No place for scholarship

New guidelines cutting the number of MPhil and PhD students a professor can supervise will kill research.

The claim that something as innocuous as the number of MPhil students that a university teacher is allowed to supervise will determine the future of research in Indian universities must seem far fetched. However, the drastic cuts mandated by the latest (2016) University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines on MPhil and PhD are indeed alarming, and it is worrisome that they have not received the attention they demand. A three-tier balance For those unfamiliar with it, research in Indian universities is located at the top rung of a three tiered structure. The bottom rung is made of undergraduates who account for the vast majority of students in higher education, and are enrolled in a range of disciplines in the arts, social sciences, sciences, technology, and so on. The second rung is expectedly much smaller and consists of student enrolled for two-year post-graduate degrees. The third tier, much the smallest, is that of research students who may either enrol directly in the PhD degree, or opt to do an MPhil degree (usually of two years duration) before eventually going on to the PhD. The two-stage option is designed to address the need that master’s students often feel for additional training and skills before taking on the challenge of conducting original research for several years. This is a common requirement because in India master’s level courses do not involve original research — they emphasise the assimilation and reproduction of existing knowledge. The MPhil helps to orient students towards the new and entirely different activity of research aimed at adding to current knowledge by asking and answering new questions. Moreover, an MPhil degree makes one eligible for a full-time teaching position at the university and college level, and is thus critical for expanding faculty strength. Many commentators have remarked on the extraordinary expansion of Indian higher education in recent years. Official statistics show that enrolment has doubled over the past decade, placing us among the largest such systems in the world. Equally remarkable is the restructuring that has accompanied and enabled expansion. Increasing privatisation has meant that the majority of colleges today are privately managed (though many may also receive some government aid). The oxygen of access There has also been a widening of access to students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are the first from their families to enter higher education. Apart from the very poor who have little chance of going beyond school, the presence (albeit to varying degrees) of students from rural areas, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Muslims is transforming what until recently was an elite structure. Moreover, women from all these groups are also present in numbers large enough to approach parity with men (official figures for 2015-16 place the share of female enrolment at 46.2%). Even more unprecedented is the fact that this kind of diverse student body is found not just at the lowest rungs of higher education but also at the top. Thanks to the implementation of reservations and the willingness of parents from vulnerable backgrounds to invest in higher education for their children, this transformation is also visible in postgraduate and research level classrooms. There is, therefore, a tremendous sense of promise associated with this historical moment. Indian higher education is poised to produce new generations of students at all levels, including young researchers from hitherto under-or un-represented groups who can expand and transform the knowledge base of society. They will also form the next generation of university and college faculty. However, instead of enabling and strengthening this surge, the UGC’s 2016 guidelines (which are mandatory for all institutions from the 2017-18 academic year) appear to be bent on halting and reversing it. The “vision” of these guidelines, embedded in its various clauses, is to severely curtail the number of MPhil students, perhaps with the intention of doing away with the degree altogether. The previous guidelines of 2009 allowed faculty to supervise up to eight PhD and five MPhil students, with the overall cap intended to regulate faculty workload. Surprisingly and inexplicably, the 2016 guidelines now say that an assistant professor can have just one MPhil and four PhD students; an associate professor two MPhil and six PhD students; and a full professor three MPhil and eight PhD students at a given point of time. Moreover, it has been further decided that only full time regular faculty of a given department can be supervisors; that arrangements across departments (for interdisciplinary research) would require co-supervisors; and that supervisors from affiliating colleges must have at least two publications in refereed journals to be eligible to supervise. Keeping in mind that the MPhil is a two-year degree, with supervisors being allotted during the course of the first year itself, these guidelines amount to cutting down on student intake every other year, leading to unviably small cohorts at best. If anything, the significance of the MPhil has only grown in recent times. Today, more than ever before, State universities have been starting MPhil programmes in the pure sciences, social sciences and humanities, and in various interdisciplinary fields such as development studies, human rights programmes and women’s studies, and large numbers of students are entering this programme across the country. Given the transformation in the student body with more and more first generation students making it to this level, there is an acute need for adequate training in undertaking research, including more inventive and rigorous ways of imbibing research methodologies. Several institutions are currently engaged in planning new modes of teaching the kinds of reading, writing and research skills necessary to aid this process. Besides, younger faculty also need new training. Supervising an MPhil student is one of the best ways for an assistant professor to grow as a researcher and teacher, so much so that junior faculty should be encouraged to have more such students, at least initially. Route to unviability But the precise opposite is being made to happen. MPhil classes will turn unviable because of low numbers. More students will try to get into PhDs straight from an MA degree and being ill-prepared for the challenges they will face, they are more likely to sink than swim. Faculty will be less equipped to develop as research supervisors. And most important of all, the necessary expansion in faculty strength — both to meet existing severe shortages, particularly in faculty from disadvantaged sections, and to meet the growth in students — will not only be halted but also reversed under the new conditions. The UGC, under the direction of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, appears in fact to be bent not just on quietly killing the research potential of India’s universities, but on diminishing higher education altogether.

1) Diaphanous

Meaning: A diaphanous substance, especially cloth, is so delicate and thin that you can see through it.

Example: The house, too, is filled with colour and texture: gold, glitter, satin, lace, feathers, and yards of diaphanous fabric.

Synonyms: Delicate, Clear

Antonyms: Opaque, Thick

2) Rendezvous

Meaning: An arrangement to meet someone, especially secretly, at a particular place and time, or the place itself.

Example: We have a rendezvous for next week, don’t we?

Meaning: A place where a particular group of people often go or meet, by arrangement or habit.

Example: This restaurant is a popular rendezvous for local artists.

Synonyms: Assignation, Affair

3) Scarce

Meaning: Not easy to find or get.

Example: Food and clean water were becoming scarce.

Synonyms: Deficient, Insufficient

Antonyms: Adequate, Plentiful

4) Usurp

Meaning: To take control of a position of power, especially without having the right to.

Example: Local control is being usurped by central government.

Synonyms: Supplant, Assume

Antonyms: Keep, Leave

5) Uncouth

Meaning: Behaving in a rude, unpleasant way.

Example: She thought he was loud-mouthed and uncouth.

Synonyms: Awkward, Clumsy

Antonyms: Agile, Polished

6) Apposite

Meaning: Suitable and right for the occasion.

Example: The film starts in a graveyard, an apposite image for the decaying society which is the theme of the film.

Synonyms: Pertinent, Relevant

Antonyms: Inappropriate

7) Cenotaph

Meaning: A public monument (special statue or building) built in memory of particular people who died in war, often with their names written on it.

Example: In the grounds, swathed in palm fronds, stands a marble cenotaph commemorating the dead of the Highland Light Infantry stationed in Karachi from 1898 to 1899.

Synonyms: Gravestone, Memorial

Antonyms: Condemnation, Denunciation

8) Tranquil

Meaning: Calm and peaceful and without noise, violence, worry, etc.

Example: A spasm of pain crossed his normally tranquil features.

Synonyms: Peaceful, Restful

Antonyms: Agitated, Harsh

9) Insipid

Meaning: Not having a strong taste or character, or having no interest or energy.

Example: Why anyone buys music with such insipid lyrics is a mystery.

Synonyms: Dull, Anaemic

Antonyms: Original, Sharp

10) Grapple

Meaning: To fight, especially in order to win something.

Example: The children grappled for the ball.

Synonyms: Clash, Combat

Antonyms: Agree, Dodge

11) Exorbitant

Meaning: Exorbitant prices, demands, etc. are much too large.

Example: The bill for dinner was exorbitant.

Synonyms: Excessive, Steep

Antonyms: Moderate, Sensible

12) Salvage

Meaning: To try to make a bad situation better.

Example: It was a desperate attempt to salvage the situation.

Synonyms: Rescue, Regain

Antonyms: Harm, Hurt

13) Contingency

Meaning: Something that might possibly happen in the future, usually causing problems or making further arrangements necessary.

Example: You must be able to deal with all possible contingencies.

Synonyms: Crisis, Fortuity

Antonyms: Surety, Certainty

14) Perquisite

Meaning: Formal perk noun.

Example: The perquisites of this job include health insurance and a performance bonus.

Synonyms: Perk, Extra

Antonyms: Disadvantage, Loss

15) Perspicacious

Meaning: Quick in noticing, understanding, or judging things accurately.

Example: His perspicacious grandfather had bought the land as an investment, guessing that there might be gold underground.

Synonyms: Alert, Keen

Antonyms: Ignorant, Unobservant

16) Amputate

Meaning: To cut off a part of the body.

Example: They had to amputate his foot to free him from the wreckage.

Synonyms: Cut away, Eliminate

Antonyms: Join

17) Onerous

Meaning: Difficult to do or needing a lot of effort.

Example: The onerous task of finding a peaceful solution.

Synonyms: Arduous, Burdensome

Antonyms: Easy, Effortless

18) Mortify

Meaning: To make someone very embarrassed.

Example: The thought of the incident still mortified her.

Synonyms: Annoy, Humiliate

Antonyms: Delight, Indulge

19) Temerity

Meaning: A willingness to do or say something that shocks or upsets other people.

Example: No one had the temerity to question his conclusions.

Synonyms: Audacity, Boldness

Antonyms: Shyness, Bashfulness

20) Repatriate

Meaning: To send or bring someone, or sometimes money or other property, back to the country that he, she, or it came from.

Example: The government repatriated him because he had no visa.

Synonyms: Expulsion, Banishment

21) Dissemble: To hide your real intentions and feelings or the facts.

Disassemble: To separate something into its different parts.

22) Emigrant: A person who leaves their own country in order to settle permanently in another.

Immigrant: A person who has come to a different country in order to live there permanently.

23) Pasture: Grass or similar plants suitable for animals such as cows and sheep to eat, or an area of land covered in this.

Pastor: A religious leader in certain Protestant Churches.

24) Innervate: To supply nerves to an organ or part of the body.

Enervate: To make someone feel weak and without energy.

25) Forebear: A relative who lived in the past.

Forbear: To prevent yourself from saying or doing something, especially in a way that shows control, good judgment, or kindness to others.

26) No-frills: A no-frills product or a service is basic and has no extra or unnecessary details.

27) Next of kin: The person or group of people you are most closely related to.

28) Next-best: Best except for another thing that has been mentioned.

29) Day trading: The activity, often on the internet, of buying and selling shares on the same day, reacting to small changes in prices in order to make a profit.

30) Mash up: A type of recorded music or video that consists of parts of different songs or images that have been combined.