Quality matters in the knowledge factory

Earlier this month, UGC announced that students with 4-year undergrad degrees and 75% aggregate marks or equivalent grades can now sit for the National Eligibility Test (NET) to qualify for a PhD programme. Earlier, NET candidates were required to hold a master’s degree with a minimum of 55% marks. Two reasons have been cited for this change: the new system will simplify the process for students and open many research opportunities. ‘We will have a lot of young people getting into research at a very young age and they’re really creative,’ explained UGC chairman M Jagadesh Kumar.

On the face of it, the decision seems alright, ostensibly ‘democratising’ access to research opportunities. But there could be a problem. The rush to incorporate undergrads into PhD programmes could undermine research quality. Pursuit of a doctoral degree demands more than ‘creativity’. It requires rigorous critical thinking, methodological thoroughness and originality of thought. This requires going through a certain experiential period. A 2-year MA degree – MPhil was scrapped earlier – is an excellent time to prep for a PhD. Besides, completing a PhD is not just about writing a thesis but also about making a meaningful contribution to a field. Absence of empirical data to substantiate supposed benefits of the new policy doesn’t help. Transparent communication about expected outcomes and potential challenges is essential to build trust in any education system.

India wants to be a knowledge economy. The focus should not be solely on quantity – more PhD holders – but also on nurturing a culture of quality and intellectual inquiry without cutting corners. Quality needs to be paramount, even as efforts are made to enhance accessibility and inclusivity.


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