The paradox is that our universities and colleges are full of vacancies yet to be filled. And the aspirants are waiting to be employed. A large amount of talent is untapped and wasted(Diwakar Prasad/HT Photo)
The paradox is that our universities and colleges are full of vacancies yet to be filled. And the aspirants are waiting to be employed. A large amount of talent is untapped and wasted(Diwakar Prasad/HT Photo)

The NET exam is ruining higher education in India

In many subjects, especially in the humanities and social sciences, the NET is grossly inadequate to assess either the research potential or the teaching aptitude of candidates
By Prateek Vijayavargia
UPDATED ON NOV 27, 2017 05:38 PM IST

The NET exam is conducted by the CBSE on behalf of the University Grants Commission (UGC) for eligibility for the teaching position of Assistant Professor and Junior Research Fellowships in Indian colleges. The exam has three objective-type papers, one on teaching and research aptitude and two on subject knowledge.

There needs to be a debate on the relevance of this objective-type exam in the present scenario. In many subjects, especially in the humanities and social sciences, the NET is grossly inadequate to assess either the research potential or the teaching aptitude of candidates. Reducing teaching and research to arbitrary multiple-choice questions takes away from the nuance required to fruitfully engage with any of these disciplines. The exam doesn’t even take into account the interdisciplinary nature of knowledge and hence many students, who study disciplines such as development studies, which aren’t so called ‘core’ disciplines are affected. They cannot even take the exam in the field of their study and have to resort to appearing in allied disciplines.

Many studies have indicated the poor quality of research in India. This model of gauging research and teaching ability is in need of urgent overhaul. The NET exam is still stuck in an age-old time warp and needs to transform and re-invent itself in order to cater to new paradigms of teaching and research.

Many universities have made qualifying NET mandatory for pursuing doctoral research. This seems bizarre to me because an exam such as this cannot possibly test the applicant’s readiness for research. Research potential must be tested on the parameters of a sound research proposal, knowledge of the discipline and methodology. Knowledge of the discipline can be tested through a comprehensive exam, as is often the case in American universities. India needs to shift to a model that can ensure more rigour and transparency after enrolling for a PhD. The current model is very arbitrary and will only put off more students who want to gain entry into academia.

Some months ago the UGC decided to conduct the exam only once a year because of the ‘poor response to the exam’ – as opposed to twice earlier. The CBSE wrote to the HRD ministry in September last year, complaining that asking it to conduct various examinations that are outside its purview was creating an “extraneous burden” on it. Quite clearly, college education in India is not the CBSE’s responsibility and it seems unfair on the part of UGC to burden them with this.

This bureaucratic mess is what is ailing the higher education system and needs to be addressed. The paradox is that our universities and colleges are full of vacancies waiting to be filled. And the aspirants are waiting to be employed. A large amount of talent is untapped and wasted. The fact the results are often delayed only adds to the suffering of candidates.

There needs to be a complete overhaul of the current system, and the top priority should be to streamline and make this exam more relevant and contemporary. Perhaps a better way would be to shift to a SAT or GRE style online exam that is held multiple times a year; and focuses on all-round assessment of research and critical thinking skills.

Prateek Vijayavargia is a research scholar from IIT Bombay

The views expressed are personal

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