JNU students at crossroads after UGC notice says MPhil, PhD students will get extension on case-to-case basis

This current UGC order does not mention the batch for which the order is applicable, pointed out a student from JNU, and this creates confusions amongst all batches

JNU campus
JNU campus

Ashlin Mathew

The recent notice from the University Grants Commission stating that the extension for M.Phil and Ph.D students would be given by their respective higher educational institutions on a case-to-case basis has put Jawaharlal Nehru University students at crossroads.

The May 17, 2022, order states that the extension can be given based on the review of the student’s work by the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on recommendation of the supervisor and head of the department of each individual case. “Such extension may also be granted for submitting evidence of publication and presentation in two conferences. However, the tenure of the fellowship will remain up to five years only,” stated the notice released by the UGC.

However, the issue is much larger at JNU as it is a residential campus. The M.Phil students who were supposed to join in August 2020 could join only by January 2021 and they came to campus in September 2021. Instead of regularising the semesters, these students are known as the August 2020 batch though they joined 6 months later. Since they started in January, they should get their full term, which is two years. Even these students have to request an extension though only one-and-a-half years of their course have been completed. They have not even begun to write their thesis. If the semesters are not regularised, they will face issues three years later when they are meant to submit their Ph.D thesis.

The current final year Ph.D students who had submitted the synopsis for their thesis by early 2020 got the confirmation for it only by May and June 2020. By then, the country was in a severe lockdown due to Covid-19, the campus was shut, libraries closed and most students had to go home. They were called back to campus only in September 2021.

Through the pandemic, the terminal Ph.D and M.Phil students were given extensions until June 2022. Terminal students are those who had to submit their thesis in 2020 just as the pandemic began. Ph.D students who were in the second year when the pandemic began did not get the extension because they were not in the final year.

“I’m from the 2018 Ph.D batch and my synopsis was passed only in May 2020. A student can begin research work only after the synopsis is passed. But, most of the students from our year could not either begin research work, lab tests or go on field work because the country was in a shut down. Our campus was shut as were libraries in the campus. If the whole batch is suffering, why should it be decided on case-to-case basis,” asked a student who did not want to be named from the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament (CIPOD) department.

Several students pointed out that they have to apply for extensions through their supervisors and head of departments. A student from the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Lehiri Kuppili said that due to Covid-19 many students were not able to attend conferences or publish articles which have been made conditions for extension.

“So, we are all worried whether we will get extensions. We do not know if we are eligible for 9B extension either as that could be for the previous batches,” explained Kuppili. A student can apply for a 9B during the eighth semester, but the application has to be accompanied by a hard copy of at least three or four complete chapters of the thesis. However, most students of the 2018 batch have not been able to go field work so how would the students have completed chapters of the thesis, asked Kuppili.

Several students were concerned because their supervisors have begun informing students that they are unlikely to be recommended. M.Phil and Ph.D supervisors have to recommend a student based on which the RAC will convene. Then the RAC will decide if the student will get an extension or not, which is then authorised by the chairperson of the Centre.

“The students are right in demanding an extension, as the UGC cannot pretend that Covid-19 only affected one or two batches. There is scope for flexibility. There should be a demand from the Academic Council on this matter. When it is left to supervisors, two identical cases may get different results. UGC should have asked the institution to decide. What should be remembered is that JNU is a residential university. A reasonable plan should be made by the University,” said Professor Ayesha Kidwai, former JNUTA president.

Adding to this Professor Apoorvanand of the Delhi University noted that the role of the UGC was to maintain standards and it should have left this decision to be made to individual universities because schedules for various universities are different. The role of the UGC is not to decide on tenure and semesters.

This current UGC order does not mention the batch for which the order is applicable, pointed out a student from JNU’s Centre for East Asian Studies, and this creates confusions amongst all batches especially the current Ph.D final year batch and the previous two batches.

Students from the Centre for East Asian Studies and Canadian, US & Latin American Studies observed that the order was indirectly asking research scholars to submit their papers without any field study. They shared the concerns that several countries, including China, had not opened regular travel, so most students were stuck with secondary research. The students have demanded an extension for a year as a year has been taken away from them.

Several students come from rural parts of the country where mobile networks are weak and internet connection is slow, so it wasn’t feasible to expect a thesis from the students. A student highlighted that their batch was called back to the university in September 2021, but the library opened only in October 2021 and then shut again in December 2021 due to rising Covid-19 cases.

The JNU Students Union has submitted a letter to the Vice Chancellor Professor Santishree Pandit stating that the vague nature of the notice gives undue arbitrary powers to the RAC, supervisors, and chairpersons to determine the extension. This will likely lead to students on the same footing being denied or granted extension.

“The M.Phil./Ph.D. batch of 2016 and the Ph.D. batch of 2018, have been perhaps the most directly affected by the pandemic of all terminal batches, as their entire period of stipulated of research, which is the period after the confirmation of Ph.D. in the fourth semester, coincided with the worst stages of the pandemic. Further, they have not received any previous extensions, and as such expecting concrete progress from them at a time when most of them have only been able to begin their field work is not only unfair but pushes students from the batch towards undue anxieties in case of a denial of extension,” stated the JNUSU letter. The Union requested that the criteria for extension should take into account the different footings that varied batches find themselves on.

However, there are two sides to the issue. Many students have not been able to able to undertake field trips, but because extensions have been given to the previous batches a number of times, newer students have not been able to come to the campus as hostels have not been vacated.

“So, yes the current final year students should get an extension, but maybe not in all cases. The University and UGC should avoid these last minute extension plan as students are not able to plan their field trip schedule. This creates a lot of stress and trauma,” underscored Professor Sucharita Sen, Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers Association secretary.

Sen pointed out that several batches of degree and post graduate students have gone without ever coming to the university as hostel rooms were not available. Sources of learning are not just classes; libraries are there, conversations are held on campus with students and professors, she explained.

“Online teaching and the current hybrid model doesn’t help at all. Several students have complained about the lack of internet in their towns and villages. So, the system becomes exclusive. At least another six months are required for normalcy to return. So, it’s a mixed feeling,” asserted Sen.

The JNUTA had written a letter to the VC on May 4, 2022, stating that the academic calendar of the University has been completely disrupted by the pandemic and by the delay in the admission process caused by the National Testing Agency. The teachers highlighted that till date there has been “no attempt whatsoever to synchronise the academic calendar”. The synchronisation of the academic calendar needs to be done at the university level to enable JNU students to opt for courses outside their centres and schools.

“Since 2020, this has resulted in differential staggering of semesters/ academic sessions in JNU and has deprived its teaching faculty of summer and winter vacations. Incidentally, this has also impacted the quality of teaching and learning in the University, as neither the teachers nor the students have had a break, which is necessary for maintaining high quality in teaching and in the absorption of the knowledge imparted,” said the letter. JNUTA had urged the matter to be taken up in the Executive Council Meeting which was held on May 5. However, the minutes of the meeting are yet to be published.

What does the JNU administration say?

JNU rector Professor Ajay Dubey said the committee headed by the Director (Admissions) would take a decision. “The students have given their representation and the issue is yet to be decided. The executive committee will decide on the regularisation of semesters and then it will be presented to the Vice Chancellor,” said Dubey.

When National Herald reached out to the Director (Admissions) Professor Jayant Tripathi, he said that the University would go by whatever the UGC has stated. “We will go by the notification. UGC has suggested Research Advisory Committees in Schools/Centres to decide. There is an RAC for each student in the University, so they will decide along with the supervisor,” mentioned Tripathi.

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