The University Grants Commission (UGC), the apex regulator for higher education in India, has mooted new regulations for PhD programmes in India. Before these regulations of 2022, there was the UGC regulations 2016 prescribing minimum standards and procedure for awarding M Phil/PhD degrees. These UGC regulations of 2016 came in supersession to UGC regulations of 2009 for M Phil/PhD degrees. Thus, the regulations of 2022 are the third in series in nearly 13 years. Each revision is driven by the concern for improving the quality of a PhD degree. Nevertheless, with the minimum duration of the PhD degree programme being of three years, too frequent changes may have adverse impact.
In general, these PhD regulations detail the eligibility, duration, admission procedure, allocation of research supervisors, course work, functions of Research Advisory Committee, evaluation and assessment methods, academic, administrative and infrastructure requirements for offering a PhD programme, part-time PhD, etc. Apparently, with micro-details provided in the regulations by the apex regulator, these look like the ordinances of Doctoral Degree of a University. However, as per entitlement, every University lays down its PhD ordinance in line with UGC regulations applicable from time to time.
The All Indian Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) report of 2019 has demonstrated a significant increase in the PhD admission from 1,26,451 in 2015-16 to 2,02,550 in 2019-20. The increase in PhD aspirants can be primarily attributed to the compulsion of a PhD degree to be eligible for becoming a faculty member in higher education institutions (HEIs).
Also, the increase in the number of faculty members with the PhD degree to work as research supervisors, push for improving the research outcome and related indicators for better ranking of HEIs, unavailability of jobs after postgraduate degree and intention to continue higher education, and passion for higher education are the other catalysts for an increasing number of PhD admissions.
Under the given circumstances, such PhD regulations are supposed to extricate the conflict between quantity and quality in PhD degree programmes. The moot point is whether the amendments in the aforesaid pointers of the UGC PhD regulations in the past will act as a panacea for the better quality of a PhD degree from Indian HEIs. Undoubtedly, time will testify the worthiness of provisions of regulations for qualitative up-gradation of the doctoral degrees, but the apparent factors concerning the PhD degrees invite due attention for corrections.
In fact, with the growing number of post-graduate students, the challenge is not the admission to the PhD programme. Instead, it is the preparedness of the HEIs for engaging admitted students for research work. The admission process is completed by the HEIs following their academic calendar through the procedure as directed by the apex regulator from time to time. The multiple admission tests for PhD degree programmes in HEIs at different intervals extend numerous opportunities to the admission seekers. Nonetheless, this causes trouble of appearing in a series of admission tests and decision making to keep one admission in case of grant of multiple admissions.
At times, the PhD admissions get mired in controversies and HEIs are unable to hold regular PhD admissions in each academic session.
The proposed PhD regulations of 2022 envisage centralization of admissions for a certain part of the available seats while the HEIs will continue with their admission process on the remaining seats. Therefore, the regularity in conduction of the PhD admission process is likely to be there while the availability of staggered admission opportunities will be constrained to a certain extent.
Quite often, it is seen that the faculty members and leadership of HEIs collectively wish to increase the number of doctoral student enrolments without assessing the sufficiency of enablers for carrying out research leading to the award of PhD degrees.
Usually, every faculty member possessing a doctorate degree becomes eligible for PhD supervision and tends to accept research scholars as per permissible limit. However, there is a general absence of an important exercise in HEIs to check what problems are to be undertaken and whether the requisite research facilities are available in the concerned departments of HEIs to carry out research well before deciding the number of PhD admission offers. This results in research scholars facing a dilemma for a long duration after admissions.
Also, the practice of research supervisors asking research scholars to propose their problems for pursuing as a part of the PhD degree needs to be stopped and the HEIs must take sole responsibility of providing the research problem and enablers to facilitate working on them. This will automatically strengthen the research ambience and the involvement of the supervisor with the research scholars.
Research evaluation and assessment
The concept of evaluating and assessing research progress and finalization of research work for terminal evaluation through a committee consisting of academicians in different roles in HEIs is in place. It may have different titles like Research Advisory Committee or Research Degree Committee or some other name, but the purpose remains to evaluate the progress of research scholars and permit for final submission of PhD thesis for examination. Eventually, the rigour of research work progress evaluation by such a committee determines the quality of work being carried out.
The compelling circumstances emanating from the outcome of the research progress review effectuate the student and supervisor together for better research output. These members of the research review committee(s) also happen to be the teachers in respective HEIs and are working as research supervisors. Therefore, the possibility of considerations amongst peers for each other breeding complacency and perception of carelessness and lackadaisical approach towards research work in the student minds cannot be ruled out. Along with the periodic review, the final evaluation of the thesis also reels under the shadow of quid-pro-quo between the supervisors and examiners. Thus, the greater onus for the overall quality of research output lies in the commitment and integrity of the particular supervisor(s) and other members of the academic community involved in continuous evaluation and assessment.
In view of the above, the forthcoming PhD regulations must direct for admissions into the PhD programme only after assessing the feasibility and announcing the broad research problems so that only committed and passionate ones get admitted. This shall also ensure the availability of desired research facilities and infrastructure in respective HEIs before admissions.
Subsequently, the self-regulating provisions are required for assuring fairness, effectiveness, and integrity in the periodic evaluation and final examination.
For catering to the requirement of prospective teachers with worthy doctorate degrees, the PhD programmes must run with utmost sanctity for rolling out a good quality degree from Indian HEIs. Merely remodeling the regulations may not work unless the academic community is sensitized for bringing in the qualitative changes in evaluation, assessment, and examination without resorting to only increasing PhD enrolment.
(The views expressed is personal)