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UGC Proposal: The Academician's Nightmare

The draft University Grants Commission proposals for promotions are guaranteed to encourage mediocrity and penalise high quality intellectual effort as academicians race to collect "points" to climb up the academic ladder.

COMMENTARYmarch 28, 2009 vol xliv no 13 EPW Economic & Political Weekly10the “two-nation theory” and Muslim League politics squarely, but failed to see through the caste/class composition of the Congress politics and was ultimately subsumed by it. Abdul Hameed, who belonged tothe darzi (tailor) community, was awarded with the highest gallantry award Paramveer Chakra posthumously for his bravery and martyrdom in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. Ustad Bismillah Khan, who belonged to the halalkhor (sweeper) community, as we all know, was a renowned musician. I do not intend to underestimate their achievements but it must be said that all these icons are problematic in terms of their liberatory impact. While Abdul Qayyum Ansari’s career ended in a political compromise and could not transcend the immediacy of electoral politics, Abdul Hameed’s contribution entails a danger of succumbing to apologetic nationalism (as was evident in the emotive slogans and songs inspired by his life that were ren-dered in the Pasmanda Waqaar Rally held in Patna recently on 1 July 2008). More-over, Bismillah Khan’s symbol is so inno-cuously apolitical as to make us speculate if it serves any purpose at all. Can the PM move beyond these icons and rediscover more liberatory figures in history? Can Kabir – with his working class background, his unflinching critique of both Hindu and Muslim religious pre-tensions and obscurantism and above all his explicit positioning against the caste system – be offered as a candidate here? Can other liberatory symbols from Islamic and Indian history fit the bill?All in all, the crux of the argument here is that thePM needs to grow beyond quota politics and rethink its abnegation of the social/cultural/economic aspects of the movement. Along with its present accent on democratisation of the state it would do well to also consider the more far-reaching issue of the democratisation of society at large.PM needs to engage in a balancing act between the political and social. This will create the much desired synergy necessary for launching the liber-atory promise of PM on track.UGC Proposal: The Academician’s NightmareGeetha VenkataramanThe draft University Grants Commission proposals for promotions are guaranteed to encourage mediocrity and penalise high quality intellectual effort as academicians race to collect “points” to climb up the academic ladder.The University Grants Commission (UGC) is an apex body of the gov-ernment of India charged with pro-viding funds and maintenance of stand-ards in institutions of higher education. An important aspect in its mandate is ad-vising the union and state governments on the measures necessary for improvement of university education.The recent document that the UGC has made available on its web site (see the draft proposal at http://www.ugc.ac.in/notices/draftregulation.pdf.) is one such effort. The document is 37 pages long and apart from the notifications on the revised pay scales, and the minimum qualifica-tions for appointment of teachers to uni-versities and colleges, it also contains pro-posals for maintenance of standards. Intricate as they are, these proposed changes have far-reaching implications not only for the varsities but also in a wider sense. India is a country still with miles to go in terms of the reach of and access to quality higher education. We face a challenge on how to increase the numbers enrolled in higher education while being able to ensure that quality does not suffer. It is an axiom that one cannot improve the quality of higher education without improving the quality of teaching and research in universities.In order to address the issue of quality and ensuring that it gets upgraded over time, theUGC has proposed a series of measures in its draft proposal. The inten-tion and impulse are positive, and the effort long overdue. It is also heartening that this document is available for all to study. What was unfortunate though was the short period of just four days given for a response to the measures proposed in the document. Given the far-reaching implications of such measures this was hasty to say the least.The two new measures that have been introduced are the Academic Performance Indicator (API) and the Weightage Point (or WP) tables. Both these are to be used to judge the merit of a candidate for selection to posts other than at the entry level and for promotions at both college and university departments. The API requires an assess-ment of the aptitude of the candidate for teaching, research, administration, com-munication and other academic or administrative skills that are required in higher education. A key element in this assessment will be a Performance Ap-praisal Scoring System (PASS) that the concerned university has to evolve based on the WP tables that have been included in the draft proposal of the UGC. Significantly, the WP tables are tucked away in the appendices at the very end of the draft proposal. They are easy to Geetha Venkataraman (geevenkat@gmail.com) is at the Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Delhi.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW march 28, 2009 vol xliv no 1311overlook but they cast a long shadow over the proposals as a whole.The WP tables will determine a mini-mum level of points that are to be accrued in the categories of teaching, research and extension or co-curricular activities. The WP tables also indicate the ratio in which these points have to be gathered in each of these categories for a certain promotion or selection. For example, among other things, to become an associate professor at the college level, you need to score 200 points, 100 of which have to be earned in the pe-riod after the last promotion. Further, 50% of these points need to have been accrued by teaching, 25% through research and 25% through extension activities. While the points remain the same at the univer-sity level, the percentage is 40%, 45% and 15% for teaching, research and extension activities. It is also certain that apart from this, there will also be an interview.A micro-level analysis of the crucial WP tables can leave one amazed at the man-ner in which it is possible to “earn” points. In fact, a close and fine grained look sug-gests that the cure is worse than the com-plaint. This is especially so in the way the points are (and are not) awarded. While the recipe given below is about a notional scholar in one discipline (say mathe-matics), it could easily apply to any other. Flaws in SystemSurely, any appraisal system that awards the intellectual activity required to produce even a reasonable quality of published re-search the same or fewer points than other activities has to be flawed, to say the least. While it is fair that activities that are admini-strative orextra-curricular or even socio-cultural are given recognition, surely they cannot and should not carry points that are higher than those coming from academic intellectual activity. What is also indefensible with the point system in theWP tables concerning research is that it just does not take into account the differences that exist between various disciplines and subjects nor does it differentiate adequately between good published research and research paper presentation or similar activities.A further reading of some of the golden rules given below will bring clarity to the serious threat to good academia if these proposals go through in the current form. Golden Rule 1: Do not publish: If one is a mathematician working in what is regard-ed as a pure theoretical area, an average of one research paper a year is regarded as reasonable. There are a handful of jour-nals in mathematics with an impact factor of one or above. The chances of being able to publish in these are next to nil so any publication in a refereed journal will fetch you five points or at most 2.5 if it is a joint paper. Because of a heavy teaching load you might not manage to publish a paper every year. Let us assume that after a service of 10 years you manage to publish about six papers some of which may be written jointly. You will therefore manage to pick up around 22 points. The huge intellectual effort and time spent though may not count for much in this point system for there are much easier methods to garner those many points.Golden Rule 2: Have friends in every in-stitution organiseUGC-sponsored national seminars: If one has friends who ensure a speaking invitation to 10 national level seminars sponsored by theUGC, the 20 points have been made already. It may not even take 10 years and further there is no need to even present a proper research paper. If the UGC has sponsored it then who is to question this any further?So it definitely makes no sense in this point system to publish internationally a coauthored research monograph that will fetch at the most 10 points but may have taken more than five years of your time.One can also earn these 10 points in a shorter period of time with a lower level of intellectual input by completing a research project with a “satisfactory” certificate of completion from the funding agency. Even less time and effort may be required if one can present a research paper at an inter-national conference. This too can fetch you 10 points.Golden Rule 3: Attend refresher and ori-entation programmes, coordinate research methodology courses or workshops: Audit-ing orientation and refresher courses can fetch one 20 points with ease. All that is required is a sacrifice of 12 weeks of one’s life as opposed to using one’s mind pro-ductively for 10 years. In reality, of course, there is not much choice, since these are UGC sponsored and mandated it is actually compulsory to do a certain number of refresher or orientation courses for the sake of promotions. What is not clear and would be terrible is if one can earn up to 20 points by doing more than the mandatory requirement. The standards of these courses are uneven, to say the least, and anyone who has had to attend them will vouch for the same. That they carry under the research category a higher value than that of good published research is an abomination.Golden Rule 4: The curious case of a sem-inal piece of work which fetches a Nobel Prize/Fields medal but not a promotion: It is often the case that the major prizes list-ed above are awarded for a singular piece of extraordinary work. In the new point system, such a paper would fetch you 10 points and, of course, a bonus of another 50 after you get the award, but at the time that you apply for your job/promotion you may not have got the award or even collected the minimum points to apply for your pro-motion. So the moral of the story is – be or-dinary not extraordinary. While this discus-sion may be theoretical in nature, the un-derlying fact it represents is that good high quality work is being given an extremely low weightage in the point system.Golden Rule 5: Organise national and international cultural festivals: One can earn serious points (up to a dizzying maximum of 200!) by doing such activities. If one is also into participating and organising NCC/NGO/NSO/NSS camps, then, one is sure to reach these heights. Thankfully theUGC itself has capped the contribution from these extra-curricular activities.Golden Rule 6: Join every committee that you can: In order to earn enough points to make the minimum cut-off in the teaching category one will be forced to earn a part of these from being on committees. “De-mocratise committees (and have more of them)” so that every faculty member can serve on them. One will have to earn about 50 such points in order to be promoted to a professor from associate professor.There is also a serious undermining of any publishing that is done in Indian journals or via publishing houses that are regarded as Indian; lower points are automatically assigned for such publications as compared to those published internationally.While there is bad publishing, both nationally and internationally, to have a blanket norm that
COMMENTARYmarch 28, 2009 vol xliv no 13 EPW Economic & Political Weekly12regards every international publication as above any national publication smacks of a colonial hangover and presents a lazy bureaucratic solution to a problem of de-ciding what is good and bad publishing.Another curious thing is the mathematical precision with which points are awarded to the “co-authors” for co-authored or joint publications. Apart from the first author, the points mentioned are to be equally di-vided between all other authors. So if four authors have published a joint paper in a reasonable journal the last three names get around 1.7 points. What about disci-plines in which an alphabetical order is followed, will one have to blame one’s parent for not having a surname starting withA? Curiously, such divisions are not applied to joint research projects or for serving on committees.The draft proposal was available on the UGC web site around 15 February. Res-ponses to the proposal were to reach the UGC in writing on or before 19 February. While the time given was in no way enough to respond in any serious manner, what is more worrying is the kind of points system that has been drawn up, which undermines serious intellectual activities. It is sad that what should be considered as primary and desirable activities for a scholar are given very poor weightage. Any institution of higher education should encourage and reward good research. The UGC is mandated to do this.Given the poor record that India has of producing quality research papers, the rel-ative poor weightage attached to publishing good research in this point system will not improve the situation but will only worsen it further. Scholars doing good intellectual work and publishing either books (with ISBN/ISSN numbers) or papers in refereed journals (with ISBN/ISSN numbers) are go-ing to feel short-changed to say the least.Whither Khadi?S RohiniKhadi has strayed from its objective of providing a livelihood to artisans in rural areas. For preserving the ethos of khadi, rather than just tinker with the existing system a restructuring of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission is necessary. The potential of khadi needs to be exploited for its inherent worth rather than be supported for charity.When Gandhi advocated khadi, it was to represent a new ethos. Khadi was to be an agent of change for providing livelihood, self- sufficiency and at a moral plane inculcate virtues like patience. These may sound anachronistic in today’s world of malls, call centres and fast food. The propping up of khadi was a task (burden?) for the gov-ernment of India and the endeavour was being reflected in successive plans. What does khadi represent today? It does not re-quire much introspection to know that all that khadi stood for has been watered down or more appropriately washed away. At best we can look at khadi as a form of providing livelihood to the poor masses es-pecially in the villages. But have we at least succeeded in this? This essay is an attempt to bring out for discussion the core prob-lem in providing livelihood under khadi which remains unaddressed.Stagnation of KhadiThe First Five-Year Plan (FYP) did not say much about khadi except to record that there are some khadi institutions which are doing good work. A decision was taken to constitute a Khadi and Village Indus-tries Development Board as an organisa-tion outside the departmental machinery to be managed by experienced persons in the field of khadi and village industries besides some representatives from the central government.The Second FYP stated that with the setting up of the Khadi Board, the production of khadi had increased from Rs 1.3 crore in 1950-51 to Rs 5 crore in 1956-57. An effort was made to propagate the use of the ambar charkha and other multi charkhas-spindle charkhas. The rationale was that if ade-quate quantities of yarn of quality required by handlooms could be produced on a de-centralised basis in village homes, the scope of rural employment can be increased. But somewhere down the line handloom was delinked from hand spinning. However, khadi did not lack in terms of administrative machinery. The Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), a stat-utory body, with more executive powers than that enjoyed by the Board was established during the Second FYP. Also, in most states statutory Khadi and Village Industries Boards were set up. Assistance to khadi is being channelled through registered societies.During the Third FYP there was a pro-gramme for manufacture and distribution of the ambar charkha on a large scale, although it was noted that the introduction of the charkha was not an unqualified success. The Third Plan noted that the ambar charkhas manufactured in the earlier stages were not up to the mark and there was no adequate arrangement for their servicing as well. There was even an ambar charkha enquiry commit-tee which found that as against the expecta-tion that ambar charkhas would work for eight hours a day for 300 days in the year, the actual performance was only at two hours per day for 200 days. The average production S Rohini (clearshipraja@gmail.com) served as a senior official in various departments of the government of India.

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