across disciplines.

One of the most notable changes introduced by the governing body is in the eligibility criteria, with candidates, who have scored above a CGPA of 7.5, now being given the green light to apply for a PhD after completing a four-year Bachelor's degree.

This is accompanied by utterly scrapping the MPhil programme, which has previously been a gateway course to pursuing a PhD.

The Quint spoke to academics to understand the impact of these regulations on PhD programmes, many of whom expressed concerns about the probable dilution of student research in the country.


Disrupting the Structure 

For students of social sciences, a PhD candidate would normally complete a three-year undergraduate programme, followed by a two-year master's, and then a two-year MPhil.

Speaking to The Quint, Vijaya Venktaraman, Professor of Germanic and Romance Studies at the Arts Faulty, says, "It's almost seven years of training before, four years of which are specialised training, after which they enter a PhD programme. Now compare that with a student who enters after four or five years into a PhD."

She underlines further,

"So the structure that you're seeing right now, which has been kind of floated in Delhi University, envisages some research at the fourth year level, but in actual practice, that research is going to be very flawed and insignificant, because the students have not reached the level of competence to do research."
Professor Vijaya Venktaraman, Germanic and Romance Studies, Arts Faculty

Scrapping of MPhil, Dilution of Academic Rigour & Quality of Research

Professor Venktaraman laments the abolishing of MPhil programmes and underlines its importance for humanities. 

"Especially in the humanities, I would say that the MPhil programme was an important programme because it allowed students to do a small research degree in over two years," Venktaraman stated.

Professor Sen echoed the same concerns, saying that now there is a great dilution in who can enter a PhD programme.

“So the requirement of education to do PHD is going down and you’ve completely cut out MPhil, which was exactly a training for PHD,” underlines Sen.

She adds,

“Further, what is happening is that the subject in which the specialisation is being sought, that four-year programme, too, is being redesigned in a fashion so some interdisciplinary courses are coming in….however, this should not replace the rigour of the subject that is being taught.” 

With undergraduate courses broadening their field of study, and decreasing training periods, the professor stipulates,

“In many ways I feel that the quality of the PhD thesis would in general go down.”  

Meanwhile, Debashis Ghoshal, a Professor of Physics at JNU, says that many core science subjects don’t necessarily require an MPhil to pursue a PhD.


'One Formula for Vast Country With Different Disciplines May Not Work'

In light of varying views on the importance of MPhils for PhD programmes, Professor Ghoshal evinces, “Our objective is to improve the quality of research, isn’t it? These blanket rules alone cannot do that.”

“Trying to give one formula for a vast country, and all the many different disciplines may not work,” he adds.

Speaking on decreasing the years of study before a PhD in science subjects, the Professor noted that students may not be prepared to undertake such rigorous research after four years.

"There are of course geniuses, but you don’t formulate rules for them. The general rule is to keep average students in mind and for them, I think four-year undergraduate courses, followed directly by entrance to PhD, they are not really prepared to do a PhD," he tells The Quint.

Another UGC regulation, meanwhile, marks a departure from the clause that earlier mandated publishing a paper in a peer-reviewed journal for a PhD.

While Professor Ghoshal thinks this to be a step in the right direction, as he mentions the sudden emergence of pay-for-publish journals, he tells The Quint, "The main point is that the system has to be robust and honest from within, only then it can make sense… It's not a question of imposing a rule that requires them to publish a paper because the rule can always be bypassed by many different kinds of jugaad, which is what has happened in this case."

However, Professor Sen highlights that there is a ray of hope with the coming of these new regulations. 

“There is this ray of hope that universities can conduct their own entrance exams, and I hope that teachers are empowered to decide what are the best kind of questions they want in the entrances of their respective disciplines.” 

What Are the Regulations?

In a notice titled The University Grants Commission (Minimum Standards and Procedures for Award of PhD Degree) Regulations, 2022, the Ministry of Education has envisaged the eligibility criteria to be such that:

  • A candidate seeking admission after a four-year Bachelor’s degree with Research should have a minimum CGPA of 7.5/10

  • A one-year Master's degree programme (after four-year undergraduate degree) with at least 55% marks in aggregate or its equivalent grade on a point scale wherever the grading system is followed

  • A two-year master’s degree programme after a three-year bachelor’s degree programme, or qualifications declared equivalent to the master’s degree by the corresponding statutory regulatory body, with at least 55 per cent marks in aggregate

Further, "all Universities shall admit PhD Scholars through a National Eligibility Test (NET) or National Entrance Test or an Entrance test conducted at the level of individual universities."

In a departure from previous rules, the UGC does not mandate students to publish a paper in a reviewed journal.

Rules pertaining to coursework, which is a pre-requisite for PhD preparation are the following:

  • Minimum number of the credit requirement should be at least 12 credits and a maximum of 16 credits

  • Students who register directly from four-year undergraduate with research will have to undertake 6-8 credit courses (at PhD level) about relevant skills/research techniques/domain-specific subjects offered by the University

  • Candidates already holding MPhil degree and admitted to the PhD programme, or those who have already completed the course work in MPhil and have been permitted to proceed to the PhD in an integrated course, may be exempted by the Department from the PhD coursework

  • A PhD scholar has to obtain a minimum of 55% of marks or its equivalent grade in the UGC 10-point scale (or an equivalent grade/CGPA in a point scale wherever grading system is followed) in the course work in order to be eligible to continue in the programme and submit the thesis

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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