Have you bought or earned your PhD?
Ajeet Singh, 06 Jan 2014
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EARNING A DEGREE gives joy only if it is obtained through hard work.

GOING by some of the recent newspaper advertisements for some universities, a PhD should be the easiest degree to earn in India. No screening tests and interviews, no coursework, and no rigorous assessment of research work. Just a Master’s degree in hand and a pre-determined waiting period will lead you to a doctorate!

Demand for PhD degrees has gone up after University Grant Commission (UGC) accepted PhD as a substitute for National Eligibility Test (NET); there are now more opportunities for doctorates to get employed in higher educational institutions. It’s no surprise then that a number of universities started offering PhD programmes by distance mode much before UGC could set guidelines for them.

“It’s now an open secret that anyone can virtually buy a PhD degree. You just need to pay two to three lakhs to the right person. In some universities, registration, coursework, thesis and viva voce are all effectively managed,” says Dr. Sushil Upadhyay, Assistant Professor at Uttarakhand Sanskrit University.

There are many universities which do not have adequate infrastructure and faculty for even postgraduate-level teaching, but have been offering programmes like PhD and DSc. Mazhar Husnain, a research scholar at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, says most of these universities target students who fail to get a place in premier institutions.   
What is a good PhD?
A good PhD programme demands rigorous coursework in addition to working on the thesis. JNU-Delhi, for example, requires the research scholar to undertake five to seven assignments on an average, including a seminar/ research paper. The Centre for Development Studies - Thiruvananthapuram, a social science research institution that has a tradition of interdisciplinary research, requires 18-24 assignments to be completed over two years. Coursework helps anchor a researcher in the subject area and aids his growth.
The thesis can be of varying quality across institutions. And nowhere in the country refereed publications are essential for the award of the degree. Such a requirement would go a long way in obviating the problem of researchers submitting low quality work.
Norms for PhD
PhD is the highest degree in the education system which gives you a chance to push the boundaries of human knowledge. According to UGC Regulations (2010) on minimum qualifications for appointment of teachers and other academic staff in universities, NET/ SLET/ SET shall remain the minimum eligibility condition for recruitment of assistant professors in universities. However, candidates, who have been awarded a PhD in accordance with UGC norms, shall be exempted from the requirement of NET/ SLET/ SET. Besides, a PhD continues to be a qualification for all appointments of professors and associate professors through direct recruitment in universities.
Taking advantage of the freedom that the UGC allows them to set the criteria for selecting supervisors for PhD programmes, some universities have, unfortunately, allowed lax supervision, leading to decline in the quality of PhD. UGC requires admission into PhD programme to be based strictly on the results of entrance/screening test and interview along with a six-month full-time and compulsory pre-PhD coursework. Thus, a direct admission into PhD will not be in line with UGC rules. The thesis produced by a research scholar should also be evaluated by at least two experts, out of which at least one should be from outside the State. After this regulation was introduced, most of the State universities started conducting entrance test for doctorate programmes and making some changes in the way they used to conduct such programmes.  

Checklist before opting for a programme

  • Recognition of university on the UGC website

  • Availability of experienced faculty to supervise and adequate research infrastructure in university
  • University’s past experience in research and teaching
  • Membership of Association of Indian Universities
PhD in distance mode
According to UGC regulations, 2009, no institution is allowed to conduct MPhil and PhD programmes through distance mode. Subsequently, the UGC decided that an open university may be permitted to conduct MPhil/ PhD through distance mode subject to the condition that it does so in line with the UGC Regulations, 2009. For undertaking PhD under distance education mode, the principal guide should be from within the open university and a joint guide, wherever necessary, may be from outside the university. However, a teacher should not have more than two candidates under his supervision as a joint guide.

There is a lack of clarity about other universities offering PhD in distance mode. Senior Regional Director Ravi P. Singh of IGNOU bats for the DL mode. He says, “I opted for PhD through distance mode and can say that it was as rigorous as a regular PhD. A candidate must have more clarity on why he wants to do research in chosen field of study, which is what will make the real difference.” 
Duration and attendance
Currently, most of the universities prescribe a minimum duration of 2.5 years and maximum of four years. Taking into account Vice Chancellors’ discretionary power in the matter, one can effectively get a PhD in a minimum of two years and maximum of five years.  Says Prof. Gupta, “If a research scholar gives full time and attention, a good thesis will ideally require at least three years.”

Dr. Upadhyay suggests going for a part-time PhD rather than opting for a PhD by distance mode in any university, especially for working professionals. Part-time PhD programmes are similar to full-time PhDs except that the duration in which to submit the thesis in one year more than the regular PhD. Though there is certain freedom available to the university to design PhD programmes, it is expected that the universities will follow the UGC norms; otherwise it may create problems for candidate at the time of recruitment.
Fees and scholarships
There is a huge difference in fees charged by government institutions and those by in the private sector. A PhD in humanities that will cost Rs. 10,000-20,000 per year at a government institution but will cost Rs. 50,000-100,000 per year at private universities. In case of science and technology subjects, fees may be higher. Government scholarships like UGC-JRF are available to scholars in both the government and private institutions.
Copy of thesis in English
The UGC has made it compulsory to submit a copy of the thesis in English. One can do research and present the findings in any language but the scholar has to submit a translated copy of the thesis in English. All said and done, it is advisable for the students to adhere to the latest UGC norms so that their academic toil doesn’t go waste.  


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