The case for restoration of deprivation points to JNU’s research programmes: A JNUTA release

A delegation of the JNUTA met the VIce-Chancellor Prof. Shantisree Dhulipudi Pandit and the Rector, Prof. Ajay Dubey on 4 July 2022. Prominent amongst the several issues discussed in the two hour long meeting was JNUTA’s observations about admissions to the research programmes over the last five years and its suggestion that the university must restore the award of deprivation points to the research degree admissions from the academic year 2022-23 itself in order to avert the present crisis with regards to the university’s all-India socially inclusive character, a crisis which has a direct impact on the university’s accreditation by NAAC and its performance in national and international rankings.  Giving the JNUTA presentation an attentive hearing, both the Vice-Chancellor and Rector expressed the University administration’s willingness to explore the possibility of such a restoration of deprivation points to the PhD admissions for the academic year 2022-23, and asked the JNUTA to submit a detailed note in this regard. This note, which has been sent to the JNU administration today, is reproduced below. 

A crucial parameter in the accreditation and ranking of Category A institutions is the quantum of student enrolment in a university’s research programmes. For example, a fall in research degree enrolment inevitably impacts the NIRF parameters of Teaching, Learning and Resources,Research, Professional Practice & Collaborative Performance  and Graduation Outcome. National policy, as framed by the UGC/MHRD, has entailed a substantial cut in the number of seats universities may offer for admission to its research programmes (owing to caps on research supervision) as well as the abolition of the M.Phil. degree. The implications for JNU’s research enrolments are serious: where prior to 2017, JNU once had an average intake (through its integrated MPhil/PhD programme) of about 900 students, but this figure has now fallen to 716 for 2022-23, representing a fall of over 20%. In the years that immediately follow, PhD intake is likely to dip even further, as the threshold for caps on supervision are reached.

In such a scenario, the university must do its utmost to ensure that intake specified in the prospectus translates into enrolment, so that the number of PhDs completed annually remains constantly high–in the last decade, the average has been close to 650 PhDs awarded annually. However, JNU’s experience of the last four rounds of admission shows that a major course correction is needed if this goal is to be met, as both an erring admission policy compounded by acute mismanagement, as we detail below, has resulted in a staggering shortfall in JNU’s research admissions in every year that the data is available. We are hopeful that this wilful neglect of this crucial parameter will now come to an end and from this point on, there will be a concerted effort to ensure that research admissions seats are optimally filled each year. 

In terms of the categorisation adopted by the national accreditation agencies (NAAC/NIRF), JNU is a ‘Category A’ institution, i.e. an institution engaged in research and teaching. This is reflected in the nature of the university’s centres and programmes, many of which do not offer masters and undergraduate programmes and admit students only for research degrees. For the university to maintain its excellence of research and its high rankings, especially nationally, it must be continuously vigilant of the impact of various policies (both adopted by the institution as well as the govt) on its character as a ‘Category A’ institution. 

This note presents a brief summary of what the JNUTA believes went wrong in the research admissions in the academic years  2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20, as some official statistics are available for these years alone. It also suggests two concrete measures for improving enrolment in the research programmes while adhering to the framework of the notified 2016 UGC Regulations:

  1. The restoration of the award of deprivation points for the PhD admissions to both the JRF and the JNUEE candidates, and
  2. Declaration of as many lists as is necessary (within the admissions calendar) to fill up vacancies that arise.

Successive JNUTA Executive Committees have tracked the acute mismanagement of the JNU research admissions as they have happened; we concentrate only on the facts pertaining to the shortfall between intake and  enrolment. Table 1 presents the data for intake and actual enrolment in the research programmes of JNU from 2014-15 to 2019-20. (The statistics in this document have their origins in the factual data tabled for consideration by the Academic Council annually, unless otherwise specified. For 2018, no publicly accessible data exists, but the limited data used in this report is sourced from the data provided in the rejoinder filed by JNU in the writ petition Shubhanshu Singh vs Jawaharlal Nehru University.)

Table 1: JNU research admissions (2014-19)

As can be seen, while enrolment has never matched the intake figures specified in the prospectus, the enrolment shortfall increased significantly, particularly in 2017-18 and 2018-19One of the reasons for this sharp dip was that the then JNU administration did not offer huge numbers of the seats for admission at the outset and did not bring out successive lists in order to ensure that intake was fulfilled.  Due to several legal interventions and disapproval being voiced repeatedly by the High Court of Delhi, some course correction took place by the time the 2019-20 research admissions were completed; nevertheless a shortfall of nearly 16% between intake and enrolment still obtains. 

In the past three years, the direct impact of this shortfall in enrolment has been seen in the fulfilment of reservation. The majority of seats that have not been enrolled in belong to the reserved categories, as shown by Table 2. Once again, the High Court-propelled push to the previous JNU administration for the 2019-20 admissions to force it to bring out successive lists did have some positive impact, but especially when one compares the shortfall percentage with 2017-18, but the fact that roughly 1 in 4 reserved seats is not enrolled against in JNU’s research programme admissions, signifies a serious failure to abide by Constitutionally-mandated reservation policy. This continuing shortfall can be traced directly to the withdrawal of the policy of awarding deprivation points to the SC, ST and OBC candidates (who by law cannot be awarded EWS reservation).

Table 2: % Shortfall in enrolment under quota seats (2017-19)

The withdrawal of the practice of awarding additional points to candidates who are disadvantaged by regional/developmental backwardness, gender, and social vulnerability has also altered several noteworthy features of the JNU research student profile. In 2017-18, as Table 3 shows, the percentage of economically backward students with family incomes below Rs. 6000/Rs12001 per month enrolled dropped significantly, as compared to 2014-16 (data pertaining to the income distribution of enrolled students for 2018-19 was not revealed to the court by the JNU administration). 

Table 3: % Economically disadvantaged students enrolled (2014-18, 2019)

The apparent improvement of the figures in 2019-20 is illusory as this amelioration is sourced from the implementation of EWS reservation in the university as a whole. Factoring in this information should engender the recognition that a substantial proportion of enrolled lower income group students belong to middle to dominant castes, as the benefits of EWS reservation do not extend to the reserved categories. Moreover, the definition of EWS hides the exclusion vis-à-vis the poorest of the poor. In effect, the economic backwardness of socially disadvantaged students is not affirmed as worthy of affirmative action by the current system. Not only is such a policy violative of the First Schedule of the JNU Act, it will also (if continued) adversely affect the university’s rankings, as, for example the NIRF, specifically evaluates institutions for the percentage of economically and socially disadvantaged students. 

Second, the withdrawal of deprivation points from research admissions have resulted in a significant loss of regional inclusion as well. As shown by the official statistics (Annexure III) 4, the representation of various regions of India have become decidedly more uneven in PhD/JRF enrolment, with several states showing a decline: where once Southern states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka together accounted for 6-8% of the JNU research admissions in 2014-16, this share was reduced to 2.4% and 2.9% in 2017 and 2019 respectively. The share of Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram has similarly dropped from about 5.3% to a mere 2.3% in the same period.  If this downward trend is not arrested, this will have a discernible impact on the university’s ranking in the NIRF, as the framework evaluates institutions for the percentage of students it has from other States/UTs as well as foreign students. With regards to the admission of foreign students between 2017 and 2020 to JNU’s research programmes, the supervision caps have effectively aborted the option. Research degree admissions of foreign nationals stand at 0 for 2019-20. The recent AC decision to allot supernumerary seats for admissions to the university’s research programme is a welcome one. 

There is one final, and extremely serious effect, of the withdrawal of deprivation points from the research admissions–the loss of gender inclusion. Again, this has serious consequences for the university’s ranking and accreditation, as the NAAC/NIRF expect universities to enrol at least 50% women. As Table 4 demonstrates, while this was true of the JNU research admissions until 2017-18, thereafter the gender parity ratio has dropped alarmingly. 

Table 4: Percentage of  enrolment of women students (2015-17, 2019)

Based on these statistics, the JNUTA is of the opinion, that it is absolutely imperative that the award of deprivation points to JNU’s research admissions be restored from the academic year 2022-23 onwards. The 2016 UGC Regulations 2016 (and subsequent amendments to them) do not bar the award of these points, as was clarified by the then UGC Chairperson, Prof. VS Chauhan, in 2017 (available here) to The Telegraph:  “Our policy for MPhil and PhD admissions is not an impediment to any affirmative policy like the deprivation points system at JNU. The decision to discontinue the deprivation points system has nothing to do with our policy.”

The JNUTA is hopeful that as an alumna of JNU who is committed to the foundational principles of this university, you will take the necessary steps to ensure that JNU returns to an admission policy for its research admissions that is non-discriminatory and in consonance with its vision of social justice and inclusion. 

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