Singh believes that the cap is a conspiration with motives of power, autonomy, and privatisation Photo: By गंगा सहाय मीणा, via Wikimedia Commons Photograph: (Others)
'I will be getting my salary for nothing, without taking any classes--and it’s not a good feeling', says Prof AK Patnaik of JNU
Witnessing a series of changes, higher education in India is ready to get a makeover of sorts, but is it for good? Discussing these issues and how it affects all factions concerned in a university space, WION visits the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
G. Arunima, Professor at Centre for Women’s Studies (CWS) School of Social Sciences, JNU was taken aback by the new University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations concerning seat cut for research across universities of the country. Being a founding member of the CWS, she says, “We were going to expand and also start a masters program at the centre. At this point, you get sledgehammered on your head -- I’m sorry, this is a cap.”
According to new regulations put forth by the UGC, which is tasked by the Indian Parliament for coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education--there will now be a cap on the number of MPhil and PhD students a professor can supervise at a time.
Apart from seat reduction in research, the new regulations also make written examinations a qualifier for viva voice with weightage for selection depending solely on viva voice.
Arunima explores how hierarchical the scheme of seat capping is. She says, “A young person who is finishing PhD and coming into the teaching profession is throbbing with excitement -- how do you stop them from supervising and tell them that you can only have one student. On what ground is it assumed that once you have gone through a certain age or have been a senior member is only when you can supervise more students?”
Privatisation of education sector in India
While most teachers at the university find the move arbitrary and don’t feel nice about being left out of the discussion process, Lata Singh, Chairperson of Centre for Women’s Studies believes that “there are several conspiracy theories behind the cap”. She emphasises that “it is about power, autonomy, and privatisation: pay and study model is what they want to employ”.
Singh adds, “They are aiming for privatisation. We can already see mushrooming of private universities which will ultimately have collaborations with foreign universities and serve the elite or those who can fund their higher education. How the health sector in India is largely private, education of India is also turning to privatisation slowly.”
Arunima also agrees that privatisation is a major motive behind the cap.
“With the cap and privatisation coming to play, underprivileged students will have no access to higher education. How many can afford private universities? They are killing the dreams of a generation. Scholarships are not coming on time, fees are very high. If things were not so serious, one would laugh but it is so, so scary. JNU is becoming something that most of us do not recognise”, says Arunima.
Scholarships are not coming on time, fees are very high. If things were not so serious, one would laugh but it is so, so scary
Tampering the character of universities
Every university has a soul of its own, its own character and is distinctly unique from any other university. Teaching faculty as well as the students feel that this move would change the communication patterns within the campus.
Gaurish from Kerala is a second year student of Masters in Arts and Aesthetics. He is disturbed and feels clueless about his future. He says, “All students in my department are very worried and disturbed. There are hardly five seats in each stream of my department and we don't know what to do. Even to apply in a publication, we will need to showcase our research or papers. JNU gives a space where you can discover yourself and opportunities but the campus itself has changed a lot, everybody seems to be depressed.”
Reiterating that UGC should have thought through before coming with a mandate, he says, “Teachers have to have a say in these things. It’s not taking into consideration what each university stands for, admin hasn't had a proper dialogue with teachers. I don’t think it would work.”
All students in my department are very worried and disturbed. There are hardly five seats in each stream of my department and we don't know what to do
Overburdening or Redundancy?
UGC comes out with guidelines every once-in-a-while to better the workings of our universities, but teachers feel the reason given by UGC does not stand the test of time.
Arunima differs with the reasoning and adds, “We are not overburdened. We ourselves decided the cap based on faculty strength. The students are given the option of choosing their mentor based on the research topics. There has got to be a creative, thoughtful and academic way to arrive at the numbers -- based on the faculty strength and we need to have a discussion constantly. Most serious academic institutions do that. It’s not that anyone is arbitrarily saying that let’s bring the entire universe to the university.
“The exceptional status of JNU - it is envisaged as a research university.
“If I was in the UGC, I would applaud that JNU does these things”.
While exploring different angles, it is also important to bring in the perspective of Teachers Body like Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association (JNUTA). Ajay Kumar Patnaik, Professor in Centre for Russian Studies and School of International Studies who also held the position of the President of JNUTA twice also claims that the teachers are not pressurised.
Patnaik says, “You can't equate teachers from JNU with other university teachers, because we don't have the same load shared by other university teachers. We don't have undergraduate students.
“You can't have a higher education institution when there is no student. This is a department which admitted 40 students every year. This year, it's zero. For next two years or so, I will be getting my salary for nothing, without taking any classes, without teaching and it’s not a good feeling. In a country where the share of students going to higher education is still very low, so to restrict students from getting higher education is a crime. JNU has top ranks--at a time like this when more number of students want to join the university they can’t join-- it’s a tragic situation.”
In a country where the share of students going to higher education is still very low, so to restrict students from getting higher education is a crime
Is the new regulation, a work of the government?
Lata Singh believes that JNU, being the voice of critique, has come under the scanner. She questions: “Very clearly the government is taking the name of UGC. Why should otherwise Ministry of Human Resource Development come to defense in the Parliament? Why isn’t UGC made to answer on its own?”
She adds, “No government will like to hear this. Critique of Hindutva for contemporary government is a problem.”
She also proposes a theory that “this is a strategy for backdoor entry of government-favoured candidates.”
Some professors, however, believe that the regulations are not such a bad thing.
SS Maitra, Associate Professor of Biochemical Engineering, says a regulation of this kind was long overdue and such a cap will only enhance the quality of research scholars produced by the university.
“It is only impossible to accommodate more than eight students in a science school because the lab is only 600 sq ft large and we have to fit in equipment as well as students in that space. I speak for the science school and I feel the cap is not such a bad idea. Some professors have 1-2 students and others have 16-18 -- it is unfair and is like oiling the oily head.
Professors take in more students only to build their reputation. A professor with 15 students will definitely not be able to give equal attention to all his students,” says Maitra.
Passed as a mandate by the UGC, the new rules are applicable across the country. Both students and teachers fear for the future of the university spaces as well as career paths of those who had especially prepared to join universities like JNU in this academic session.