PhD, JRF aspirants say their future hangs by a thread after cancellation of UGC-NET

Published - June 26, 2024 12:44 am IST - New Delhi

PhD and Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) aspirants in the Capital on Wednesday said the cancellation of the University Grants Commission–National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) has dealt them an unexpected blow, leaving them with little choice but to reconsider their future plans.

The exam, which was cancelled last week by the National Testing Agency (NTA) due to “compromised integrity”, serves as a qualifier for the positions of Assistant Professor, research fellowships, and recently, PhD admissions.

Sooraj Raman, 24, who gained admission to the 2023 PhD batch in Jawaharlal Nehru University, was hoping to qualify for the JRF, which would have granted him ₹37,000 a month for two years.

“I am living on rent in Delhi and cannot rely on my family, as they expect me to take up a job and start earning for myself. I decided to go ahead with research, but there are very few ways for researchers to support themselves,” he said, adding that now, he is unsure of how he will secure funding over the next few years.

Noel Benny, who had high hopes of pursuing a PhD in English, said he has been forced to weigh his options. “I wasn’t considering taking up a job as I was sure I wanted to do a PhD and had even written my proposal, but now, I’m rethinking my decision,” he said.

Despite having qualified as an Assistant Professor after appearing for last year’s UGC-NET, Mr. Benny said a PhD is a must to secure stable employment. “The job market is such that without a PhD, I would only be able to secure an ad-hoc position, which has its own set of uncertainties,” said the Masters student.

Students bear the brunt

Days after the the UGC-NET was scrapped, the UGC-NET-CSIR, an exam conducted for science subjects, was also postponed by the NTA due to “logistical issues”. The slew of cancellations come amid amid the controversy surrounding the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (Undergraduate) (NEET-UG), and dates for re-examination have not been announced yet.

“A committee has been formed to look into the matter and submit a report within two months, but our futures cannot wait that long,” said Mr. Raman, expressing his fears that the retest would be announced “too late”.

‘Continuous disruptions’

Professors said the academic calendar, which had already been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, was running behind again due to the exam’s cancellation.

Professor Moushumi Basu, president of the JNU Teachers’ Association, said that earlier, the PhD entrance test conducted independently by JNU would take place in mid-May, resulting in BA, MA and PhD classes commencing by July.

“This year, however, parents and students are anxious, and if all admissions are delayed, this pushes many students into private universities. Those who cannot afford it will just have to wait. This is one way of killing the public university system,” she said.

JNU Professor Sucharita Sen said disturbances to the academic calendar also impact the quality of teaching and learning. “In such a situation, teachers will be overburdened for a few months, followed by a period where our time is underutilised,” she said, adding that the consequences are far more severe for students, many of whom are at a crossroads in their career.

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