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Answersheet scam: fate of CBSE UGC NET candidates hang in balance, CBI files FIR against CBSE officials

English Manorama Online |Saturday 27 May 2017  | PTI |

New Delhi: The fate of 7.94 lakh aspirants, who appeared in the National Eligibility Test (NET) this year, seemed to be hanging in the balance as the private firm which was given contract to scan the answersheets had not been able to complete the work, prompting the CBI to file an FIR against it. In its FIR, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has named Director (IT) of the CBSE Antriksh Johri, Kapil Soorma, the representative of Venus Digital Service, and Venus Digital Service, besides some other unidentified officials of the CBSE, agency sources said. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) conducted NET, a qualifying exam for recruitment of college and university teachers and for award of Junior Research Fellowship, on January 22 at total 500 centers across the country. A team of CBI officials visited the CBSE headquarter on Friday to collect some documents, the sources said. The contract to scan answersheets of students at some of the examination centers was given to Venus Digital Service. It is alleged that the company could not complete scanning the OMR answer-sheets of 412 centers alloted to it as on May 23, the CBI FIR mentions. When contacted, Johri denied the allegations and said people who were not happy with his work to strengthen the system were leveling such false allegations against him.

The agency has alleged that the work order was given without any tender at arbitrary rate of Rs 25,000 per center. It is alleged in the FIR that the work order to the tune of Rs 1.03 crore covering 412 centers in 18 cities was given to the company despite it being on record of the CBSE that the firm did not exist at its Karol Bagh address. For the remaining centers of 72 cities, the OMR sheets were to be brought to CBSE Delhi and then scanned, it alleged. “It is further alleged that the work order was issued by deputy secretary UGC (NET) on the instructions of Dr Johri despite objections by the deputy secretary UGC (NET) and director UGC (NET),” the FIR mentioned. Johri claimed that the work order was issued by the director UGC (NET), and not him. Johri said he, being the director (IT), was only there to execute the work cleared by other units. “I don’t have administrative power to issue work orders and all the decisions are taken by the competent authority, i.e. the director UGC (NET) and the chairman of the CBSE,” Johri said. If the director UGC (NET) was opposed to the decision, why did he issue the work order? he asked. It is further alleged in the CBI FIR that Venus Digital was not able to carry out scanning at all the 412 centers earlier intimated by them for which the work order was issued. This has resulted in much of the OMR sheets as on date not being scanned, it alleged. “The information reveals that Johri, in connivance with the firm and its representative Kapil Soorma and other unknown officers of the CBSE in view to cause undue favor to the firm, did the above acts of commission and omission,” it said. – Courtesy

Which panel suggested capping MPhil and PhD seats: Delhi High Court asks UGC

Business Standard | Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi  May 16, 2017 |

The Delhi High Court today asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) to state which experts panel had suggested limiting the number of seats per supervisor for MPhil and PhD courses in varsities.  “You (UGC) file a written submission as to which experts committee suggested to bring down the number of seats of research scholars per faculty,” a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar asked.  The direction was issued during the hearing of a plea challenging UGC’s admission norms for MPhil and PhD courses in the country.  The Students’ Federation of India (SFI) has moved the court challenging the constitutional validity of the UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil and PhD degree) Regulations 2016 which came into effect from July 5, 2016.  The students’ body has termed the regulations as “irrational, unreasonable and arbitrary” and alleged that they were contrary to the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of State Policy.

Apart from the SFI, three students — one from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and two from the Delhi University (DU) — who aspire to pursue MPhil and PhD courses from JNU have challenged the regulations.  The students and the SFI have contended that the regulations have resulted in a massive cut in seats for the MPhil and PhD courses for the 2017-18 academic year.  Their petition said that compared to 970 seats in the last academic year for these two degrees, this year the number of seats has dropped to 102.  The seats have come down due to the capping of the number of students per research supervisor for MPhil and PhD courses, the petition has submitted.  It has contended that the cap was put without consulting or informing students and without improving infrastructure.  The petitioners have challenged various provisions of the regulations including those laying down a minimum percentage requirement of 55 per cent for general category and 50 per cent for reserved category, as well as the 100 per cent weightage given to viva-voce (oral) exam. Apart from striking down of the regulations, they have sought filling up of the vacancies in the posts of Professors, Associate Professors and Assistant Professors to avoid reduction of seats in MPhil and PhD courses in the academic year 2017-18.  As per JNU’s admission prospectus for the current academic year, the last date for submitting applications was April 5. – Courtesy

Board sends once-a-year signal on CBSE UGC NET

The Telegraph | Basant Kumar Mohanty | 13 May 2017 |

New Delhi, May 12: An overburdened Central Board of Secondary Education has said it cannot continue holding the National Eligibility Test twice a year, defying a government prod and stoking students’ and teachers’ fears about the future of academia. Board chairperson Rajesh Kumar Chaturvedi wrote to higher education secretary K.K. Sharma on May 5 that the board had too many all-India exams to conduct. He said it could at best hold the NET once a year, preferably in November or December. Some 3-4 lakh master’s degree holders take the exam to join research programmes or take up teaching jobs in colleges and universities. The top 8,800 candidates are awarded Junior Research Fellowships. Since its introduction in 1984, the test has been held twice every year, usually in June and December. The University Grants Commission, the higher education regulator, conducted the exam till 2014, when the responsibility was handed over to the board without explanation. The board’s stand has put thousands of careers at risk and threatens to aggravate the talent shortage in academia. The last NET was held in January. After The Telegraph reported on April 19 about uncertainty looming over the next exam, due in June-July, the higher education department brought the matter before human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar.

On April 24, Javadekar decided the board should continue holding the test till an alternative body was given the job, officials said. Javadekar’s ministry plans to set up a “national testing agency” next year to conduct competitive tests for educational institutions. Sharma, the high education secretary, wrote to his school education counterpart, Anil Swarup, to direct the board to conduct the summer test. Swarup then wrote to the board chief. Chaturvedi has now written directly to Sharma that the board can conduct the NET only once a year because it also has on its hands the JEE Main (engineering), National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (medical) and the Central Teachers Eligibility Test (recruitment for centrally funded schools). He has added that the NET involves preparing questions in more than 80 subjects, and suggested the University Grants Commission be given back the task of holding the exam. Officials said the higher education department was likely to again request the board to hold the test. Late last year, Chaturvedi had written to the ministry that the board would not conduct the NET any more but was persuaded to hold the January edition this year and was expected to conduct it in June too.

But the board has not yet advertised the exam, something it had done on April 4 last year, seeking applications between April 13 and May 12. Chaturvedi did not take landline or cellphone calls, or respond to email or text messages. Students are dismayed. “This is part of a massacre in the fields of academia and research,” said Thayee Krishna, a NET aspirant and master’s student in English at JNU. “If the exam is not held, nobody will be eligible for fellowships or assistant professors’ posts. Students from poor backgrounds depend on the fellowship,” she said. Krishna feared that the number of fellowships might be cut if the exam was held just once a year. She cited how research seats had been slashed at universities because of the limits the regulator had clamped on the student-teacher ratio for MPhil and PhD courses. Nandita Narain, who heads the Federation of Central Universities Teachers Associations, said the last-minute hiccup over the exam betrayed the government’s lack of seriousness about the NET. “If the government were serious, it could have settled the matter in advance. But this is being done as part of a larger design to neglect higher education and cut down funding for research and universities,” the St Stephen’s teacher said. She cited how the regulator had cut funding over the past few years. “The real interest in higher education is coming from the marginalised sections. Any cut on fellowships or funds to public universities will hurt their empowerment,” she said. – Courtesy

Education reforms: Why India should not get lost in ‘high’ fees issue

The Financial Express | Published: May 5, 2017 |

In the case of the IITs, the plan has been to allow them to even decide on their own fees. A Bill for reforming medical education has been proposed by NITI Aayog and that is under consideration.

Periodic statements on the need to prevent private schools from overcharging students, apparently oblivious to the amount the government spends on its schools or the quality of teaching there, tend to overshadow the progress being made on education reform. So, for instance, while the issue of reservations is a serious one—and the government continues to try to impose it on the IIMs—the proposal to replace the IIM Council where the government was represented by a coordinating council which will have eminent people as members (apart from the IIM directors) is a good step; dropping the President from the Visitor, with powers to recommend administrative action, is also a good move. In the case of the IITs, the plan has been to allow them to even decide on their own fees. A Bill for reforming medical education has been proposed by NITI Aayog and that is under consideration. While many committees have recommended restructuring of UGC and AICTE, in an interview to The Times of India, education minister Prakash Javadekar has said the government is set to roll out a graded autonomy framework—institutes that are graded higher would enjoy more autonomy, followed by the middle-rung ones, with the government regulating only the third rung of institutes. Also, the minister is also of the view that universities would have a limited role in regulating colleges, with institutes free to decide their curriculum, examination, and hiring of new teachers.

What this means is that while a Delhi University will be free to decide its own curriculum, within this, if a Lady Shri Ram or a Hindu College—both were graded ‘A+’—want to offer their own curriculum, they can do so. The grading system, of course, will take time since while there are 799 universities, 39,071 colleges, and 11,923 stand-alone institutes, the accreditation agency NAAC still has a long way to go in completing grading. Sooner, rather than later, encouraging non-government ratings also has to be a priority. Establishing a National Testing Agency which will ensure CBSE does not have to conduct four major entrance tests is a good idea—it conducts the JEE MAINS for engineering, NEET-UG for medical, UGC-NET for entry-level teaching jobs in universities & colleges and UGC-funded research fellowships, and CTET for school-level teaching jobs. But even if CBSE were to concentrate on only schools, it doesn’t help—while CBSE had 11 lakh students for Class XII, UP alone had 26 lakh students registered for its state board exam—the result has been grade-inflation unrelated to student quality, especially in many state boards.  A good solution would be to encourage colleges/universities to opt for a national SAT-type test to decide on admissions. And, at some point, the minister has to acknowledge you can’t create world-class institutions if you have a reservations policy. Without a solution to that, India’s educations-reform path will always be incomplete. – Courtesy

Break the chains: Javadekar admits higher education regulators like UGC are stumbling blocks, so subdue their powers

The Times of India | May 4, 2017 |  TOI Editorials | Opinion |

Representational image

The All India Council for Technical Education has told institutions under it to involve NSS and NCC in a campaign to end spitting. This is a telling sample of the micromanaging mindset of India’s education regulators, whose top-down whimsies choke bottom-up innovation. With more than 10,000 engineering and technical institutions and more than 20 lakh students under it, the big picture before AICTE is an uphill global jobscape. Infosys for example plans to grow more jobs in the US in response to the rising protectionist tide there. Also, the newer IT jobs require higher levels skills in cloud analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence, etc. The need to promote excellence in Indian higher education is paramount. But as HRD minister Prakash Javadekar acknowledges, far from doing this regulators like AICTE and UGC have become “stumbling blocks”. Along the same lines Association of Indian Universities secretary general Furqan Qamar points to data proving the unhealthiness of regulatory cholesterol. For example none of the 16 central universities established since 2009 feature in the HRD list of top 100 universities but various IIMs, IITs and other institutions set up with greater autonomy fare much better.

So it’s commendable that in a bid to encourage excellence in higher education, government plans to grant top ranked colleges and universities full autonomy in framing curriculum, hiring faculty and other academic matters. The same kind of thinking is being seen in the scheme to set up 20 world-class universities. But the puzzle is that although all the evidence shows that heavy-handed regulators like AICTE and UGC are obstructing rather than advancing first-class education outcomes, they continue to roam free among the masses. Why are only elite institutions being provided shelter from them? This will only widen inequality of outcomes of different institutions. Perhaps today’s regulatory snarl is too labyrinthine to be sorted out quickly, but government must at least make that a goal and a priority. In the interim it should promote special educational zones, where institutions can formulate independent policies on everything from admissions and fees to conducting exams; where for-profit and not-for-profit institutions are both welcome and so are international ones. The important point is that excellence and quality cannot be made to order through government or regulator fiat, but grow in free and competitive environments. – Courtesy

IITs reject government plan to make them accrediting agencies

Live Mint | Tue, May 02 2017 | Prakash K Nanda |

IITs have instead agreed to help strengthen existing government accrediting agencies such as NAAC and National Board of Accredition. The HRD ministry has been advocating making IITs and IIMs accrediting agencies to maintain a close watch on the quality of higher education in the country.

Representative image

New Delhi: The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) have rejected a government suggestion that they play a larger role by becoming accrediting agencies involved in evaluating colleges and universities in the country. The IITs have instead agreed to help strengthen existing bodies such as the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and the National Board of Accredition (NAB), three government officials said. The human resource development ministry has been advocating making IITs and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) accrediting bodies to maintain a close watch on the quality of the higher education sector. The ministry discussed the plan at an IIT council meeting held in Mumbai on Friday. “Yes, we spoke about the proposal. IITs will not be full fledged accrediting body for evaluating institutions,” said one of the three officials, a member of the IIT council. All three officials declined to be named.“The IITs will spare some faculties and help the existing bodies instead,” said the second official. IITs are expanding their research focus and there is also an increasing demand for expanding student capacity, the second official said, adding that to get involved in full fledged non-IIT administrative work would add to their stress. As such, the elite schools are facing a teacher shortage in the range of 10% to 30% at various IITs. NAAC director D.P. Singh said he had suggested asking the IITs to help the accrediting bodies as “that would lend prestige to the accreditation process”.

NAAC, the apex accrediting body in India, accredits institutions while NAB accredits individual courses. Singh said NAAC had communicated with the IITs and IIMs, while keeping the ministry in the loop and about 50 professors had committed to helping the organization. He said he was targeting 100 professors from top institutions to help with the process. While some of them could train NAAC staff, others could be experts in evaluation and yet others could develop methodology in sync with the international standards to be adopted in India, he said. NAAC seeks to evaluate institutions on 130 parameters from July through a new system. An HRD ministry spokesperson declined to comment. HRD minister Prakash Javadekar has spoken against the existing system and was in favour of making IITs and IIMs accrediting bodies. “We are going to float an idea in which IITs and IIMs will be asked to become accreditation bodies so that there will be multiple choices in front of the institutes and accreditation will be completed in limited time and we can go for more quality education,” Javadekar said in August 2016. India has nearly 50,000 colleges and stand-alone institutions, and 789 universities. But less than 25% of them have any kind of accreditation. – Courtesy

NAAC inspections to have less weightage, penalty for fake data

Press Trust of India  |  New Delhi  | April 25, 2017 |

Image Courtesy: pib.nic.in

Self-collected data submitted by an institute to the NAAC is likely take precedence over physical inspection as the HRD Ministry is planning to overhaul the current accreditation framework. Following complaints of corruption, an 80 per cent weightage has been proposed for self-reported data analysed through software-based capturing and 20 per cent weightage to peer review teams.   Provisions of penalty for institutes submitting “fraudulent” information are also likely to be introduced and the number of parameters may be reduced to make the assessmnt more comprehensive. The HRD ministry is also considering allowing a say of the IITs in granting accreditation to institutes.

The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), which accredits institutes of higher education in the country, had on March 31 suspended the application process till the grading system undergoes an overhaul.  Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, while inaugurating a national consultation of revised accreditation framework, today pressed upon the need for more accreditation agencies.  “If we want to reach the institutes in a time-bound manner and assess them properly, we need more valuators. Therefore we want to set up at least three to four more institutes and we should also give a message to them in this regard,” he said during the consultation.  “We have asked the IITs to be accreditation agencies. There is a council meeting on April 28 where the issue will be taken up. If they want to do it independently we are ready for it,” Javadekar said.  Higher Education Secretary K K Sharma said ensuring quality assessment will not be an easy task and hence international credibility of the revised tools need to be emphasised upon.  “As per the new methodology in deciding the grade of an institute, the peer team assessment of institutes will be given just 20 per cent weightage instead of the current 100 per cent. Eighty per cent weightage will be given to self reported data which can be analysed through software driven data capture,” he said.  “While the number of parameters should be reduced to make the assessment more comprehensive, a third party verification of the data captured online is also required,” he said, adding provisions of penalty for those submitting false data will also be introduced.

The revised framework focuses on augmented use of technology, greater objectivity, and transparency of the process.  “Working groups of experts have deliberated and developed the formats for universities, autonomous colleges and affiliated colleges. The outcome of a pilot study to validate the framework and feedback by stakeholders will also be considered during the national consultation,” a senior HRD Ministry official said.  “Around 100 experts comprising eminent educationists, current and former vice chancellors, directors, statutory bodies, academics, principals of colleges are participating in the consultation, the inputs of which will be used to fine- tune and finalise the revised accreditation framework which is slated to be launched in July,” he added.  According to the new assessment, the institutes will not know in advance which team will visit them and the accommodation and travel plans of the peer team visit will also be outsourced.  – Courtesy

Attempts to depose English subject our universities to dangerous social engineering

First suspension cloud on UGC NET in 33 years

The Telegraph | 19 April 2017 | Basant Kumar Mohanty |  First suspension cloud on NET in 33 years

New Delhi, April 18: The National Eligibility Test (NET), through which university and college teachers are recruited, may face temporary suspension for the first time in 33 years because the agency entrusted with the task has said it is bogged down by other exams. The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which took over the NET from the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2014 under instructions from the human resource development ministry, has said it is unable to hold the test in mid-2017. Over 5 lakh candidates take the exam every year.  Students and academics have criticised the uncertainty over the test, which is supposed to be held in June-July. The results of the exam are used for various other purposes, including the awarding of the Junior Research Fellowship to students.  The uncertainty has been created as no notification regarding the exam has been issued by the CBSE. The UGC has not clarified the reasons behind the delay, increasing the anxiety of students.

“The UGC and the CBSE are silent on the NET. This is frustrating. I am preparing for the exam. I cannot imagine the test being suspended,” a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University said.  The UGC used to hold a test for awarding the Junior Research Fellowship since 1984. The government asked the UGC to conduct the eligibility test for lectureship in 1988, following which the commission rechristened its earlier test as NET. The NET is conducted twice a year – in June and December – on subjects such as humanities, social sciences, environmental sciences and computer science and applications.  Students clearing the NET are recruited as assistant professors in universities and colleges. The top scorers are also awarded the Junior Research Fellowship depending on the availability of slots. The awardees are exempted from appearing in entrance tests in universities for admission to PhD courses.  The CBSE usually issues a public notification announcing the NET on its website around three months before the exam. Last year, the CBSE issued the notification on April 4 for the exam held on July 10. The last NET exam conducted by the CBSE was in January this year. The notification had been issued in September. CBSE chairman Rajesh Kumar Chaturvedi had written to the HRD ministry six months ago expressing inability to hold the test because the board is already overloaded with multiple exams such as the JEE-Main, the Central Teachers’ Eligibility Test and the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, apart from the board exams.

A senior CBSE official said the chairman had also informally told board officials that it would not hold the NET any more. Extra exam work affects the board’s core responsibility of ensuring quality schooling, Chaturvedi is believed to have said. An UGC official said they had not received any instruction on which agency would hold the NET.  An HRD ministry official said the government was in the process of setting up a national testing agency to conduct all kinds of education-related competitive exams.  Rajesh Jha, who teaches at Delhi University, said if the NET was suspended, it would affect lakhs of students, many of whom could have started their career in academics in 2018.  “When there is a dearth of faculty, the suspension of the eligibility test would further deepen the crisis. I hope the exam is not cancelled,” Jha said. –  Courtesy

‘NIRF better in terms of transparency’

Business Standard | IANS  |  Kolkata  April 8, 2017 |

India’s National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) is “better” compared to global ranking systems in terms of transparency because it doesn’t give much weightage to perception, a library and information science expert said here on Saturday.  “In India we are doing a better exercise in the sense that our transparency is 100 per cent. Every data that we have is displayed and people can see that data. If two private universities are competitors then they can talk about each other’s data and that way it is transparent,” Jagdish Arora, Director of Information and Library Network (INFLIBNET) Centre told IANS here

INFLIBNET Centre, Gandhinagar is an autonomous Inter-University Centre (IUC) of the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India.  INFLIBNET Centre is involved in the data capture for NIRF rankings.   Arora was speaking at ‘Open Access: Road to Freedom’, the 33rd annual convention of the Society for Information Science organised in partnership with CSIR’s Indian Institute of Chemical Biology.  Asked about the contrast between the NIRF and other popular global ranking systems, Arora said India’s version does not bank heavily on perception. “We do not give much weightage to perception. You go for QSAWorld University Ranking or the Times Higher Education ranking, perception is heavy… for QS perception is about 40 per cent. “The perception is something which can be played with. You have a West Bengal State University and you have Calcutta University (CU)… so when the West Bengal University was formed… half of the colleges came under it. And those colleges have very low enrolment because people know CU. So this is perception. We give attention to peer perception… the experts,” he explained.

The INFLIBNET also hosts ‘Shodhganga’, a portal for research students to deposit their Ph.D. thesis and make it available to the entire scholar community in open access.  Asked about the risks of plagiarism associated with making data open access, Arora contended open access also makes it easy to detect plagiarism. “Plagiarism is happening for ages. When resources such as research articles are available openly, it is easier to copy but then it is much easier to detect when it is available openly. “Once thesis goes online, there are more chances that plagiarism will be detected. We are also providing access to anti-plagiarism package to universities who submit theses with us. They have to sign an MoU with us and they get access to the package. Our advice to universities is subject your theses to plagiarism detection and then only you submit,” he added.  –  Courtesy