Why India does not achieve academic excellence?

While such an important question merits a much detailed and comprehensive approach, here is something that you might consider relevant especially if you are just on your morning coffee on a Sunday and you just want to ponder over it. In other words what I am going to write is perhaps a little terse but lists one of the most important factors, and in my defense its just a blog.

Why India does not achieve academic excellence, I will just give example of one primary reason: arbitrary rules wrt qualifications, merit, skills, caste, age, time line.

For a glossary of certain terms which are nonetheless self evident (at-least for an Indian audience) you don’t need to scroll to the dead-end. Here they are; PG: Post Graduate, UG: Under Graduate, NET: National Eligibility Test, SET/SLET: State Eligibility Test, B.Ed.: Bachelor of Education, M.Phil.: Master of Philosophy.

qualification: it has always been arbitrary. We are not sure whats enough or adequate to teach. Sometimes a person with PG isn’t considered good enough to even teach in high school or junior college, without additional degrees of any moiety of relevance. Sometimes lower qualifications than PG are fine for teaching such classes, with (mostly) irrelevant degrees or qualifications. eg someone with B.Sc.and B.Ed. is qualified to teach high-school but someone with PG, or PG+PhD may not be qualified to teach high-school or junior college, although its fine for him/her to teach senior college with a PhD. Also with PG qualification you can’t teach UG. But with PG, one entrance (NET/SLET) can decide your qualification to teach both UG and PG. I am talking about basic minimum qualifications. So you are not considered qualified without certain irrelevant factors. Its not like you are considered and given a time line to achieve any required additional qualifications.

The qualification arbitrariness is quite connected to arbitrariness of timeline. That is, what is considered a qualification varies with time, as per the whim of those who set rules.

time line: A simple PG used to be enough decades ago, to get a faculty assignment in even an university. Then in the following decades all sorts of arbitrary rules were introduced without any basic coherence. They were a stopgap measure for dealing with rising quotients of unemployment and these rules were often caused by rising factors of corruption in public offices. So with time, these non-academic measures (eg age and caste criteria) to contain academic shortcomings (eg unemployment) became quite acceptable academic measures. Now this rule, then another. Read the criteria cited by a particular recent job advertisement, which I have appended below, you will see.

merit/skills: it has never been a strong point in Indian academia. There are no good parameters to define it. So your age and caste — rather than knowledge or skill, will be deciding factors for employment in academia. Read any academic employment notification in India you will see the truth of this remark.

age/caste/timeline: you are lucky if your age fits certain category. You are lucky if your caste does and you are lucky eg if you were born before or after certain year. How does that have any relevance to academic merit? Well India is a connecting link between whats relevant and whats not. It works like a wormhole.

Now lets see how all these irrelevant factors are the central underpinning of our latest academic employment schemes.

The following is from an advert, for teaching UG (undergrad) classes. What are the basic qualifications?

PG: Just with PG any teaching you did ever, in the last 2-3 decades has zero value towards your qualification, even though you will be teaching a lower qualification degree. ie you not only have a BA degree but also MA, but you can’t teach a BA course, all your experience as high as 15 years teaching and degree qualification is NULL. You can’t apply for this job.

PG with certain PG/UG based entrance called NET/SLET: All your teaching experience suddenly becomes relevant right from 1992 – 2019. Remember NET/SLET are themselves arbitrary qualifications. Some organizations respect both, some respect only NET, some respect none. But they give credence to your otherwise independently achieved merit. One qualification voids another. Bravo. If you don’t have NET or SET eg your PG and teaching experience are void. If you want another example of arbitrariness of SET/NET consider this: only couple of years ago top-16% of qualified candidates used to be given eligibility certificates, but now only top-6%, as a result cut-off marks jumped from mere 33-35% towards 50-52% or more. You are lucky or unlucky due to the time-line effect and not your comparable merit.

PG+M Phil before 1993: (what kind of rule is that?) M Phil is M Phil no matter which year you completed it, isn’t it? Hold on, lets see the Indian logic, if you did only before 1993 your teaching experience between 1992 – 2002 will be considered. So you can teach any UG or PG classes. What happened to years after that? It suddenly loses its magic power.

PhD (submitted before 2003?) OK OK your teaching experiences between 2002 – 2006 only will be considered.

PG+M Phil: Any teaching you did between 2007 – 2010 ONLY will be considered. Why not any time after? The magic power suddenly vanished and if you are an Indian yourself eg Abhijit Banerjee, although technically not an Indian anymore, you can’t scream BLOODY INDIANS 😀.

PG+PhD in distance mode: all magic works between 1991 – 2009. Then it vanishes. Anyone who would do a PhD in distance mode after 2009,would lose his precious time of life, because some bloody hound dog somewhere decided otherwise. (To be fair this was perhaps scrapped altogether so its counter productive even if any unsuspecting player offers or accepts a distance-PhD after this period. Its no more  valid phD)

PG+M Phil in distance: Only 2007-2009 are magical years. All others must be punished.

PG+PhD: all years from 1992-2019 are magic years. Somehow for BA/B.Sc. teaching we think PhD adds to our basic qualification, WHILE it ACTUALLY DOES NOT. This remarks needs elaborate explanations, but thats not the scope of this blog. But consider an earlier remark: one qualification can’t void another basic qualification in an arbitrary way, i.e. something should not be allowed to sometimes validate and sometimes invalidate something else, without any valid basis.

If it matters to you, in most advance countries where academics is a rewarding experience such non-sense does not exist. Eg in the USA while teacher credentials tests are sometimes applicable frequently you can teach in high-school, junior college or community colleges (4 years, could be eg art or science honors degree) with a masters degree (and any experience without recourse to any entrance exam is countable towards merit).

The linked news (of as recent as a live recruitment process in Tamil Nadu state) opens up the whole Pandora’s box of arbitrariness and corruption in the academic recruitment. The governments of the day prefer it. Recently one recruitment process involving ~850 Assistant Professors in Odisha was completely bought out by, rumor mill says, none other than Government’s own political party leaders.

If the above qualification criteria confused you its not my calling: this is how government is advertising its schemes of recruitment. A simpler way to look at it is how exactly the rules changed, below. But then practice of laws is far more lethal than the laws themselves.

The Qualification for Assistant Professor by UGC is given as follows.

Before 1991 -P.G with 50% minimum marks

1991 to 1993 -P.G with 55% minimum marks with passed in NET/SET.

1993 to 31.07.2002 -P.G with 55% minimum marks with NET/SET. Exemption for M.Phil or Ph.D completed before 31.12.1993

01.08.2002 to 14.06.2006 -P.G with 55% minimum marks with NET/SET. Exemption for Ph.D completed before 31.12.2002

15.06.2006 to 30.06.2010 -P.G with 55% minimum marks with NET/SET. Exemption for Ph.D for taking P.G Class and M.Phil for U.G class.

After 30.06.2010 -P.G with 55% minimum marks with NET/SET. Exemption only for PhD holders.

Are there solutions to these never ending bickering? Of-course. And lets not forget the immense pain it has caused to numerous people who have been arbitrarily spurned by the system. There have been numerous court cases through the decade.

Here is a simpler solution.

The basic qualification for recruitment for teaching a degree should be the degree itself. Nothing more nothing less. Want to teach BA, have a BA degree. Want to teach high-school, have a high school graduation certificate. Of-course there is far more than meets the eye with such blatantly simplistic qualification criteria you would say. But hey thats exactly why basic qualification should be simplest. There is competition. At that level someone with BA and B.Ed. would easily outperform a high-school graduate. But they should not be arbitrarily cut out at the application stage. Everyone should be given fair chance to the recruitment. That means allow someone with a PG to teach PG classes. He/she should nonetheless compete with higher qualified candidates. The higher qualified candidates can be given higher weightage for educational degrees and experience but there should not be huge difference in the same. So that one could compete through other achievements. If I don’t have many publications perhaps I have a book, but rather I might outperform someone in the recruitment exam. What if someone with books/publications gets a good weightage but one who scores 15% better in the exam gets a flat weightage which is same as the under-performer? Thats whats is called unfair or partisan advantage. But if fractional weightage is given in the same way to publication as well as to one who does well in exam, we have a fairly leveled field.

One who does not have a PhD of-course can’t teach a PhD course work unless its same as a PG course-work. But in a similar vein PhD should not be made a compulsory qualification criteria for teaching a UG or PG class. Even PG should not made compulsory for teaching a UG class. BEd or MEd should be considered additional credential but should not be compulsory basic qualification for teaching a specific course/degree.

Everything except a basic degree should be considered additional credential and not be the minimum qualification criteria.

In the same sense SLET and NET should not be considered basic qualification criteria. They can be considered recruitment qualifications. Eg lets say there is a recruitment level entrance exam. Everyone with basic degree can apply for this exam. Only one with SLET and NET can be exempted from this exam. PhD candidates should NOT be exempted. Its an extremely illogical and unfair way to treat them exempted and give them higher weightage  marks even though they haven’t proved their credentials through a single entrance. The only advantage of having a PhD degree should be teaching specific PhD based course which are advanced and different from PG based course and research guidance. A non-PhD can’t be allowed to guide PhD scholars.

Apart from recruitment exams there are many other facets which differentiates between candidates. Eg publication and research records, teaching experience. (which is now convoluted, your experience is counted not from a day when you earned a basic qualification degree but when you qualified an arbitrary irrelevant choice like a PhD or SLET/NET which is a mere exam replacing whole 2+3 year degree credentials)

So all in all the differential weightage should be in fraction terms, not SLET 5, MPhil 6, PhD 9. (There have been recruitment that I came across recently perhaps Odisha govt orgs which gives 30 marks to PhD without NET but only 5 to NET) Even in present day scheme this is grossly unfair towards everyone without a PhD. The argument has also been heard in court rooms: Are all PhD equal in their caliber and credentials? Why then treat them in a blanket manner? In present day scheme NET, PhD and MPhil are basic qualifications so they should be equivalent by any stretch of imagination, why then prefer the PhD who didn’t even qualify the entrance?

The weightage should therefore vary in terms of fractions like 0.1 or 0.2. This would not give anyone undue advantage.

I think all these are at the base of the present day malice in academic recruitment but with a simpler solution that I have compiled this can be weeded out within even a couple of years, thereby normalizing the academic sphere in at-best 10 years and our progress would reverse as well as sustain on a global scale.

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