A meeting of the vice-chancellors of 41 Central universities held on November 22nd proposed the NET or Common University Entrance Tests (CUETs) as a parameter for admissions to PhD.
So far central and state-run universities conduct their own written examinations and interviews for admission to PhD. The scholars who aspire for posts of assistant professors have to qualify the UGC conducted all India NET.As per the public notice issued by the UGC to all the central universities on 26th November, now CUET or NET score shall be considered for admission into research instead of the written tests and interviews conducted by the universities.
The move faced sharp criticism from academics who branded it as a disaster for both research and teaching in the long run.
Among the critics of the NET route for admissions to PhD is Sukhadeo Thorat, the former chairperson of the UGC. “The step shall terribly undermine the distinctive character that the individual universities have developed so far“, he said.
UGC has failed to acknowledge that a quest to test research potential through a straight-jacketed examination severely disregards the broad variance of thought in humanities.
The decision falls flat also as the syllabus and courses taught at various universities are diverse and multidisciplinary and a single competitive examination shall fail to test the academic specialities and intellectual requirements of these institutes.
The creation of knowledge at individual institutes is through the blood and sweat of various eminent researchers who enriched the thought and CUETs cannot take those into account.
Examinations like NET can be a parameter for testing aptitude for teaching jobs but research prerequisites run in the opposite direction.
The core skills required for research such as inquisitive thinking, writing competence and a critical bent of mind do not find expression in objective questionnaires used by NET.
Making NET compulsory for PhD admission is like ‘judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree’, since research abilities vary drastically among students.
Common entrance tests will prove to be inappropriate and deficient in accessing the accurate aptitude and research potential of scholars.
If entry into research will be based on such a shallow and generalized measure, it will eventually weaken the quality of research produced. In this case, the country will naturally depend on foreign research output instead of the indigenous one.
By discarding university specific-eligibility standards for research, the centre overlooks the special character and autonomy of the various institutes.
A single syllabus, admission procedure and one thought cannot be expected to loom over humanities which by definition are a celebration of divergence.
The various universities do not share the same inception or objectives with which they were established. UGC has remained ambiguous as to how this rule shall be implemented in universities that were conceived for the upliftment of specific minorities.
MCQ (Multiple Choice Questions) based Examinations Test only Memory, not Comprehension
The ‘Mcq-isation’ of subjective knowledge that has been underway had also faced thorough criticism from the teaching fraternity. It is seen as a deficient tool of assessment and an antithesis to deeper knowledge and comprehension.
Reducing thought to bare memorisation and rote learning will directly alter the production of knowledge and disrupt teaching altogether.
We need to recall what Einstein had said, ‘never memorise something that you can look up in a book’. It is only critical thought and individual opinion that stands valuable to research.
Research asks questions which do not have concrete predetermined answers but compels one to think and revisit preconceived notions.
It is only through essay-type answers that the thought process and thinking capabilities of the students can be known. Added to that, the quality of the research proposal and its defence during the interview determines the candidate’s admission into PhD.
Paying the Price for Dissent?
PhD researchers are often rebuked as living off taxpayers money and asking too many questions to the government. Shall we then view this decision as a direct attack on the spirit of free-thinking and the questioning zeal which makes the youth question the ruling authority?
There’s lesser room for dialogue and debate if the curriculum is reduced to a standardized and all-encompassing framework with strict disregard for speciality.
Is the academic community paying the price for its political dissent? Are these steps in the direction of weakening the research class and its political expression?
The Jawaharlal Nehru University students and their resilience in democratic expressions of protest reveal how it was essentially the researchers who were at the receiving end of the government’s wrath, even as some continue to linger in jails.
CUETs will replace the spirit of questioning the received knowledge and engage students into mindless cramming and rote learning for competitive examinations.
Common University Tests will Reduce Enrolment into Higher Education
Singular examinations as entry conditions for all the universities is a denial of the different strata within the academic community. Some students hail from social and economically disadvantaged sections, vernacular mediums and underrepresented classes who may get filtered through these tests. The tests shall have no consideration for the rural-urban and digital divide.Moreover, students from the disadvantaged sections lacking the basic resources to compete at these national level exams cannot be made to compete with students who hail from privileged backgrounds.
In a country where enrolment in higher education is still a distant dream, these national-level tests shall further reduce the enrolment ratio in higher education.
Students who opt for the fields of humanities for a bachelors or a masters degree shall simply stay out because of the mere fear of not being able to crack the competitive examination.
The student suicide rates glean enough on the vicious nexus of appearing and reappearing in the competitive examinations and how devastating it is for the mental health of students. Will even the research candidates be made to tread a similar path?
The UGC should reconsider this decision and take into account the grievances raised by the teaching community. If the opposition that has poured in this direction remains unheeded, it ascertains that UGC’s decision is an announcement of the step-wise dismantling of teaching institutes and a leap towards the demise of reasoning.
The question remains as to who are the beneficiaries if critical thinking and the spirit of questioning dies in a country?
Nations can be conquered not by guns but by desecrating the thought, the onslaught on university autonomy and research can be viewed in this light.
Zainab Naqvi, a student of Medieval History at Aligarh Muslim University.