Research labs in line

Published : Jul 17, 2009 00:00 IST

A GROWING trend in recent times is national research laboratories and R&D institutions seeking deemed university status so that they are able to award degrees (mainly PhD) in their own names.

Institutions declared to be deemed universities by the University Grants Commission are essentially of two kinds. One is the large number of unregulated and largely private-run teaching shops with little research component. They have acquired the deemed university status to gain degree awarding authority.

The other is institutions involved in research in specific disciplines. These institutions, with hardly any teaching programmes besides orientation-level graduate courses towards the doctoral programme, do not fulfil the objectives of a regular university. Thus many argue that they do not deserve to be granted deemed university status.

Many prominent research institutions have become deemed universities in the recent past. Among them, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bangalore, and the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Manesar, Haryana, achieved the status in 2002, while the Department of Atomic Energy and its constituent institutes and laboratories got it in 2005.

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is seeking to become one as an umbrella organisation of all its constituent laboratories. Its proposal, made on September 29, 2002, has been conditionally recommended to be granted the status.

It is curious that the CSIR or the DAE wants to be a deemed university. One can understand that individual laboratories having special academic programmes, such as the TIFR, would like to be able to award degrees given the problems of university-institute linkages. But the entire umbrella organisation becoming one would seem illogical.

Laboratories can offer degree-level programmes of a holistic nature in association with other institutions and can be recognised as universities. However, the organisations or departments themselves should not be treated as universities, says the Yash Pal Committee report.

Until recently, these institutions were awarding PhD degrees through their affiliations with universities. The rigid structures of universities and their low administrative efficiency and below par academic calibre are the reasons institutions cite to acquire independent authority.

In a guest editorial in the journal Current Science in 2005, S.C. Lakhotia of Banaras Hindu University argued that these linkages failed because in this arrangement the university system did not gain either academically or financially.

Ideally, wrote Lakhotia, scientists in research institutions and university departments should have developed academic linkages for joint supervision system so that the university also owned the research work. The research institutions took the university system only as a post-office.... Such an arrangement where one partner only gives and the other only receives cannot obviously continue for very long.... Recognising research institutes as deemed universities is a negation of the original objective for which the dual system of universities and research institutes was set in place in the first instance. The present mess in the system of higher education cannot be solved by research institutes breaking away from the university system. By creating more and more deemed universities one would only help the other universities to be doomed.

I have this apprehension as well, said S.K. Joshi, former Director-General of the CSIR, that even the existing linkages would further weaken by seeking deemed university status for the CSIR. But we tried very hard for the National Physical Laboratory [NPL] to develop joint academic programmes, joint supervisors for PhDs, etc., but nothing worked.

We suffer from national laboratories-institutions syndrome, wrote P.N. Srivastava, former Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Current Science, commenting on the issue of research institutions seeking deemed university status. The standard of science in the country will never go up by taking care of national laboratories and may be utmost a score of universities, he said.

The present demand for seeking deemed university status could be interpreted as an exercise to legitimise the current situation of the national laboratories and redefine their goals, wrote N. Raghuram, a biologist of the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi, in an opinion piece in the journal. If the institutes are able to fulfil all the roles teaching, curriculum development and examination they may as well become full-fledged universities and work with comparable budgets, leaving aside the pretension of being national laboratories created for a different purpose, he said.

The issue of deemed universities is just one of the many facets of the growing dichotomy between universities and national laboratories.

R. Ramachandran
Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment