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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

UGC Regulations on PhD and Autonomy of Universities

As I have said in my blog many times, our regulators feel comfortable in homogenizing everything. All boards must be similar. Common entrance test. State wide technical universities with 100s of affiliated institutions. No one is allowed to experiment. No one is allowed to be exceptional. Mediocrity rules.

Continuing with the process, UGC came up with UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedures for Awards of MPhil/PhD Degrees) Regulation, 2009. The goal is always noble, to set the minimum standards, and of course, anyone can try for excellence. These regulations are based on the assumptions that there can be no accreditation based system in the country, that UGC is incapable of monitoring quality and use its vast financial resource in a carrot/stick approach to encourage quality. The only way quality can be achieved is by specifying to the level of fine details on how universities should run their PhD programs.

UGC keeps coming up with its regulations. Typically, when we study the regulations, we find that many things are already being done. Amongst other things, there may be a good idea that we can adopt, and some things may not be useful in our context, which we ignore. UGC is obviously not very happy at the last part. How dare anyone has any autonomy in this country. So they have come up with an interesting idea to make us fall in line. Every university (including IITs) must issue a certificate to its PhD graduates that these regulations were followed by the university throughout the program of the student, right from admission to the graduation. If such a certificate is not issued, then the universities must not consider such PhDs as worthy of recruitment. So, now, we have the following options:

  1. Follow all regulations, and issue the certificate along with the PhD degree that we followed all regulations. This will certainly make UGC very happy.
  2. Don't follow all regulations, but issue the certificate anyway. (This will be the path taken by several universities, including some IITs. I am already aware of such certificates.) This will seemingly preserve the autonomy of the university, though by agreeing to do this, one has already surrendered one's autonomy.
  3. Don't follow all regulations, and don't issue the certificate. (Hopefully, many universities will ignore lack of this certificate, but certainly some PhD students will feel uncomfortable with this.)
Please note that the issue is not whether those regulations are reasonable as "best practices" or not. Even if they are reasonable, for a regulator to interfere so much in the running of a university, and try to micro-manage every university in the country, is totally undesirable and not a very healthy practice. Such regulations will only ensure that universities don't do any thinking on their own, and encourages a culture to do the minimum that a regulator will ask for.

Actually, as best practices, they are reasonable for a university to adopt. However, when you make them mandatory, with the requirement that a certificate of following these regulations be issued, then one has to start looking at them carefully, and there will be a few points where there may be some intended or unintended differences.

Since UGC assumes that most people on the face of this earth do an MPhil before PhD, which is not the case in engineering education, the regulations are written in a way that sometimes it makes no sense for us. For example, the way I read them, if we admit an MTech into a PhD program, we should either demand that the candidate gives GATE again (s/he already must have given GATE after BTech), or we have an IIT wide exam for PhD admission (and not a department level exam that we currently have). They require us to have a compulsory course on "research methodologies" even though most of our admissions are for those who already have some research exposure. There are several other such differences, which, I am sure, if UGC understood engineering education, particularly in IITs, they would not have written the way they have written, but now that they have written that way, it becomes difficult for us to either accept them or give a certificate that we follow them.

And such confusions have come about because the regulators want to make everything homogenous. Their pursuit of mediocrity does not make them happy in just issuing "best practices" documents but "regulations" which must be forced on everyone.


Mee said...

Pink Floyd must have forseen this to write the song Another Brick In The Wall!! The video with students lined up and put thru the machines for the finished final identical product is so close to what is being attepmted here.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

Why do they do this sort of thing? Have they not studied systems from around the world? Don't they have basic knowledge of systems theory, theory of incentives or economics? When they do these sort of stupid things, they unwittingly justify the colonialist's thinking that we natives are just not able to manage our affairs and it his burden to make us see the light.

Prashant said...

A huge problem arising at the school level with this "standardized education" model is, that board examination training and question papers is geared towards only questions which can have standardized answers. So there are no open ended questions and that kind of thought process is simply not encouraged. Even in subjects like History there used to be point blank objective style questions like "what is ..." "who is ..." as there is possibly no ideal "templatized" way to evaluate open ended questions asking the candidate about what he/she thinks or feels about an issue or how it could be handled.

Saswata said...

Even more basic question, why does UGC dictate the Ph. D. salary? Can't the salary of a Ph.D. student be decided by the research grant of a professor herself under whom the student is doing Ph.D.? A minimum limit needs to be enforced to avoid exploitation, but our government and most IITs rather put an upper bound on the salary and lose many good students on the Ph.D. programme. I have been fighting with my Director on this point for many months now, but without any success.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Saswata, The organization giving money can decide salary structure. However, IITs being an autonomous organization can always decide something from their own funds or from other sponsors. We have several fellowships from industry which pay higher stipend. Also, many sponsoring agencies do not mind an additional incremental support to PhD students, so that they can get their "normal" stipend from MHRD/UGC/CSIR funds, and an extra amount from the project funds. I don't think UGC says that the student cannot be given an additional money from a project.

vivek singh aka vfix said...

few questions
a.Can faculty and student at Engineering institutes put their view point related to this issue in front of UGC?

b.How IITs will implement this policy ?

c.I believe there are lot of qualified people (probably with Phds) in UGC who makes such decisions,aren't they aware of negative aspects of this policy?

Saswata said...

@Prof. Sanghi:

Good to know how it's done at IITK. At IIT Guwahati, it's not allowed to pay any top-up to a regular Ph.D. student who is getting UGC or institute salary. A student is allowed to receive complete salary from a project fund, but even then there is an unnecessarily upper cap on the total salary, which is 1.5 times the regular salary.

I was under the impression that all these regulations are dictated by the UGC. But, now I see that they are rather decided at the institute level.

I am telling this to make a point: the above is one example where an IIT has voluntarily decided to avoid using the flexibility given to it by UGC! Probably, there are institutes and administrators who want to be "bound by rules and guidelines" even when it's not necessary.

Ankur Kulkarni said...

The idea of a salary is a product of a petty mind. If you are giving the money, ask for results. Why do you care who was paid how much so long as the project gives results? Devising strategies to deliver results is a test of a project leader's acumen. Even if there are bounds, they shouldn't be so tight. These grants agencies need to behave more like venture capitalists or investors. They are instead behaving like they are parents and we are their school-going children, who need to be told how to spend their money. I am always baffled by why faculty put up with this dumb and humiliating arrangement.

Saswata said...


I am also surprised why most faculty members don't oppose such a dumb system of being dictated all the time by the funding agencies and the institute administrators. Those who think that academicians prefer freedom of thought and action might actually be wrong. Or, maybe, most academicians don't bother about these things and get used to the dumb system after a few years from joining.

Anonymous said...

Sir, Do IITs and IISc provide a certificate showing that the ph.d has been awarded following the UGC regulations 2009. I am a Ph.D student in IISc. It will create difficulties in future for students if they dont get such a certificate.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Swaroop, If you are doing PhD from a premier institute like IISc, you should have the confidence of ignoring certain universities for the job, and still have excellent career.

At IITK, we will not provide such a certificate to anyone who got admission till 2009, when the regulations came into effect. We cannot certify that we followed 2009 regulations in 2006, for example. When recently admitted students start graduating, we will see what other IITs and IISc are doing, and take a decision at that time.

Also, it depends on what is the minimum with which these universities will be satisfied with. One of the universities asked us to give a certificate that our PhD program admission is advertised, that this involves course work, that the thesis evaluation is done by external examiners, and a few other things like these. (without any reference to UGC 2009 regulations). We could easily give such a certificate.

anony said...

The problem with this ruling has raised a serious question mark I did my M.B.A in 2000 when the avg percentage was not high due to my involvement in a no of other courses i was not able to score very high. Then I got busy n now when I m thinkin of Ph.D i cannot do it bcoz of min criteria i was not able to score in the last exam other than that i was always 70-75 % scorer. Now i will have to do masters again. Is there any options with new UGC guidelines.