The Delhi High Court on Monday in the case against the University Grants Commission (UGC) Gazette 2016, made major intervention by ruling against the criteria of 100% weightage to viva voice for admission to MPhil and PhD. It has been held arbitrary and against Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. However, it upheld the guideline barring the number of students a professor can guide to three MPhil and eight PhD scholars, but said that the number of MPhil and PhD seats cannot be reduced.
The plea against the guideline was filed by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) and three other students, who had challenged the constitutional validity of the UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil and PhD degree) Regulations, 2016, effective from July 5, 2016.
UGC Regulations ‘irrational’
Following the HC ruling, the SFI issued a statement saying that the HC has also upheld the reservation policy for admissions as constitutionally mandated. “This is the first but major step to fight the draconian anti-constitutional UGC Gazette. The struggles for the fight for social justice must continue to ensure that the reservation policy is implemented in toto,” the SFI statement said.
The students and the SFI had contended that the regulations resulted in a massive cut in seats for MPhil and PhD course beginning in the academic year 2017-18 in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and other universities.
The petition filed by the SFI and the other students said that, in JNU, compared to 970 seats in the 2016-17 academic year for these two degrees, last year the number of seats had dropped to 102. The seats had reduced due to the cap on the number of students per research supervisor for MPhil and PhD courses.
Terming the UGC 2016 regulations as “irrational”, the petitioners had also alleged that it was contrary to the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy.
Students across Universities Welcome this Decision
Suresh, a PhD scholar from JNU, told NewsClick that even though the court has given judgement on only three points, it can be seen as a huge victory for them. “In the 2016 Gazette notification, these three were the main problems. Earlier, for M.Phil or PhD, 30 per cent weightage was given to the viva exam and 70 per cent weightage was assigned for the written exam. What necessarily followed the decision to give 100 per cent weightage to viva was that it reduced the written examination to merely a qualifying exam, which was a major problem and the court has given judgement towards this in our favour,” he said.
The other important problem was that to maintain a supervisor-student ratio which was three MPhil and eight PhD students per professor, JNU decreased the number of seats for applicants. Manish, another research scholar from JNU terming the Court’s decision to be in their favour, said, “The Court has ruled that you can not decrease the seats even though they have upheld the UGC’s guidelines which directly means that the University will have to recruit more professors and it will not adversely affect the students.”
He further said, “The minimum marks required by the aspirants from any category was capped at 50 per cent. With the judgement in our favour, reservation will not be affected now and the university will have to venture into a course of progressive discrimination.”
Akhil Sibbal and Gaurav Bharadwaj, who were the lawyers for this case had also argued the case along these three main points even though the case was presented for the scrapping of the entire Gazette.
Students have also maintained that this judgement can be viewed as an exposé on the attack on higher education by the Government of India. “The way the Government of India has tried to tamper with the constitutional mandates regarding reservation or the way it dealt with the supervisor-student ratio, shows the negative attitude of the authorities whereas a more student and education friendly way or a more positive way would have been faculty appointments rather than seat-cuts”, said Sumit Kataria, a student from the University of Delhi.
More Struggles Ahead
The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) President, Vikas Badauria, has further said that the students’ organisation will continue to struggle against the 30 per cent weightage to viva, too. “In a Supreme Court judgement, the Court had upheld that keeping in mind a prospective job, viva should not be given a weightage of more than 15 per cent, therefore, our demands will now be towards 15 and 85 per cent weightage to viva and written examination, respectively.”