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Students can opt for fully online degree courses soon

Hindustan Times | Jun 16, 2017 |  Neelam Pandey |

Students and working professionals will soon be able to obtain a degree online and it will be recognised by higher education regulator, the University Grants Commission.

Students and working professionals will soon be able to obtain a degree online and it will be recognised by higher education regulator, the University Grants Commission. The human resource development ministry has decided to allow universities to offer such degrees and is drafting rules, official sources told HT. Once the rules are in place, institutes will be able to offer online degrees in all fields, except engineering, medicine, dental, pharmacy, nursing, architecture and physiotherapy. At present, the commission does not recognise any course offered solely through the online mode. A student can get a degree by enrolling in a university and attending classes or through a distancing-learning module. From this year, the government has allowed universities to offer 20% of their course material through the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platform called Swayam. But if a student gets a degree through any online course, it’s not recognised. A number of private universities offer online degrees but not many students opt for them as they are not recognised by the UGC.

The ministry has now started preparing draft regulations for online programmes that will allow universities and higher educational institutes to offer degrees by conducting exams online; students will not have to attend classes physically. The draft came up for discussion before the UGC and the HRD ministry recently. “World over online degrees and courses are offered by institutes and they have gained respectability. Students will not be required to attend classes but will take e-tutorials to help them understand the concepts. Institutes will have to apply to the UGC for approval and degrees by such institutes will be recognised,” said a senior official. To qualify, a university would have to be NAAC-accredited with a minimum score of 3.25 on a four-point scale to ensure quality. According to the official, the online platform will be integrated with Aadhaar to verify the identity of learners at the time of application as well as through the duration of the programme, including examinations. “The programmes can be designed for conventional learners, as well as working professionals depending on what the institute is looking for,” the official said. Apart from the actual programme delivery, components such as the counselling process, online application processing and fee payment will also be provide online. – Courtesy

Journal jugglery – Traps for the unmindful researcher

The Telegraph | Samantak Das |  Wednesday , June 14 , 2017 | Opinion |

In the 17 years, from 1922 to 1939, that it was published, The Criterion was possibly the best-known, and probably the best, literary journal in the English language. Founded by the poet/ critic/ dramatist/ cultural commentator/ general fount of wisdom/ soon-to-be Nobel laureate (in 1948), Thomas Stearns – better known as TS – Eliot, The Criterion trod a very conscious, deliberately-defined international path. The first issue of October 1922 included Hermann Hesse, who contributed “German Poetry of To-Day”, an essay on James Joyce’s Ulysses by the Frenchman, Valery Larbaud, a translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Plan of a Novel” (one of the translators was Virginia Woolf), not to forget Eliot’s own modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land, among others. Should you wish to look up something in Criterion and google “criterion journal”, be prepared to be surprised. For, in first place, among some 50 million search results, will be a journal that rejoices that it “is refereed (sic) e-journal and is designed to publish theoretical articles and book reviews on interdisciplinary cross-currents in the humanities and social sciences”, while elsewhere it claims to be “designed to publish theoretical and research articles on English Literature and Language, Humanities and Social Sciences”. Its linguistically idiosyncratic web pages will not merely entertain but educate and alert readers to a brave new phenomenon in the proliferating groves of Indian academe, to wit the API-inflating, APC/F-charging, QGM-inspired “scholarly” e-journal, where API stands for academic performance indicators, APC/F for article processing charges or fees and QGM is Quick Gun Murugan. Such journals promise to publish, in double-quick time (hence QGM), articles by college and university teachers who need to improve their API scores (now mandatory for moving up the academic ladder) for a small APC/F. This particular journal, for example, takes 15 to 25 days to accept, or reject, a submission and promises to publish a piece in two months flat. And just in case you were wondering, the APC/F for an article is a most reasonable Rs 1,500, and the journal helpfully indicates that a contributor will get 25 API points since it is an “International, Refreed ( sic), Indexed and Peer-reviewed Journal”, one, moreover, that is on the now all-important University Grants Commission Journal List.

A word about this List might be in order. The “UGC Approved List of Journals” [ http://ugc.ac.in/journallist/] contains the names of all the journals where Indian academics must publish in order to score API points. The List became a necessity when it came to the notice of the powers-that-be who regulate higher education in our country that, almost immediately after the API system of awarding points for publishing was introduced, academics began publishing in journals that no one had heard of, let alone seen. Soon these journals began to actively solicit contributions and/or invite academics to serve on their editorial boards or reviewers’ panels or whatever. Your humble scribe is still regularly inundated with emails that say, “… reviews papers within one week of submission and publishes accepted articles on the internet immediately upon receiving the final versions. Our fast reviewing process is our strength.” As also “… aims at to (sic) publish unpublished, original research articles and make available a new platform to the scholars of Language, Literature and Culture. It deserves to promote (sic) the young researchers and attempts to cultivate the research aptitude among teachers in the higher educational (sic) system.” The ellipses above stand for journals whose names shall not sully the pages of a respectable publication such as this. Perhaps the most bizarre part is that the second journal quoted from above is not only “a Peer-reviewed (refereed) International Journal in ( sic) English Language and Literature” (according to its publicity pamphlet) but also on the UGC Journal List. So, clearly, in spite of all its efforts, the UGC has not been able to locate and eliminate such distinctly dodgy entities from its list.

Lest one think this is a phenomenon peculiar to India, one needs only to look at Beall’s List of Predatory Journals and Publishers [ http: //beallslist.weebly.com/], the magnificent labour of love of Jeffrey Beall, the American librarian and scholar who first identified and named such journals and created the criteria-set that is still used to judge a journal’s credentials. Sadly, Beall had to take down his own blog which had this list, probably as a result of treading on the toes of influential publishers of such journals, but his list is still available at the URL given earlier. More importantly perhaps, Beall alerted the larger scholarly world to the existence of this shadowy world of dubious academic publishing (usually online, most often open-access), where adherence to the letter of the law is usually directly proportional to the absence of academic substance. All this seems to have created something of a catch-22 situation for Indian academia and academics. On the one hand, teachers have to publish, in journals which are on the UGC List, in order to get recognition, credit, scores, promotions, prestige and so on, and the need for such a list is patently obvious in an academic publishing ecosystem teeming with frauds and predators. And, yet, on the other hand, one knows that the most cunning and persistent of such exploiters, fakes and frauds will not only find their way around all attempts at quality control but also gloat about their success on their websites. Perhaps the only thing to do in this situation is hope and pray that the UGC will periodically review and revise its List to weed out the undesirables and increase the ranks of the deserving. Only then may we expect an improvement in the quality of research published by our colleagues. But maybe the UGC ought to begin right away by doing some essential housekeeping. Here’s an example. The department where I work brings out one of the oldest journals in the subject, published regularly for six decades now. In the UGC List, rather peculiarly, the Jadavpur Journal of Comparative Literature appears twice, the first time (with UGC-assigned Journal No. 41264) “English” as the journal’s primary subject and the second time (UGC Journal No. 41570) with “English; Linguistics and Language” as its subject. As T.S. Eliot put it, “After such knowledge, what forgiveness?” – The author is professor of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, and has been working as a volunteer for a rural development NGO for the last 30 yearsCourtesy

HEERA, Modi government to replace UGC, AICTE with one higher education regulator

Economic Times |  Anubhuti Vishnoi |  ET Bureau | Jun 06, 2017 |

NEW DELHI: Big-bang education reform is on its way – the Modi government is all set to scrap the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and replace them with one higher education regulator, tentatively christened Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA). The decision to go ahead with this radical change, long advocated by experts but never implemented, was taken after a meeting on education chaired by the prime minister in early March. If required, and since setting up a new regulator may take some time, amendments to existing rules will be considered as an interim reform measure.  Senior officials who spoke off record told ET that work is on at a rapid pace to frame the HEERA legislation. The human resource development (HRD) ministry and the Niti Aayog are working on the new law. A committee that has, among others, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant and higher education secretary KK Sharma as members, is working on the detailed blueprint.

Greater Synergy Among Institutions

One senior official said replacing UGC and AICTE by a single regulator will be the “cleanest, most sweeping reform” that will “eliminate all overlaps in jurisdiction and also do away with regulatory provisions that may no longer be relevant”.  While the idea of replacing multiple regulatory authorities with a single and streamlined one is not new – several committees including the Yashpal Committee and the National Knowledge Commission of the UPA era and the Hari Gautam Committee set up by this government have recommended the same – the reform never happened. Officials told ET that the new regulatory legislation is likely to be short and clean and will outline minimum standards focused on outcomes. They also said separation of technical and nontechnical education is outmoded and out of sync with global practices, and that a single regulator will bring in greater synergy among institutions and in framing curricula. HEERA is aimed at putting an end to the inspector raj and harassment that the UGC regime is associated with, another official said, but the new body will also be empowered to take strong penal action when necessary. Since bringing in new legislation and repealing AICTE and UGC Acts may be a time-consuming process, interim measures are likely and amendments to these Acts and modification of UGC regulations are among options being considered. – Courtesy

Don’t go for PhD and MPhil through open and distance learning (ODL) mode, UGC tells candidates

The Times of India | TNN | Jun 1, 2017 |

Aurangabad: The University Grants Commission (UGC) has brought to the notice of students that PhD and MPhil programmes will not be allowed through open and distance learning (ODL) mode.  In a public notice, the UGC has advised students to not take admission in any PhD or MPhil programmes, if offered by the university or institution thorough distance-learning mode.  As per UGC (Minimum standards and procedure for awards of MPhil or PhD) Regulations 2016, no university or institution is allowed to offer research programmes through distance learning mode.  The apex regulatory body, at the same time, has also clarified that only Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and some state universities are allowed for research programmes and that too in non-technical programmes. Moreover, such research programmes need to be offered in full-time/part-time mode by the open universities and strictly in compliance with the aforesaid 2016 regulations, UGC secretary Jaspal Sandhu has said.

As per these regulations, part-time PhD is allowed provided all the conditions mentioned in the laid down rules are met.   A senior education department official, said, “UGC has issued a reminder in the matter of prohibition for offering research programmes through distance learning mode in the wake of possibility of some private intuitions indulged in such activities in violation of law.”   “The students will be at a loss eventually, if they enrol for PhD or MPhil from unrecognised institutions. Therefore, candidates desirous of research courses must keep in mind UGC advice and choose institutions accordingly,” he said, preferring anonymity. UGC 2016 regulations in question has been debated by a section of stakeholders, including private institutions who offer education through open and distance learning mode.  Ravi Bharadwaj, legal expert in education field, said, “The UGC should end the alleged discrimination against private players in educational filed. The UGC has granted autonomy in the matter of award of research programmes only to Central and State Open Universities, excluding private stand alone institutions. It is absolutely unfair and unjust. A Government should always endeavour to provide level playing field when it comes to competition and also contribute to the nation,” he said. – Courtesy  /  Click here to download the Circular – Published on 31/05/2017 – UGC Public Notice reg.: Minimum standards and procedure for awards of M.Phil. / Ph.D. Degree 

UGC to work on plan to make father’s name optional on degrees

The Economic Times | By PTI |  May 30, 2017 |

Representational image

Representational image

NEW DELHI: The University Grants Commission (UGC) will soon work on a proposal to make father’s name on degrees optional after the HRD Ministry in-principle agreed to the suggestion made by Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi. “We are okay with the idea. Whether the student wants to mention mother’s name or father’s name should be his or her choice,” Prakash Javadekar told PTI in an interview.  “We like the concept and have no objection to it. The UGC will work on it soon,” he added.

Following concerns raised by single mothers, Gandhi had last month written to Javadekar, urging him to change the rule that requires father’s name to be mandatory mentioned on a student’s degree certificate.  “I have been approached by several women who are separated from their husbands and who face problems getting degree certificates issued for their children without their father’s name,” Gandhi had said in her letter.  She explained further that breakdown of marriages and separation between husband and wife is now a reality and rules must reflect this.  “Keeping in view the sensitivity of the single/separated mother, we need to make a provision for this purpose by changing rules/guidelines,” the letter added.  Last year, at the behest of Maneka, the Ministry of External Affairs had revised its passport application rules and announced that the name of only one parent, and not both, was enough, enabling single parents to apply for passports for their children. – Courtesy

UGC’s latest clarification clears the road for extension of principals’ lien

The Times of India | Sarfaraz Ahmed | TNN |  May 24, 2017 |

NAGPUR: In a welcome development for many principals, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has notified that those who were appointed on a tenure post can now continue in the same post in case there is still time for their retirement. Generally, many professors opt for lien — a five-year deputation to another institution while still retaining employment with the parent institution — to serve as principals in other institutions. Most professors would do this at the fag end of their careers, so that they would reach superannuation while serving as principal and wouldn’t have to go back to their parent institution on a lower post. With the new development, the professors serving as principals in other institutions have the option to keep serving on the same post, without having to compulsarily go back to their parent institution to work there until retirement.  However, to get the lien, the professor first has to get an NOC from his or her parent institution.

In its letter dated May 17, the UGC stated, “In case of appointment of a principal which is a tenure post, the incumbent shall, if s/he so desires, be allowed to retain lien in his/her parent college/university as per state/central government rules.”  The teaching community gave a mixed response on the UGC clarification, with some welcoming the move while others sounding skeptical.  A principal, who had to return to the parent institution, said, “Ultimately, it depends on the management. If the management believes an individual is indispensable, then it may not allow lien extension and won’t issue an NOC.” Another principal said lien is the right of an individual. “Since there was no clarity on extension to the tenure post, many eligible candidates used to stay away from moving out of the parent institution. It was a point of no return for those having enough service period left. Also, in the old system, teachers were at the mercy of managements to get lien sanctioned.”Welcoming the decision, principal of Dharampeth Science College Akhilesh Peshwe said at the same time, appointment on lien vacancy should be made easier and faster. He added that the scope of the UGC clarification can be widened and not restricted to a specific post. “This should be a rule for any tenure post not just the principal’s post” he said. Vice-principal of Mohta Science College, Rina Saha, said that though the move is beneficial for individuals, institutions are at a loss. “After a couple of cases, our college decided not to give NOC. If teachers want to go for better prospects, they will have to resign, it was decided. What happens is when teachers opt for lien, the institution can’t appoint a replacement. Besides, it takes a long time to clear the roster and go for fresh appointments. The Nagpur University has published recruitment notice and many teachers are vying for the posts. In this case too, their institutions will suffer.”  – Courtesy    /       Click here to View / Download – UGC Circular :  Published on 18/05/2017 :  UGC Notice: Clarification regarding appointment of Principals under UGC Regulations on Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges

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

From now on performance to determine autonomy of educational institutions : Grant of Graded Autonomy to Institutions of Higher Education

The Economic Times | Anubhuti Vishnoi |  ET Bureau |  May 16, 2017 |

NEW DELHI: The performance of educational institutions, measured on quality parameters, will henceforth determine the extent of autonomy and the level of regulatory scrutiny they will face. The government has also decided that top-ranking institutions will be exempt from the UGC’s review mechanism.  The blueprint for this new regime is ready and the draft University Grants Commission (Grant of Graded Autonomy to Institutions of Higher Education) Regulations 2017 is crucial for this.  The new regulations (to be brought in through Section 26 of the UGC Act, 1956) show the clear stamp of the Prime Minister’s Office which has pitched very strongly for institutional autonomy despite some resistance from the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry. They also follow the budgetary announcement this year to restructure the rigid UGC-led regulatory framework for higher education –– a recommendation made by almost all higher education committees.  To be applicable to all universities established under a Central Act, a Provincial or State Act as well as Deemed to be University and all autonomous colleges, this regulation will come into effect as soon as it is notified in the Gazette of India.

The framework for ‘Graded Autonomy’ will hinge on the score of an institution given by the Academic and Administrative Audit (AAA) peer team and the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF).

TIER I : For eligibility to this category, an institution must conform to two criteria –– it needs a score of A+/A++ in the accreditation carried out by AAA (score greater than 3.5 on a 4 point scale) and also be ranked among the top-75 institutions in the NIRF rankings for that year.

Level of Autonomy: Having attained the desired level of institutional excellence, these institutions will be free from UGC review mechanism completely. These top category institutions will be free to start new courses and departments, enter into academic collaborations with foreign educational institutions, undertake curricular reforms and introduce academic innovations in tune with the global best practices. They can also start their own new campuses and centres as per their own Act and regulations governing them and also have the freedom to fix fees for any programme on their own.

TIER II: For eligibility to this category, an institution must have one of the following criteria –– it needs to score A+/A++ in the accreditation carried out by AAA (score of greater than 3.5 on a 4 point scale) OR be ranked among the top-75 institutions in the NIRF rankings for that year.

Level of autonomy: With a high level of institutional excellence having been achieved, these institutions will not have to go to the UGC to start new departments and courses, set up new campuses, fix fees for programmmes or undertake curricular reform.

TIER III: Institutions which have either scored Grade A in AAA accreditation (score 3-3.5 on a 4 point scale) or which ranks among the top 150 institutions in the NIRF rankings for the year, will fall in this category.

Level of autonomy: With a moderate level of excellence, these institutions will not need to approach the UGC for starting new courses and undertaking curricular reforms. They will, however, be reviewed by the UGC’s expert committee every 5-7 years.

TIER IV: Any institutions which has neither scored a Grade A in the AAA accreditation nor is among the top 150 in the NIRF ranking.
Level of Autonomy: These institutions will be reviewed and visited by a UGC Expert Committee as per UGC Regulations. These reviews will aim at identifying constraints and lacunae hampering the institution. A peer team will ‘mentor’ and handhold such institutions and suggest best practices to improve in the required areas.

If any of the tier-1 and tier-II institutions fail to get the required ranking for the second consecutive year, it will automatically slide down to a lower level of autonomy and open itself to greater UGC scrutiny.  The autonomy of institutions granted under various categories will be protected and override all other UGC regulations that may come into conflict with it.  Every institution which gets autonomy must take it upon itself to ensure basic minimum requirements such as infrastructure, faculty and other facilities prescribed by UGC. They will also be expected to strictly follow UGC regulations on specific degrees. – 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