National Eligibility Test

Recruitment woes

Print edition : August 17, 2018

College teachers protesting against the proposed dissolution of the UGC, in Thiruvananthapuram on July 5. Photo: THE HINDU

The HRD Minister’s recent announcement making the doctorate degree mandatory for assistant professors and discontinuing the NET as an eligibility criterion proves a double blow to teacher aspirants in universities.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) made a number of new announcements in June and July in pursuit of reforms in the recruitment process of teachers in colleges and universities. Coincidentally, the announcements came when most of the colleges and universities were busy admitting students for the new academic session. It started with the HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar’s announcement on June 13 that the doctorate degree would be mandatory at the time of entry as an assistant professor in universities. This announcement came as a formal approval of the MHRD to the signing of the University Grants Commission (UGC)’s draft regulations in February 2018 for the appointment of teachers in universities and colleges. The Minister also stated that the National Eligibility Test (NET) would no longer be an eligibility criterion for teacher aspirants in universities. These announcements prompt one to look into the eligibility criteria for the recruitment of teachers and the changes those criteria have gone through over time.

National Eligibility Test

The NET was started in 1984 for providing research fellowships to doctoral students. In 1990, it was also made an eligibility test for lectureship in colleges and universities. Since then, the NET has been conducted in humanities by the UGC and in science by the UGC jointly with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The test initially had a mixture of objective and subjective type questions, but became a solely objective type test in the multiple choice question (MCQ) pattern in June 2012. This change drew severe criticism from academics on the grounds that it would judge only possession of information about a subject rather than in-depth knowledge. The MCQ pattern in its present form would not be able to examine analytical skills, an integral part of teaching at the college and university level. The NET, which a postgraduate degree student can pass even at the time of appearing for the final semester (or year), remains an eligibility criterion and requires much lesser time than completing a doctorate degree. Under the new UGC regulation of 2009, a doctorate degree would require a minimum of two years to complete from any university; research students need to undergo moderate yet compulsory coursework for at least one semester as per the regulations. The time taken for the admission process into the doctoral programme and, finally, the evaluation of the doctoral thesis would add up to a year or so.

M.Phil course

As per a UGC notification of 2006, the M.Phil degree was made an alternative to the NET as an eligibility criterion for teaching in colleges at the undergraduate level. However, the doctorate degree remained an eligibility criterion for teaching undergraduate or postgraduate courses in colleges and universities respectively. Following the 2006 notification, the M.Phil course was introduced in many State universities in subjects that did not previously have one. Earlier, as per the UGC notifications of 2000 and 2002, completion of an M.Phil or a doctorate degree would have made a candidate eligible to appear for interviews in college and university teaching jobs with some cut-off dates of qualifying for those degrees. An M.Phil degree by December 31, 1993 and a nearly completed doctorate degree, having submitted the doctoral thesis by December 31, 1993, subject to successfully clearing the evaluation process, could substitute the NET as a criterion. For the doctorate degree, however, the cut-off date was extended up to December 31, 2002, in the UGC notification of 2002. Given the three alternatives—NET, M.Phil or doctorate degree—under consideration, a candidate with a doctorate degree would obtain a higher score in the calculation of his academic performance in interviews conducted by State governments or their recruitment agencies.

Aspiring postgraduates were inclined to take up the M.Phil course in universities as it was the easiest to complete among the alternatives. An M.Phil course requires just one year of coursework and thereafter, submission of a dissertation under the guidance of a university teacher. This dissertation could also form the background for the broad-based research work to be pursued by the candidate when registering for a doctorate degree. But following the UGC notification of June 1, 2009, M.Phil ceased to be one of the eligibility criteria, leading to much uncertainty about the future of the course. Since then, the NET was set as an alternative qualifying criterion to the doctorate degree for making an entry into teaching jobs in colleges or universities. But only a doctorate degree which was completed with coursework as per the new regulation was allowed as a substitute to the NET. Having 55 per cent marks in the postgraduate examination, however, remained the other essential criterion for candidates belonging to the general category with a five per cent relaxation for those belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and differently abled categories.

As per the Minister’s recent announcement, from July 2021 onwards, the NET would no longer be accepted as an eligibility criterion for appointment as assistant professor in universities. In colleges, the eligibility of NET is likely to be continued while keeping the doctorate as an alternative. The Minister has, however, categorically mentioned that for promotions in colleges, a doctorate degree would be required.

A relatively newer UGC regulation published in The Gazette of India on May 5, 2016, has barred university teachers from taking beyond a certain number of research scholars under their supervision. As per the notification, a maximum of eight, six and four ongoing doctoral research students are currently allowed for guidance under professors, associate professors and assistant professors respectively in universities. Already, this has led to a near no-vacancy situation for doctorate degree admission in many universities.

As per another notification by the UGC in May 2017, which is not yet gazetted and hence gives rise to some confusion, it is not clear whether universities that do not attain a minimum institutional grade (or rank) will be permitted to conduct their own entrance tests for admission to the doctorate degree. Only the newly defined category I and II universities, either with a minimum score of 3.01 by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) or a rank in the first 100 from the MHRD’s National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), can conduct their own entrance tests to the doctorate degree.

But for becoming eligible to conduct the test in any particular year, these universities have to find a place in the above two categories for the two immediately preceding years. The state-level eligibility test (SLET), which is alternatively named SET in many States, is conducted by State recruitment agencies such as the College Service Commission for appointment of teachers in government-aided colleges.

National Testing Agency

The responsibility for conducting the NET in humanities was handed over to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) from December 2014. But the CBSE could not conduct the test in June 2017 as per schedule, after conducting the December 2016 test one month late in January 2017. Thereafter, the test was conducted in November 2017 and July 2018.

The Minister further announced on July 7, that from December 2018 onwards the UGC-NET examination would be conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA). This announcement could be seen as a relief to the CBSE, which is already overburdened with many responsibilities in respect of school education. Further, the MHRD may regain its goodwill after the criticism it faced for not being able to conduct such an important national-level test in humanities as per schedule for the last few terms. The Ministry announced the schedule for December 2018 immediately after the Minister’s announcement. Expectedly, the test in science will also be conducted by the NTA from the next term, although it is not clear from the announcement. It is yet to be seen how efficiently the NTA will conduct any such test and that too online.

The Minister has also framed a scheme for recruitment of assistant professors in universities and colleges from doctorates from a university or institution in the top 500 global ranking. He believes that the change will help fill up the large number of vacancies across Indian universities. The decision to increase the importance of the doctorate degree as a whole in university and college teaching seems to be reasonable, but it should not have been made at the cost of an all-India test such as the NET. This is because of the wide variation in standard among universities in respect of the doctorate degree. Further, once the doctoral thesis is submitted, the degree is sure to be awarded with a very negligible failure rate as experienced from records across universities in India.

The policymakers could consider an alternative proposal of continuing with the NET or the SLET as an essential criterion in the recruitments to colleges and universities. In that case, an M.Phil degree and a doctorate degree could be indicated as a desirable qualification for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching respectively, adding marks for such a degree with the interview score to determine the final ranking of candidates. Further, restoring the NET to its older pattern by mixing subjective and objective questions on a subject could be considered to restore standards. The proposed online test, if conducted entirely in the MCQ pattern as is the case now, would retain the chance factor of a candidate marking the right answer incidentally in spite of not knowing it. The lack of consistency in the policy decision as regards the NET over time has already led to a state of confusion and uncertainty among aspirants. The proposed discontinuation of the NET as an eligibility criterion in universities will drag teacher aspirants into a more complex situation. Further, who knows what will happen in 2021 if the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), as a replacement for the UGC, starts functioning and recommends new rules for the recruitment of teachers in colleges and universities.

Dr Arindam Gupta is Professor of Commerce, Vidyasagar University, West Bengal.

Email: arindamgupta69@gmail.com

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