Research courses seats slashed by 84% in JNU, students on strike

For most of this week, students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi have been on strike to protest against the UGC’s new policy that has drastically reduced the number of M.Phil and Ph.D seats available for the coming 2017-2018 academic year. The seats have been reduced from 1,000 to 194, this accounts to total 84%.

On Tuesday, the Jawaharlal Nehru University released its prospectus affecting the seat cut in the M.Phil/Ph.D programs. The intake of students at several of its centers for this session is zero. As a result of this, the JNU students union took out a protest to the University Grants Commission’s office in Central Delhi.

The cull is not just of the few hundred Ph.Ds that would have resulted from the admissions this year, but of the very idea and ideal of the public university itself. For the thousands of Dalits, SCs, STs, OBCs, and minorities who write the exam each year, this new admission policy is another act of exclusion and discrimination.

The Delhi High Court had dismissed the plea by some students challenging the JNU admission policy for M.Phil and Ph.D courses. The HC had said the UGC guidelines were binding on all varsities, paving the way for the university to begin its admission process.

Teachers have also joined the students in opposing the policy. Teachers are of the view that the same should be left to the teachers and departments. One cannot impose a common structure on everyone. Some teachers may have time and be willing to take on more. However, the Hyderabad Central University has assured its teachers that it will be recruiting more teachers, arguing that this would automatically take the number of M.Phil and Ph.D seats up again.

But, the faculty recruitment will won’t help

The Jawaharlal Nehru University has put forth the same argument and told that it has advertised about 300 faculty positions this year and once filled – though there is no guarantee that all of them will be filled – the number of seats in the coming year for research scholars will substantially increase.

There will be a reduction in seats overall and every university (will be) impacted for decades because the number of scholars per supervisor is being restricted.

New Rules and Regulations

The regulations cap the number of M.Phil and Ph.D students a professor can supervise at a time at three and eight, respectively. Associate professors can supervise two M.Phil and six Ph.D students, and assistant professors one and four, respectively. The number of research positions available in a university will, therefore, be determined by the number of teachers with the required qualifications available.

The practice till date was for universities and departments themselves to decide on the number of seats. At the Jawaharlal Nehru University – which is primarily a post-graduate and research institution – teachers are already supervising more research scholars than the maximum number they are allowed under the new rules.

Other Points Of Concern at JNU

Apart from the seat cut, the new regulations have dealt a crushing blow to the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s unique admission policy of awarding deprivation points to applicants from backward areas and marginalized communities. With the change, this policy is now restricted to masters programs.

Students and teachers have also opposed the move to reduce entrance tests to mere qualifying tests, making the interview the deciding factor while drawing up the final merit list. Students argue that this dramatically increases the scope for discrimination.

JNU is primarily a research university. It is an institute of higher learning which is known to encourage critical thinking and research. 62% of its current strength is that of students pursuing M.Phil and Ph.D programs. It is interesting to note that the average of the students enrolled for M.Phil and Ph.D in the 42 Central Universities is a mere 3.5%.

In the beginning of February, the JNUSU had gone on an indefinite strike against the same UGC gazette. The students had raised their voices against it.

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