Discover Studying Abroad

Straight Talk: What good is a PhD from an Indian university?

Across the world, a PhD is synonymous with the summit of academic excellence. But is it also true for India? An in depth look at the reality of an Indian PhD.
BY Pushkar |   06-07-2015
Earlier this March, the Supreme Court (SC) of India upheld the 2010 University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations regarding minimum qualifications for appointment of faculty at colleges and universities in the country.

According to these regulations, based on the recommendations of the Thyagarajan Committee, candidates for entry-level faculty positions at a college or a university, including those with PhDs, should have cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) or the State Level Eligibility Test (SLET). Exceptions are made only for those (with PhDs) that fulfill at least six of eleven criteria laid down by the Thyagarajan Committee, such as whether entrance tests were conducted by the university for admission to the PhD programme and if the student was required to do coursework before writing the dissertation.

The decision has hurt the chances of hundreds of potential faculty members who have PhDs in hand but have failed to clear NET/SLET. The human resource development ministry and the University Grants Commission (UGC) are said to be unlikely to ask for a review of SC judgment.

On the face of it, the idea that clearing the NET/SLET is a more relevant indicator than a PhD to prove that a candidate has the necessary knowledge and skills to teach is preposterous. How can an exam or two replace a few years of research and writing to assess the merit of a potential faculty member?

Not in India, though. The UGC regulations privilege NET/SLAT because the worth of a typical PhD from an Indian university is unknown. PhD programmes, even at most of the better universities with high NAAC ratings, lack the academic rigour associated with graduate programmes at good universities around the world.

A large number of PhDs are earned the easy way. Plagiarism is a commonly–used option for many students. In other cases, the research carried out is hardly ‘research’ at all.  Some of it is ‘borrowed’ and some fabricated.  In January 2014, it was discovered that 59 of the 61 research projects submitted by faculty and students at Jamia Millia Islamia over the previous three months were plagiarized.

Fraudulent research does not stop there. It was recently reported that students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and IIT-Delhi (and elsewhere in NCR) have easy access to made-to-order ‘original’ PhD dissertations at their neighbourhood bookstores.

Since plagiarism and research fraud detection rates are extremely low at the university level (since only a few universities like Jamia have started to use anti-plagiarism software), there is no reliable data available on possible instances of plagiarism and other kinds of research fraud. The Jamia case and a handful of other detected instances suggest that the extent of the problem may be truly enormous at state-run universities across the country.

In short, the truth is that our universities, even some of the better ones by Indian standards, churn out an unacceptably large number of mediocre PhDs. Things might begin to change if the UGC/MHRD succeeds in making it mandatory for universities to use anti-plagiarism software for PhD dissertations (as well as for all government-sponsored research projects and publications) and ensure that it is actually used. At this stage, most institutions are not using anti-plagiarism software as recommended by the UGC.

The rationale for NET/SLET can be summed up thus. Nearly 80 percent of India’s college and university students are studying for an undergraduate degree. They need teachers, not researchers. With some exceptions, a PhD from an Indian university is a poor indicator of academic worth. Ergo, the recourse to NET/SLET, to the extent that it is an acceptable method of evaluating individual merit, is necessary. One can certainly debate whether NET or SLET are in their current forms adequate, and/or suitable to assess the worth of a potential teacher but, on the other hand, there can be little disagreement about the quality of PhDs awarded in the country.

Pushkar is assistant professor, department of humanities and social sciences, BITS Pilani-Goa. Twitter: PushHigherEd



Can't Read  
Enter Above Code:


Sign Up for our newsletter

Sign Up for latest updates and Newsletter