phd: PhD mandate relaxation for assistant professor’s post may improve faculty quality

The debate is on if PhD must be a key requisite for an assistant professor’s post or this mandate must be removed. The Centre has amended the University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations to delay the mandatory requirement of a PhD to July 2023 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, the assistant professor’s post, which is an entry-level position across universities, can be filled by master’s degree holders who are UGC NET (National Eligibility Test) qualified.

In 2018, the Centre had introduced the UGC ‘Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and Other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education’ Regulation, which required all candidates for the assistant professor’s post to have a doctoral degree. It provided a three-year period for acquiring the PhD degree, stating further that the mandatory stipulation would be introduced from July 1, 2021, for the 2021-22 academic year. But then, the UGC has now delayed this mandate by another two years, giving prospective candidates for assistant professor’s posts more time to complete their PhDs. PhD requirement was one of the stumbling blocks towards filling up vacant faculty positions due to which around 6,000 sanctioned positions are lying vacant at the Central Universities alone.

Marker of success

Yogesh Singh, vice-chancellor, University of Delhi (DU), says, “A PhD degree for the assistant professor’s post is important for the quality of teaching-learning. But when faculty persons are recruited, two aspects are taken into consideration -academic scholarship and teaching abilities. It is not as if PhD is the only marker of an academic’s success. In research-driven universities, a PhD degree should be a must, but in colleges, a UGC NET qualified candidate can work just as well. In DU, for instance, we have already advertised assistant professor’s positions where NET qualified candidates may stand as good a chance as PhD candidates. While UGC NET has improved the overall quality of teachers at entry-level posts, there was a time when UGC NET did not exist, and yet good teachers were recruited in the university system.”


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Creating right talent pool

B J Rao, vice-chancellor, University of Hyderabad, says that PhD should be an essential qualification for teaching positions at PG and post PG levels. “A relaxation may affect the quality of research and teaching. However, the institutions will be always looking to recruit the best among the talent available, irrespective of prescribed qualifications,” Rao adds. He explains that master’s degree holders who are UGC NET qualified are worthy enough to be considered for assistant professor’s posts but in limited spheres of educational pursuits. “It is important that meritorious applicants are selected.”

The current relaxation, he says, will widen the application pool, but the onus to create the right talent pool will depend on a judicious selection process. “India is a talent surplus country hence degree criterion alone cannot assess a candidate. The qualities of academic excellence, proactiveness, innovative thinking, perseverance, mentoring ability etc also matter.” PhD should be mandatory for promotion apart from minimum qualifying service prescribed in the 2018 UGC regulations for associate professor and professor levels, Rao says.

PhD not a must

A PhD degree as a prerequisite condition for assistant professor’s post may be desirable but not necessary, says Bhushan Patwardhan, former vice chairman, University Grants Commission, and national research professor – Ayush, Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences, Savitribai Phule Pune University. “It is unlikely to compromise the quality of faculty in HEI and in fact, may improve the quality of teachers by bringing more of those who are genuinely interested in the teaching profession. The condition of PhD for becoming a teacher has very weak logic. This mandatory prerequisite has led to desperation to do PhD, which in turn has resulted in commercial shops openly selling these degrees,” he adds.

PhD, according to Patwardhan, is essentially a research degree. It should be pursued only by those who have research aptitude and are keen to pursue academic research careers. Such PhD holders can also be shaped into good teachers because teaching and research go hand in hand in several disciplines especially at the PG level, he adds.

“Already many teachers may have entered the HEIs with poor quality PhD degrees. It is hoped the government does not simply waive off the PhD as a prerequisite condition for assistant professor’s positions without preparing a robust mechanism to ensure selection of faculty based on predefined criteria – one that is dependent on academic merit, scholarship, commitment, nationalism and integrity,” he says.

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