A number of questions have arisen following the recent announcement by India’s largest open university, Indira Gandhi National Open University (Ignou) that it was resuming MPhil and PhD programmes scrapped by the University Grants Commission (UGC) more than two years ago. By doing so, has Ignou flouted UGC norms?
The recent UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil/PhD Degrees) Regulations, 2016, say ODL (open distance learning) institutions cannot offer MPhil and PhD programmes in the distance learning mode. There is also no clarity on PhD degrees in technical disciplines.
“Notwithstanding anything contained in these regulations or any other rule or regulation, for the time being in force, no university; institution, deemed to be a university and college shall conduct MPhil and PhD programmes through distance education mode. Part-time PhD will be allowed through distance mode, provided all the conditions mentioned in the PhD regulations are adhered to,” state the regulations.
According to Professor Ravindra Kumar, vice chancellor (incharge) Ignou, the UGC has permitted the university to start MPhil and PhD so long as it complies with the regulations.
Other open universities have also approached the commission for permission to start PhDs in accordance with these norms. Professor Nageshwar Rao, vice chancellor, Uttarakhand State Open University, says, “We have also submitted our case with the UGC and are likely to get clearance on starting PhD courses. Others such as Uttar Pradesh Rajarshi Tandon Open University and MP Bhoj Open University have also approached the commission. They are likely to be granted permission, provided they adhere to the UGC norms laid down in the 2016 regulations.”
Clarifying things, Professor Kumar says universities have not been barred from offering the MPhil and PhD programmes and there was a need for them to follow regulations “scrupulously.” It seemed the procedural aspects of MPhil/PhD programmes have not been carefully examined and some “blanket disapprovals have been made operational. If the universities have to follow the UGC regulations for MPhil and PhD 2016 scrupulously, there is no scope for the dilutions or deviations. This fuss about not permitting MPhil/PhD in distance education mode is frivolous and reflective of unfounded anxieties,” he says.
UGC Regulations 2009 and 2016, he adds, make it clear that there has never been any embargo on the open universities from offering MPhil/PhD programmes (in regular mode). Both regulations say the degrees cannot be offered in the distance mode. UGC should not have singled out open universities. Differentiating between open and conventional universities was “an artificial division.” If there are functional problems in some cases in the open universities, there are similar problems in some cases in the conventional universities. So why single out the open universities, he asks.
Permitting part-time PhD provided all the regulations of UGC on PhD are met “was ironical,” he adds. “When the regulations are strictly enforced, where is the scope for part-time/full-time variation? And if there is scope for all these variations, the purpose of enforcing the regulations is defeated. There are some anomalies in these regulations that should be rectified,” he says.
Ignou stopped offering MPhil/PhD after a letter was issued by the UGC in 2014 asking the university to submit details of all its individual programmes and seek formal approval for their launch. “We were asked to give details of even certificate and diploma-level programmes and were told that we were not allowed to offer MPhil/PhD programmes. These programmes have been put on hold since then,” he says.
In a recent letter to universities across the country, the UGC secretary has said that as per the 2016 regulations, there are certain procedures which the universities need to follow. “These include eligibility criteria for admission to the MPhil/PhD programmes; duration of the programme, procedure for admission; allocation of research supervisors; course work; setting up of Research Advisory Committees; following the evaluation and assessment methods and submitting the electronic copy of thesis to an inter-university centre of UGC, besides other clauses,” says Professor Dr Jaspal S Sandhu, secretary, UGC, in the letter.
Ignou has not enrolled students since the time of the UGC directive. Many scholars enrolled till 2014 have not completed their work. “Such students are facilitated by the university to complete the programme as per regulations of the statutory bodies of the university and UGC regulations on MPhil and PhD of 2009,” says Professor Kumar.
Ignou’s PhD course that was stopped in 2014 was unconventional, says a senior university official. “Also, Ignou was not in the ambit of the UGC or the Distance Education Council as it has been established by an Act of Parliament,” says the official.