07 May 2023  |   05:12am IST

Proposed reforms by University Grants Commission

In the past one year, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has proposed and already implemented some reforms in the higher education system. The pros and cons of some of the reforms that have been reported are examined.

1. National Education Policy (NEP): The Policy concerns sweeping changes in the way students can select their subjects which will be inter-disciplinary in nature, students can enter /exit courses anytime and accordingly be awarded by the University. For example, in an undergraduate (UG) course of 4-year duration if students complete their first year then they will obtain a certificate of completion, a diploma after the second year, a degree on finishing the third year, and a BA (Honours) degree on completion of the full course. In the academic year 2023-24, Goa University (GU) will be the first to start the 4-year non-technical UG degrees. 

2. Attendance not compulsory: Previously students’ needed to have at least 75% attendance in order to appear for the final exams and protests have occurred on this contentious issue. Now as per GU’s Ordinance Act-17, the criterion of compulsory attendance for UG degree students has been withdrawn. Hence, students of general education programmes in Semesters II, IV and VI can answer their exams scheduled from April 2023. A similar move will happen once the other Universities too will move to the NEP. As per UGC, not compelling to have minimum days of attendance will help students to transit smoothly from present curriculum to the NEP-based one. 

3. Exams in local languages: The UGC has asked universities to permit students to write their exams in their preferred local language, even if the course is taught in English! For this, evaluators need to be arranged and textbooks must be translated. How can students write the essence of classical poems and proses in local languages? Or describe chemical equations, biological terms, physics experiments, accounting etc.? Since all teachers may not know the local languages, evaluators and translators will have to be appointed which will generate short-time employment, but will delay correction of exam papers.  

Assessing and grading answer sheets may not be the forte of evaluators since s/he may be unaware as to what was taught in the class. Will the evaluators be retired teachers or translators? If it is the latter, then evaluations could go haywire and result in students contesting their marks. Will question papers, too be in local languages?

Presently, how many translated books of all the hundreds of subjects taught in India are available readily for students and teachers? Will there be panels of writers to carry to translate subject-wise textbooks? How long will this process take and who will appoint and pay them, the States or Centre?

When Indian students apply abroad, transcripts are needed in which the medium of instruction is to be mentioned. If UGC permits writing exams in local languages (although English was the medium of teaching) then foreign colleges and universities could disallow the admission as they need students/employees proficient in English. 

4. No publications for Ph D students: Prior to June of 2022, it was mandated that before submission and award of thesis, a Ph D scholar must publish at least one first-author paper in a peer-reviewed journal (in GU two papers were recommended) and present their research work at two seminars. This is the best way for students to publicise their work and get feedbacks.  

But UGC did away with the publication criterion! The reasons being that students were using unfair means to publish and were publishing in predatory journals that accept papers on payment of fees and have nil or casual reviews. The UGC asked higher education institutions to create their own rules and regulations concerning the submission of thesis. This may create mayhem as there would be no pan-India uniformity in submission and awarding a doctoral thesis.

The above ‘drawbacks’ existed and most universities had plagiarism tests and recommended journals for publications to deter the students and guides from malpractices, if any. When students apply for teaching or research jobs it is insisted that they have publications in high-impact journals. Hence, students with just a doctoral degree to show will fare poorly compared to those with publications.

A Junior Research Fellow is paid Rs 31,000 per month for 2 years and a Senior Research Fellow Rs 35,000 per month for 3 to 4 years. It takes 5-6 years to submit the thesis hence, the total stipend will be Rs 20-24 lakhs! At the end of the tenure the student,s will be financially well-off but academically have nothing to show! 

Conclusion: The reforms suggested for UG course subjects could be a worthwhile endeavour, but depends as to how many students will really prefer an ‘honours’ degree. This is because by the time they complete an additional year their friends may be employed. 

The attendance rule could be retained at 75% or reduced to 70%, but should not be foregone. Parents pay for their child’s education while s/he may play hooky and will miss lectures and practical and later find it difficult to answer their exams. A day may come when students will go on strikes under the pretext that exam papers were out of syllabus while, in fact, they were bunking classes!  

People who have come up with the idea of allowing writing exams in local languages should reflect as to how they had managed their studies in vernacular and English languages and, we presume, most have fared well in their life. Students will be disadvantaged by using local languages and mother tongues in exams, while the answer sheets will be like a Tower of Babel for the evaluators!

The UGC should not do away with publications by doctoral students but find ways to strengthen it so that India will be at the forefront of publications. Presently, China is leading in the number of publications, while we are leading in population! 


Idhar Udhar