Universities in Kerala are weakening UGC provisions for four-year research program awards

Kasaragod: Universities in Kerala have relaxed the stringent framework laid down by the UGC for four-year ‘research honors’ programs that are expected to make postgraduate studies in the country redundant.

University officials said conditions were relaxed by the state government’s order to make “research honors” available to more undergraduate students.

Universities in Kerala are set to start Four-Year Undergraduate Programs (FYUGP) from the academic year 2024-2025. FYUGP would enable students to complete their studies after three years in a regular three-year bachelor’s degree course or obtain an honors degree after four years. Students who decide to study in their fourth year will receive the UG “Research Distinction” title. Such students can directly enter doctoral studies without having a postgraduate diploma. Those with a four-year honors degree (no final-year research) must take up a one-year PG program. Those who left after three years would have to pursue regular two-year PG programs to pursue PhD research.

However, as per the UGC Curriculum Framework and Credits for Undergraduate Degree Programs, not all departments of the university are allowed to offer ‘Research Honors’ programmes.

The framework, published on December 7, 2022, states that departments offering four-year UG (Hons Research) programs “must have at least two permanent faculty members who are recognized as PhD supervisors.”

This is intended to provide the department with the necessary research infrastructure, such as a library, access to journals, a computer and software laboratory, and laboratory facilities for conducting experimental research work.

Recognized departments and research centers can offer these programs without prior approval from affiliated universities, but other departments in colleges and universities should seek approval, the framework states.

However, the University of Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi University, University of Calicut and Kannur University – the four major universities in Kerala – have abolished the mandatory requirement of two PhD supervisors in departments offering a bachelor’s degree “with honors in research”. programs.

University of Kerala
The Academic Council of the University of Kerala, in its meeting held on Friday, May 10, decided to introduce four-year bachelor’s degree programs in affiliated universities.

According to the final draft order of the Thiruvananthapuram-based University of Kerala, postgraduate institutions can introduce a four-year honors bachelor’s degree program with an associate’s degree as part of their approved bachelor’s degree programs. This initiative requires a minimum of two tenured faculty members who are university-approved research guides or two tenured faculty members who hold Ph.D.

If a recognized department loses one of its two permanent faculty members who is a university-approved research guide or Ph.D., it will not be allowed to offer the program until a new faculty member with the requisite qualifications is hired, the regulations state.

Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam

Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam. Photo: Rijo Joseph/Manorama

“This option of offering honors in research programs in departments whose faculty members are authorized to supervise PhD students is not available under UGC,” said Dr Shino P Jose, president, Kannur Association of Private College Teachers (Kannur Region). The university should provide PhD management to eligible faculty members and raise academic standards among departments in colleges and universities, he said.

Kerala University vice-chancellor Professor Mohanan Kunnummal said he would not be able to comment on the matter “immediately” and would have to contact the registrar. He was contacted on Friday, the same day the Scientific Council took up the matter.

Mahatma Gandhi University
If the University of Kerala announced that it would offer awards for research in colleges running PG programs, Mahatma Gandhi of Kottayam further relaxed the rules.

In its regulations issued in February 2024, MG University stated that recognized research institutes or (any) institutes in which at least two faculty members hold PhD degrees are required to award awards under research programs.

Several academicians said that the university had relaxed UGC regulations by denying PhD to eligible faculty members in colleges.

University of Calicut
The University of Calicut has limited this requirement to one faculty member holding a Ph.D. In a regulation issued in February, the University of Calicut said departments with “at least one postdoctoral research fellow (not PhD management)” can offer honors in research programs, provided they have the necessary infrastructure. Such departments should obtain prior approval from the university, he said.

Kannur University
Kannur University has said that recognized departments or research departments with at least two postdoctoral members may be permitted to offer honors under the research program.

“It wasn’t the university’s decision. It was the state government’s decision,” said Professor Anil Ramachandran, dean in charge of framing the FYUGP guidelines for Kannur University.

If universities stuck to the UGC framework, Kerala could offer honors in research programs only in a few colleges and university departments, he said. “And there will be a situation where our children will not be able to benefit from awards in research programs. This will be a big loss for our students,” he said. That’s why the state government changed the rules, said Prof. Ramachandran. “We cannot call it dilution… The decision was made after many discussions,” he said. The government set a benchmark and all universities followed it, he said.

Kannur University Administrative Block. Photo: Manorama

The state government has no right to dilute or change the UGC laws and framework, said RS Sasikumar, chairman of Save University Campaign Committee, a whistleblower’s organization. “As per the Supreme Court judgment, the UGC provisions and framework are deemed to be implemented. State governments cannot tinker with the rules,” he said.

However, by diluting the framework for awarding awards with research programs, the government has compromised on the quality of research, which will spoil the academic atmosphere on university campuses, Sasikumar said. “Because students who complete a four-year degree will directly enter doctoral programs on campuses,” he said.

Dr. Shino Jose said universities could use FYUGP as an opportunity to provide guidance to eligible academics and enhance universities’ research output.

While Kannur University has called for applications from academic teachers to become PhD supervisors in September 2023, the university has, however, suspended the process citing a “lack of clarity” on providing PhD guidance to undergraduate faculty. Six months ago, the university had sought an explanation from the UGC. “We have not received any response yet,” Professor Ramachandran said.

However, by diluting the UGC regulations, universities have put students’ futures at risk. “Now, passing out students from institutes and departments that have complied with the UGC regulations can approach the courts against those students who have not done so while applying for jobs or admission to PhD programs, claiming that their degrees are invalid.” – he said.