May 10, 2024


Are the UGC’s new PhD guidelines a good idea?

The University Grants Commission (UGC) is always trying to reform the higher education system in India. Their latest move comes for PhD aspirants. Getting a PhD is a big prospect, and universities look out for candidates with the appropriate academic acumen.

With the UGC’s latest move, if you’re a PhD aspirant with a four-year undergraduate degree, you’ll only need to pass the National Eligibility Test (NET). No more sitting for several college PhD entrance tests. The UGC sees this as a streamlined and easier way for students who wish to pursue their PhDs. Others see this as backwards.


The 2020 National Education Policy (NEP) looked at the existing policy of candidates needing to appear for multiple entrance exams from different universities for PhD admissions. The NEP is always the base when deciding education reforms, and this time is no exception.

This was the previous eligible criteria – anyone with a four-year undergraduate degree with a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) of 7.5 with a 1 or 2-year semester master’s programme with at least 55% marks in aggregate. This was the previous revision done by the UGC in 2022 to be in line with the NEP.

Universities and colleges would offer 4-year undergraduate degrees with multiple entry and exit options. The UGC wanted to scrap unwanted years of study and encourage students to do research. It’s why the mandatory M.Phil dissertation for admission to PhD programmes was scrapped, and the structure of undergraduate courses was reworked.

Now, the NET comes into the picture. The exam is conducted by the UGC’s National Educational Testing Bureau. It’s to determine eligibility for lectureships and awarding Junior Research Fellowships (JRF). The exams are conducted twice a year, usually in June and December. The criteria to sit for the NET is a Master’s degree or equivalent from a recognised university with at least 55% marks in the relevant subject.

At a recent UGC meeting, an expert committee recommended using the NET as the criteria for PhD admissions from the 2024-25 academic season. Previously, PhD candidates needed to sit for each university’s entrance exam. UGC NET candidates will now be eligible in three categories – PhD admission with JRF and assistant professor posts, PhD admission without JRF but for assistant professor posts, and only for PhD programmes.

Is the NET alone enough for PhD admissions, or has the UGC got this wrong?

VIEW: It’s a good move

For students, this could come as a relief. Having one single test, i.e. the NET, is a better idea than forcing candidates to prepare and sit for multiple entrance exams from different universities. It’s also in line with the UGC’s revisions for PhD admissions in 2022 going into 2023 – to remove unwanted years of study and stop using M.Phil as eligibility criteria for PhDs.

The NEP 2020 recognised that the higher education system in India didn’t prioritise research, and there was a lack of competitive peer-reviewed research funding across disciplines. It suggested various measures, including infrastructure development and streamlining funding.

From an admissions standpoint, it’s much better to have a single entrance test. For some aspirants, paying multiple exam fees can become expensive. Also, the previous 60% NET score and 40% entrance test score were considered inadequate by many in the academic fraternity. It’s also not a mandatory rule, and universities can choose to follow it.

COUNTERVIEW: A disastrous move

While the UGC might see this as a move to streamline admissions, that might not be the case. The rule won’t guarantee faster admissions. Here’s why – the NET is conducted twice a year, and universities are open for admissions only once and have their own exhaustive process. In that case, would a student want to take the exam twice to improve their NET scores?

The goal should be conceptual and methodological preparedness at the undergraduate level. The first mistake the UGC made was eliminating the M.Phil programmes, and now the need for postgraduate degrees. Given the new criteria, if one qualifies for the NET after a four-year undergraduate degree, they can teach other undergraduate students. Would any university recruit such fresh faces for such a responsibility?

If only an undergraduate degree is deemed sufficient for undertaking PhD research, it could lead to the increased elitisation of higher education. It’s because only those with academic capital would even think of pursuing a four or five-year research programme without adequate mentoring and time to prepare.

Reference Links:

  • NEP 2020: UGC proposes revised norms for PhD admission – Hindustan Times
  • FE Education Explained: How PhD admissions will change from this year – The Financial Express
  • UGC announces validity of NET scores for PhD admissions from this year – India Today
  • Some academics are getting it wrong: New PhD guidelines will make life easier for scholars – The Indian Express
  • By introducing NET scores, UGC makes PhD admissions hassle-free – Education Times
  • Paltry Stipends, No Resources, Rampant Exploitation: Why PhD Scholars Suffer – The Wire
  • Government’s new PhD guidelines will make universities more elite – The Indian Express

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The UGC’s new PhD guidelines are a good idea.

b) The UGC’s new PhD guidelines are a bad idea.


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