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Relook at bar on distance PhD

New Delhi, March 2: The University Grants Commission (UGC) has decided to seek legal opinion on its two-year-old ban on MPhil and PhD courses through distance learning following claims by universities that the curbs undermine their autonomy.

Open universities such as Ignou and even regular varsities have protested the restriction on the ground that their respective laws, passed by Parliament or the state legislatures, allowed them to offer such courses.

The UGC had clamped the bar by notifying a rule — the Minimum Standards and Procedure for Awards of MPhil/PhD Degree Regulation — in 2009 saying research courses in the distant mode were of poor quality. The regulations have put a question mark on the future of nearly 10,000 students pursing such courses through universities across the country and the degrees that they will eventually get. Even those who have got such degrees since the regulations were issued face uncertainty.

Some have not enforced the bar, though. Ignou, for instance, still offers such courses. “The UGC regulations do not apply to us as we have been allowed to offer such courses under our act. That is why we did not stop our PhD and MPhil programmes,” vice-chancellor Rajasekharan Pillai said.

Faced with the protests, the UGC discussed the matter at its last meeting on February 3 and decided to seek legal opinion on whether its regulations can override powers conferred on the universities by their acts to offer such courses, a source said.

But R.K. Chauhan, a former UGC Secretary, suggested the ban was justified. “The quality of research programmes like PhD and MPhil is poor in the distant-learning mode. Large numbers of students pursued such courses, which were treated equivalent to the National Eligibility Test (NET) held to appoint lecturers.”

Chauhan contrasted the distance-learning programmes with the relatively tougher UGC rules that apply to the regular PhD and MPhil courses, under which students are to be given admission through an entrance test and must do a course before start working on their thesis.

But Ignou vice-chancellor Pillai claimed the UGC had no authority to debar universities from offering any course. “Our university is an autonomous organisation under the Ignou Act and is allowed to offer MPhil and PhD courses. We have been offering such courses since the 1990s. How can the UGC take away that power?” Officials of the central varsity have met a UGC panel and demanded that the ban be lifted.

Pillai said Ignou’s MPhil and PhD were more rigorous programmes. Students have to do a course work and get their research published in a varsity-prescribed journal.

But A.N. Mishra, president of the Federation of the Central University Teachers’ Association, argued that as the statutory body regulating higher education, the UGC could set standards to maintain quality in research programmes.

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