A cry from a dejected scholar

PhD students need a level playing field,  if you want them to stay in academia
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ZAHOOR AHMAD MIR

In recent years, there has been a growing consensus that a country’s educational system is crucial to its economic success. Education is the key to a prosperous nation. Education is a hallmark of a modern society. India has the world’s third-largest higher education system, behind only the United States and China.

In this age of interesting technical breakthroughs, human capital has emerged as a key driver of the global economy. If a country’s workforce were well-educated and well-skilled, it could contribute more to the economy’s production process. According to the report “Higher education in developing countries: peril and promise” by the Taskforce on higher education and society, “High-quality human capital is developed in high-quality education systems, with tertiary education providing the advanced skills that command a premium in today’s workplace.”

The implementation of National Education Policy 2020 is being heralded as a watershed moment in India’s educational history, one that will radically alter the field. “The National Education Policy (NEP)-2020 will give wings to the millions of dreams of our youth,” said our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. He said that young people in India are going to be instrumental in making Industry 4.0 and the Digital India agenda a reality. A kid with immense potential, he argued, needs an education that looks to the future and encourages the pursuit of one’s goals. This shows the importance of education for new India. Higher education represents the pinnacle of this system. It has an essential role in influencing societal shifts. In J&K, the responsibility for this falls on the shoulders of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission. The recruitment board in the Jammu and Kashmir UT has lately been ordered to change its selection criteria, which I believe could slow the state’s educational model.

The Higher Education Department, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, held a meeting on 01-09-2022 under the Chairpersonship of the Worthy Chief Secretary, to review Rule 45 of JKPSC (Business and Procedure) Rules 2021 in the recruitment of Assistant Professor/PTI/Librarian in the Higher Education Department.

It was stated that, for the sake of fairness and openness, the selection criteria should be adjusted such that there is a higher weight on the written exam and a lower weight on the interview. To that end, the criteria were approved by a unanimous vote as part of the Higher Education Department’s selection procedure for the position of Assistant Professor/Librarian/PTI. According to the revised criteria, 75 percent of the total score will come from the written exam, 15 percent from the interview, and the remaining 10 percent from degrees like NET, SET, PhD, teaching experience, publications, graduate and postgraduate degrees. As a PhD candidate, I’d want to make a few arguments and let the audience and relevant authorities take the call.

In the older selection process, in addition to points for teaching experience, NET-JRF, SET, publications, and degrees, a PhD degree used to be worth thirty points. It was making a reasonable chance for a PhD scholar to get an Assistant Professor position. Hence, goals for higher research in the classroom were emphasised. Students were motivated by these factors to participate in research programmes with or even without financial support. They were encouraged and attracted by these prospectuses. These accomplishments will now only be worth ten points total. Who do you think will be the one to suffer for the next three to five years for meagre points that would hardly matter after this order?

Additionally, a basic postgraduate student with NET or SET who prepares for civil services, keeps touch with his books or studies for any other government job for five years will make more entrance points than a PhD scholar who focuses on his research topic without training for other exams. Is it not exploitive to use this as a standard? How is s/he supposed to stay up with the competition if he has not seen his PG books in years? Do you realise that you may be convincing those pupils that doing research is pointless?

In addition, a contractual lecturer who works for you at a university or college for only Rs 25,000 to Rs 28,000 per month does so in order to get experience points that will increase his or her chances of being chosen. Do you believe any scholar would be prepared to work for such little remuneration if you devalued their work? When a teacher at a private school earns more than 35,000 rupees per month for teaching at a higher secondary level that too throughout year, yet you make PhD holders work for a pittance, it is clear who is being treated unfairly. Please explain how this is acceptable.

A doctorate is not like an undergraduate degree, where students spend four years sitting in classrooms listening to lectures on a variety of topics. Being a researcher is a full-time occupation. It usually takes 3–4 years in Europe, and 4–5 in the United States and India. It’s the result of many long hours of work, collaborations, meetings, rejections, and other challenges. PhD students often endure arduous conditions beyond those of an average office job. It is believed that a PhD degree develops a product in the shape of a researcher who subsequently carries the burden of society forward with his gathered experiences throughout time. Your devaluation of this can be disastrous.

Having said that, not every PhD student is equally prepared. To better identify those dedicated researchers, the new criteria should have centred on these efforts. Even though there were problems with the previous criteria, the new criteria are really putting a sour taste in the mouths of the PhD students who had to work from pillar to post just to get their degrees. Does that imply getting rid of the new criteria? No, it shouldn’t be left out at all, but PhD students need a level playing field, at least if you want to them to stay in academia. Even if it makes me sound biased, I think the race should be limited to them only. These people are meant to be Assistant Professors.

Though I myself admire the entrance system, but with some changes. While I believe that interviews shouldn’t be the deciding factor in the selection process, I do not support the administration’s policy of basing their final decision on standardised test results alone. A score of 50% on the entrance exam, 15% on the interview, and 35% on academic performance is reasonable. Assuming the administration is serious about keeping up with the rest of India’s states in terms of development, this is essential. The answer according to me lies in this. Everybody may not agree with me but to me this is justifiable.

To sum up, it is tough to summarise all of the reasons in a single piece, but all I can say is that these degrees should be respected, and that we should not allow them to devolve into a messed-up system where inexperienced postgraduates obtain jobs and experienced researchers are shut out.

Zahoor Ahmad Mir, PhD Research Scholar, Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New-Delhi

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