Swift changes are intriguing. The University Grants Commission’s decision to drop the doctorate degree as a condition for entry-level assistant professors was so sudden that the change was almost invisible. The invisibility may also be a function of the fact that the condition, cited in 2018, was meant to be implemented first in 2021 and then in 2023 — extra time was granted to researchers because of the pandemic. But the requirement vanished even before its implementation. Getting through the National Eligibility Test or the State Eligibility Test or the State Level Eligibility Test will now be enough to be recruited as an assistant professor. Although the quality of some recent PhD awards has occasionally caused concern, that cannot be a reason to dismiss the degree altogether. But such concerns do not seem to have prompted the UGC’s decision. A positive interpretation would suggest that the UGC is trying to expand the pool of candidates and aiming to infuse fresh energy by recruiting younger teachers. Then it is puzzling that a doctorate degree should be a condition for associate professors; the UGC appears to expect that assistant professors shall complete their research while teaching. With such a requirement, what would be their chances of promotion?
The deeper academic understanding gained by research is indispensable for teaching in institutions of higher education. Dropping the PhD degree erases this possibility; eligibility tests cannot substitute for the depth, discipline and skills that this degree brings with it. The move, therefore, will lower academic standards, which is particularly noticeable because the UGC had promised precisely the opposite. The National Education Policy had dropped the MPhil degree; with the dismissal of PhD for recruitment in teaching, the assault on research has gone a step further. As it is, academic research does not fulfil its potential in India. The UGC’s decision is another form of devaluation. Meanwhile, students spending the required years in research may suddenly find their efforts unnecessary for job purposes — at least for the moment. Why should they be assessed on the same scale as those without the doctorate degree? On the other side, what chances wouldthe latter have if higher education institutions prefer PhD holders? Instead of ensuring clarity and improvement, the UGC has created confusion and smoothed the way to sabotage excellencein academics.