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Delhi University changes PhD guidelines
Navin Kumar
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August 06, 2008

In an attempt to build credibility and improve 'research quality', Delhi [Images] University has introduced new guidelines for its PhD programme. The changes, while making it harder for students to get into the university, aim to help students improve their research work. An unmentioned undercurrent in the new policy seems to suggest an attempt to weed out those students who aren't likely to take their work seriously.

For students
The changes affect the students from the very beginning; the eligibility criteria for students has been hiked across the board: MA students need a minimum of 55 per cent to apply for the programme. MPhil students need 50 per cent and students from science and law streams need 60 per cent. The students aren't complaining: "Fifty-five? The cut-off should be 60 per cent," says Ali Shah, who is doing a PhD on Persian Language, "The University should only accept the best students it can get. The higher the barrier, the better."

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Students who have received a fellowship from the UGC or a national institute like the CSIR are inducted directly into the programme. However, those students who do not get a scholarship have a lifeline: the university will conduct entrance exams, followed by an interview. Based on the entrance test, the university will give fellowships of Rs 5,000. These students will also be eligible for scholarships given by institutes like the Centre for Advance Studies.

DU has also decided to ban would-be doctorates from sitting for competitive exams (like the civil services exam) or taking jobs without their supervisor's permission. This decision has received mixed reactions. "If a student is serious about his research, he won't want to take an exam," says Ali Shah, "Some students at DU don't take their work seriously. We have to stop this."

"A problem will arise because permission will be hard to get," says a source on condition of anonymity, "Even if your supervisor agrees, unless he is close to his boss, you will be denied the authorisation."

On the upside, DU has decided to allow students to take a break for three years in order to pursue a job. Students will now be able to de-register, take upto three years of leave and then return to complete their thesis. While many see this as good thing -- because of its potential to attract students who may otherwise not attempt a PhD -- reservations exist.

"I've been doing my degree for the past two years," says Yogender Singh, who is doing a PhD in Operational Research (a branch of mathematics), "I now know everything there is to know about my field. If I take a gap of three years, will I be able to remember all of this? For that matter, will I still want to return to finish my degree? This policy will only encourage students to be flaky."

But others are more upbeat. "A PhD doesn't guarantee you a job," says Vikram Singh, who is doing an MPhil in Maths, "If a student can get work experience in that time, it will strengthen his position in the job market when he completes his degree."

The time period for the thesis has been reduced from five years to four years. Students can avail of an extra six months with their supervisor's permission. A further six months requires the permission of the Vice-Chancellor. "A degree takes a lot of time," says Ali Shah, "Throwing away the year will impact the students negatively. It will hurt science students much more than arts students."

Their thesis will now be graded not only by the Department Research Committee, but also a new Advisory Committee, which will consist of a supervisor and two members from outside the Delhi University. Students aren't worried. "If my thesis and research are sound -- and they are -- why should I worry about an extra committee?" asks Yogender Singh.

For teachers
The number of students a guide can supervise has been reduced to eight for professors, six for readers and four for lecturers. While this is viewed as a good trend, some find it insufficient. "If a professor gives half an hour a day to eight students, where will he find time for his own work?" says a source on the condition of anonymity, "If you include the MPhil students, it becomes clear that even this limit is too much."

College teachers can now supervise students, provided they have a PhD themselves and three years of teaching experience.

The University has decided to allow teachers -- permanent, temporary and ad-hoc -- to enroll in the programme. College teachers will also be allowed into the Board of Research Studies and the Department Research Committee.

"So far, the departments have not received any letter regarding the change in guidelines," says Vikram Singh. Until they do, no one can really say how far these PhD guidelines will affect DU's notoriously poor research quality. While there's almost universal relief that DU has changed its outdated guidelines, it will be many years before the effect can be felt. 

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