By Ummer Rashid Zargar
The controversy over the issuance of MSP certificate by universities and the rejection of candidature of PhD scholars without MSP certificate by the J&K Public Service Commission has become a challenge for concerned authorities. It is neither the fault of PSC nor of universities; rather it is the UGC Guidelines-2009 which have annoyed everyone, especially those who do not have National Eligibility Test or State Eligibility Test (NET/ SET). The UGC-2009 guideline has been challenged by aggrieved candidates all over India, but there has been no sign of relief for them as the Supreme Court upheld the UGC regulations of 2009 on eligibility for teachers in March 2015.
There is currently a debate among academic circles about the much hyped UGC-2009 rule; some are in favour of its implementation, while others say it is discriminatory in nature. The different narratives have made it important for the UGC to re-examine this issue and formulate a revised guideline which is acceptable to a majority of the academic section without compromising merit and efficiency. The prime objective of UGC-2009 guideline was to make sure that quality prevails in higher education. It is a fact that India needs an immediate overhaul in higher education in order to keep pace with higher education of the developed countries. Now, the question arises, have we seen any dramatic change in the last six years after the implementation of these rules? The answer is ‘no’, because quality in higher education cannot be achieved by just implementing eleven points and providing a MSP certificate for following these rules. Every citizen has to accept the Supreme Court’s verdict irrespective of the fact that it may be against a certain section of people. However, decisions made by the apex court may not be always based on logic in the sense that they may badly affect deserving and efficient sections also. The issue of minimum eligibility for the appointment of teachers in colleges and universities started in the late 1980’s, and during the last two decades there has been a debate over whether standardised test (NET/SET/SLET) or PhD should be kept as eligibility for the appointment of teachers in the colleges. The major shift in eligibility rules for recruitment of teachers in higher education was in the year 2009, when minimum standards were prescribed for non-NET/SET candidates. The regulation kept a window open for PhD candidates without NET/SET for eligibility as Assistant Professor if they possess certain minimum standards (11 points). The apex body claimed at that time that these new regulations will bring quality and efficiency in higher education. However, maintenance of standards in universities based on only 11 points cannot guarantee a major shift in higher education. Two important questions arise. First, why were minimum standards incorporated when UGC had previously made NET/SET as the base for eligibility? And second, when new standards were introduced, how can UGC implement minimum standards on PhD candidates registered before 2009? Our higher education has transformed into a mere certificate distribution mechanism. It is true that quality in academics and quality of a student in higher education is not analyzed properly and in a truthful manner. The major question is how UGC can ensure that universities are not only following these guidelines but also implementing them in a real sense. How can UGC compare two universities: one following all eleven points for the purpose of making a scholar eligible for the teaching job and another following half a dozen points, but with breakthrough and applied research? For quality in higher education, you need to focus on breakthrough research and increase the infrastructure capacities that will in turn increase research output and efficiency. I am personally in support of standardised tests like NET/SET for aspirants seeking jobs on merit. In India, many unaffiliated as well as some affiliated institutions sell degrees for a few thousand rupees. The advocates of standardised tests feel it is difficult to pick up the right talent merely on the basis of a PhD when higher education in India is not managed well and they stress that these tests are important for the selection of the best in a particular field. However, it is important to understand that a good researcher concentrating on breakthrough research may not be able to qualify an eligibility test for one reason or another. Now the question is, can you deprive an applicant a teaching job who has done breakthrough research in high quality journals and whose credentials have been accepted by international bodies?
In this case, UGC needs to amend guidelines. There should be separate criteria for researchers who are doing exemplary research authenticated by their documented record. How unfair is it that an applicant gets rejected by an Indian recruitment agency because he doesn’t possess minimum standards, and the same candidate gets a position at elite American institutions. University authorities and scholars are also responsible for the current mess. After the issuance of minimum standards, 2009, our universities remained dormant over the implementation of these guidelines. They could have easily sensitised faculty and scholars about these new guidelines through seminars and special awareness programmes. It is an irony that concerned authorities are still unaware about the implications of these rules and how these are to be implemented in full form. It is important to understand that a researcher needs to assess his current eligibility and he has to improve his credentials if there are some deficiencies. Good research does matter if a scholar finds his place in the job market; otherwise it is a wastage of time and investment. So, the onus is on a researcher to keep research as well as a job his priority. There is need of a major shift in the policy of higher education that is aimed at not only producing candidates with eligible certificates, but also making them competitive at the international level. The mere possession of so-called MSP certificate is not the only alternative for stimulating quality in higher education. It can be achieved by strengthening infrastructure and meritocracy in higher education through a broad vision.
—The writer is a DST-SERB Young Scientist Fellow