Part-time degrees, no need to publish research: What new PhD regulations say

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has notified new regulations on PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degrees, introducing a set of sweeping changes in eligibility criteria, admission procedure and evaluation methods governing doctoral programmes in college and universities.

The mandatory requirement of publishing research papers in refereed journals or presenting in conferences has been scrapped. Part-time PhDs have been launched for working professionals, and there is a relaxation of 5 per cent marks in eligibility for admissions even for the new EWS category.

The Indian Express takes a closer look at the UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedures for Award of PhD Degree) Regulations, 2022 notified on November 7, which replace the Rules notified in 2016.

How will the changes impact doctoral aspirants?

First and foremost, the eligibility criteria for admissions have been changed. Anyone with a four-year/eight-semester Bachelor’s programme degree with a minimum 75 per cent marks in aggregate or its equivalent grade will be eligible for a PhD.

Those joining PhD programmes after a four-year UG programme can do so after a one-year Master’s degree. Graduates with conventional three-year UG degrees need to have completed two-year Master’s degrees.

So far, a Master’s degree with at least 55 per cent marks in aggregate was mandatory for doctoral aspirants. Many universities also insisted on using M.Phil as the gateway. Those who had completed their M.Phil dissertation and were awaiting viva voce could also be admitted to PhD programmes.

The new Rules discontinue the M.Phil programme altogether. However, that will have no bearing on those holding or pursuing M.Phil degrees currently. Apart from reserved category applicants, those falling under the EWS bracket will also be granted five per cent relaxations.

Will there be changes in the procedure for admissions?

There are no major changes in the procedure for admissions. As was the norm so far, universities and colleges will be free to admit students through the NET/JRF qualification route as well as entrance exams at the level of the institutions. The entrance syllabus shall consist of 50 per cent of research methodology, and 50 per cent shall be subject-specific, the Regulations say.

The UGC has for now dropped its plan to stipulate that of the annual intake of PhD candidates in every institution, 60 per cent would have to be reserved for NET/JRF-qualified individuals.

Where the selection is done by entrance tests conducted by individual universities, a weightage of 70 per cent will be given to performance in the written test, and 30 per cent to the interview.

Based on the feedback from stakeholders, the proposed common entrance test for PhDs has been left out of the new Regulations.

Do the new Regulations change the way research supervisors function?

Eligible professors, associate professors, and assistant professors can continue to guide up to eight, six, and four PhD candidates respectively at any given time, as earlier.

However, earlier, professors, associate professors, and assistant professors could also guide three, two, and one M.Phil scholars respectively over and above their PhD candidates. The MPhil programme has been scrapped under the new National Education Policy, 2020.

The new Rules also bar faculty members with less than three years of service left before superannuation from taking new research scholars under their supervision.

Each supervisor can also guide up to two international research scholars on a supernumerary basis over and above the permitted number of domestic PhD scholars. Universities and colleges have been allowed to frame their own rules governing admissions of international PhD students.

How does the UGC plan to improve the quality of doctoral education and research?

It has introduced a new requirement for PhD scholars, irrespective of discipline, to train in teaching / education/ pedagogy/ writing related to their chosen subject during their doctoral period. They may also be assigned four to six hours per week of teaching/ research assistantship for conducting tutorial or laboratory work and evaluations.

Earlier, to ensure the quality of their output, research scholars had to appear before a Research Advisory Committee once in six months and present the progress of their work for evaluation and further guidance. They will now have to do this every semester.

The new Regulations retain the clause that mandates institutions to develop a mechanism using “well-developed software applications to detect plagiarism in research work”.

Why has the requirement to publish research papers in peer-reviewed journals before the submission of a PhD thesis been scrapped?

The UGC has been grappling with this issue for quite some time, particularly with the proliferation of so-called “predatory journals”, where many doctoral scholars were found publishing their research in return for a fee. In 2019, a UGC panel had recommended that publication of research material in such journals or presentations in conferences organised by their publishers should not be considered for academic credit in any form.

In draft regulations floated in March this year, the UGC had proposed universities be allowed to draw up their own guidelines in this area and sought public feedback on replacing the term “must” with “desirable”. But in the final regulations, that requirement has been dispensed with altogether.

Prof M Jagadesh Kumar, who is the UGC chairperson, said by removing the mandatory clause, the commission is trying to ease some pressure of scholars so that they can focus more on high-quality research. “That will automatically lead to their research finding space in top journals,” he said.

In a study involving one central university and an IIT between 2017 and 2019, the UGC found that in the case of the university, as much as 75 per cent of the submissions were in journals which are not Scopus-indexed. The IIT, where such submissions are not mandatory, saw 79 per cent scholars making it to Scopus-indexed journals. That also appears to have guided the UGC’s decision.

What is the provision for part-time PhDs?

This is a new category introduced by the regulations. Although an existing feature in the IITs, for most universities and colleges, this will be new.

The eligibility conditions are the same for both full-time and part-time candidates. Their PhD work will be assessed in the same way as is done for the full-time PhD students.

However, in addition to meeting the regular criteria, the part-time PhD candidates will also have to produce a No-Objection Certificate or NOC from their employer. Apart from stating that the prospective part-time PhD candidate employee is permitted to pursue studies on a part-time basis, the NOC will have to spell out that they will be given sufficient time for research work. The workplace will require facilities in the employee’s field of research as a doctoral scholar.

Over the years, annual enrolment figures in PhD have risen, but it still accounts for a very small share of the higher education pie. Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, the enrolment at PhD level increased from 1,26,451 to 2,02,550 (0.5 per cent of the total enrolment in higher education), according to the latest available All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) report 2019-20. Also, most PhDs in India are in the field of engineering and technology, followed by natural sciences.

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