UGC to lower eligibility cutoffs to admit more SC/ST students in PhD


NEW DELHI, August 25, 2018: The University Grants Commission (UGC) is set to lower the eligibility cutoff for students from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes for admission to M.Phil and PhD programmes in universities across the country in order to fill mounting vacancies in reserved seats, according to the human resource development (HRD) ministry.

UGC is also set to permit universities to launch a special ad–mission drive to fill vacant seats by setting their own criteria.

A new UGC notification, 'Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil/PhD Degrees (1st Amendment) Regulations 2018' — which has been accessed by HT — says "a relaxation of 5% of marks, from 50% to 45% shall be allowed for the candidates belonging to SC/ST/OBC (non creamy layers)/differently abled category in the examination conducted by the Universities".

If seats for SC/ST/OBC remain unfilled despite this relaxation, universities will launch a special admission "for that particular category within one month from the date closure of admission of general category".

R Subrahmanyam, secretary, higher education, in the Union HRD ministry, said the government was hoping this move would help cut down on vacancies in such programmes.

"The government is concerned with the reduced numbers of PhD admissions from SC/ST categories after the introduction of the two-step admission process," Subrahmanyam said.

"Whereas we are determined to improve the quality of doctoral education, we must ensure that the constitutional safeguards for SCs and STs are not violated. Therefore, the minister for HRD Prakash Javadekar approved an amendment in the PhD regulation that provides for a special admission process for SC/ST/OBC vacancies. This we hope will go a long way for improving the current situation," Subrahmanyam said. He did not specify how many seats were vacant.

A 2016 UGC regulation, implemented in 2017 by all central universities, including Delhi University, made it mandatory for students to score at least 50% marks in entrance exams to qualify for MPhil and PhD interviews. A number of students had protested the move asking the government to scrap the criteria and bring in further relaxation.

Some academics believe the decision could have come earlier.

Himanshu, Associate professor at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, JNU, said, "The government should have done it earlier. They can't compensate for the loss of the students who have missed out on higher studies. Already the number of students from the deprived sections who are able to go for higher studies is quite low. It will definitely have a good impact next year but there has to be some consistency in the way policies are formed. The youth of this country should not be treated as guinea pigs."

Others believe that there is a strong political subtext to the move, particularly ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with the government trying to battle the Opposition critique that it is insensitive to Dalits.

In the last session of Parliament, the government brought an amendment to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to ensure that a recent Supreme Court verdict would not "dilute" its provisions. It is also considering an ordinance to ensure that reservations in faculty appointments in universities happen at the level of the institution rather than a department as per a judicial order that drawn criticism from Dalits and tribals for reducing recruitment for the two communities. The BJP is also planning separate conferences for Dalit beneficiaries of the government's welfare schemes.

Udit Raj, BJP MP, said the government's decision was welcome. "We have been demanding this for a while. Earlier some universities had reduced the seats for Mphil and PhD too and that had a huge impact on the community. They rely the most on government universities as private ones are very expensive. This move reflects that the government is proactive in the interest of the SC/ST community and is committed to their welfare."

But the opposition was not convinced. Kumari Selja, senior Congress leader and former union minister, said it was a case of 'too little, too late'. "They are carrying out too many experiments and are playing around with the future of SC/ST students. How will they know that the universities will follow this? They have reduced the number of post-matric scholarships that they used to give – so how will they ensure students opt for higher education?"

Source: Hindustan Times