According to the new UGC regulations, there will now be a cap on seats for research students in Central, State and Regional government universities. The move has been discussed by majority students and teachers as arbitrary. WION explores. Photograph: (WION)
From deprivation points to monitoring what students can research on, UGC casts a long shadow on Indian universities
The new regulations put forth by the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) have opened a can of worms. A majority of teaching faculty as well as student bodies across the country are protesting against what they term as “irrational, unreasonable and arbitrary” set of rules. The proposed changes now mirror a step towards favouring exclusion and discrimination against the less-advantaged.
Apart from a cap on the number of MPhil and PhD students who can now be supervised by a university teacher, there are talks of doing away with deprivation points in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) of India. Deprivation points are a part of JNU’s unique admission policy of awarding special points to applicants from backward areas and marginalised communities. Upto a maximum of 12 points are given to candidates from rural areas of the country, female or transgender students, Kashmiri migrants, minorities, and students belonging to SC, ST and OBC.
Lata Singh, Chairperson of Centre for Women’s Studies (CWS) of JNU reflects on the hypocrisy at the administrative level. She says, “On one hand we want to be comparable to a world class university and get global rankings, on the other we don’t want adequate representation of all sections of the society. Inclusivity is the key--we need to bring the 70 per cent marginalised people of India in the centre.”
Singh highlights that a university like JNU with deprivation points was enabling many “first generations to acquire higher education”. “There are many first generations studying here at CWS. I personally know of many such stories--one student is from a family of Dalits, who has made it this far for the first time. There is another student where the girl’s parents are construction workers and she is the only one doing research. If deprivation points weren’t in practice, these students would never have been able to make it. These youngsters would have remained in the circle of job their parents are currently in. Thus, never breaking the cycle,” Singh adds.
JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) states that the university campus is considered non-discriminatory and safe for women. In 2017, more women (453) than men (433) joined the MPhil or PhD programme, according to teachers’ data. Doing away with deprivation points would “act as an impediment in maintaining a good representation of women scholars of the country”.
G. Arunima, Professor at CWS says, “I am appalled and feel that this is a colossal mistake -- Deprivation point system is the contribution of this university to a new way of thinking.
“It is over and above the constitutionally mandated system.
The girl’s parents are construction workers and she is the only one doing research. If deprivation points weren’t in practice, these students would never have been able to make it.
“Now among the kind that get the benefit of deprivation points, one are female students and they are not homogenous -- it is important to understand how many of them are Dalit, Muslim, Adivasi students or belonging to backward and small town regions. In a country where girls are barely sent to study, this system changed the complexion of the university. And it is not mechanical, it changes the kind of of discussion that happens in the classroom -- students from diverse backgrounds bring in certain kinds of criticality that will force you to rethink certain assumptions you work with.”
Teachers from different schools in the university are worried that “JNU is under threat--all the things it stood for will be threatened with this move”.
Arunima says, “We should not be moving toward homogeneity, we should appreciate the diversity and that is where deprivation points play their role. There are students who have been working in order to study here. They have worked in construction sites, as drivers, they have fought with their families asking not to get in their way of higher education. After masters, there is pressure to get married. I have tried to figure out in our Centre how to get projects for girls so that they can stay and do research.
“I cannot believe we are living through this time. It's not just building a case for us, we worry what the future is. Universities provide a progressive space, it is about critical thinking. What will we do without a country with critical thinking?” she says.
In March 2017, Delhi High Court dismissed a petition filed by JNU students, stating that the university cannot formulate its own admission policy -- declaring the system of deprivation point as “legally impermissible”. This is being observed by teachers and students as “taking away from JNU its multiplicity of voices”.
In March 2017, Delhi High Court dismissed a petition filed by JNU students, stating that the university cannot formulate its own admission policy -- declaring the system of deprivation point as “legally impermissible”
Students, who are collectively reeling under a lot of pressure after the seat reduction for research applicants, cite the removal of deprivation points as “contrary to the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy”. In their petition, they also challenged the provisions of laying down a minimum percentage requirement of 55 per cent for General category and 50 per cent for Reserved category as well as 100 per cent weightage given to viva voice.
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 does not mince words at all. Left with no seats this year for admitting research students in his Centre, he sees UGC’s move as a “dictat”. He says, “This is a public funded university and the people of the country have the right to get educated here. They should have given the university time to rationalise this. UGC just gave a dictat. UGC has also stopped scholarships.”
He also strongly feels that “diversity of universities should be taken into account”. He says, “Our autonomy should have been respected. UGC must not try to destroy the future of JNU. Students from all sections come here, make it here and then go on to do big things. No admissions this year, will affect the future generations.”
Patnaik served as the chairman of the Deprivation Points Committee, JNU till last year. He says, “Last year we revised and tweaked the deprivation points scheme so that it benefits students from backward districts--both girls and boys. The best part about the scheme is that it’s caste-neutral but now this has all been done away with. The UGC regulations is anti-deprived areas, anti-backward people.”
Associate Professor, SS Maitra of School of Biotechnology, JNU, however, differs on his view on deprivation points.
“Even within the reserved categories, backgrounds vary. One’s father may be an IAS officer and another a construction worker. So therefore, their deprivation differs. The two of them get the same benefits of the deprivation point system. The quota system is rigid here and anybody can take advantage of it, irrespective of their family backgrounds. Such a system might work if students are categorised based on their financial status and family backgrounds,”he says.
One’s father may be an IAS officer and another a construction worker. So therefore, their deprivation differs. The two of them get the same benefits of the deprivation point system.
Another issue at hand is also to restrict the scope of research topics feels Lata Singh.
Singh adds, “Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) is only doing research on mythology. Their topics are ‘Ram Setu, river Saraswati, Ramjanmabhoomi’--they want to rewrite history. They want to promote research on our glorious history and past.
“Here in JNU, students are researching on various things: body and sexuality, transgender rights. AFSPA in Kashmir. They don’t want that. They tell us: ‘Don’t talk about body and sexuality.’ But then ironically also want to be in the global rankings.
“In all selection committee, RSS candidates don’t get shortlisted because of the nature of their research proposal. So they want a backdoor entry,” she adds.
Manvendra Chauhan, Office Secretary in the ABVP unit of JNU feels that “in all this chaos JNU has been impacted the most out of all other universities because it has the highest number of research scholars”. He says, “This year also JNU got All India Rank 2nd just because of the quality of research but the future doesn’t look too promising.”
On deprivation points, he adds, “Deprivation points are being implemented more or less, in admission. The matter is still pending in the courts so let's see.”