On the 2022-23 admissions to JNU: The need for an emergency AC meeting

JNUTA shares the anxiety and concern of the vast majority of the JNU faculty at the continuing uncertainty about the admissions to JNU’s postgraduate and PhD programmes. There is still a near-total lack of clarity regarding the schedule of admissions and the fate of the academic calendar.  Both the students and teachers of the University are paying the cost of ever-increasing loss of teaching hours, a threat to JNU’s interdisciplinary profile, and the decay in JNU’s socially inclusive and representative character due to disruptions in the admission process. The teacher and student communities of JNU had hoped that an Academic Council (AC) meeting would be announced to resolve the lack of clarity that plagues the 2022-23 admissions to the university, but no announcement to that effect has been made so far. 

As per the JNU Act and Statutes, it is the AC which is responsible for “the maintenance of standards of instruction, education and examination within the University”, which has the power to appoint “Committees for admission to the University” and is the body that determines the schedule of admissions. The AC enables collective deliberation, where the inputs of Centres, Schools and the student body of the university are harmonised. For many decades, it had been vital, participative and effective body through which JNU had always ensured a timely, fair, just, and quality admission process. A most notable feature of this functioning was the the fully consultative and accountable Standing Committee on Admissions, which had participation of the Students Union. Since 2017 however, the functioning of the AC and its Committees have been severely compromised by the previous administration. 

JNUTA believes that the crisis that the university faces today is created by JNU’s participation in the NTA-conducted Common Entrance Test exercise and NTA reneging on the commitment to conduct CUET for PhD admissions (also see JNUTA statement dated 5/09/22) but the crisis also represents an opportunity to restore the leadership of the AC and its traditions of participative and democratic governance. The JNUTA believes that an emergency Academic Council is the need of the hour if the admissions for the academic year 2022-23 are to be rescued to come to a consensus on the following urgent matters: 

  1. A fully worked schedule of admissions for 2022-23 for the undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD programmes. 
  2. The academic calendar, synchronised across schools, and batches of students, with fixed winter (15 days) and summer breaks (60 days) while ensuring that semesters are not truncated to less than the 90 days  mandated in the JNU Ordinances.
  3. Since NTA expressed its inability to conduct the PhD CUET entrance examinations, there has been no official announcement regarding the entrance examinations for PhD admissions. However, the JNUTA has learnt that JNU has entered into an agreement with the appointed NTA to conduct the entrance test for PhD admissions and that Centres/Schools have been advised to constitute paper-setting Committees. The AC needs to discuss the following issues with respect to the PhD admissions for 2022-23 in particular: 
    • It is important to ensure that the entrance examination is designed fully by JNU, keeping in mind the character and distinctiveness of its PhD programmes in various disciplines, with the structure and content of the question paper fully decided by JNU faculty. NTA’s role needs to be limited to the conduct of the examination. 
    • It is crucial that the AC restores some of the significant aspects of JNU’s admission process which have been badly affected by the adoption of the “exclusively MCQ” format that the previous JNU administration imposed on all Centres and Schools. It is for the Centres and Schools to decide the mode of examination based on the nature of their disciplines and PhD programmes of the examination—whether it comprises MCQ questions (which may not necessarily be valued at 1 mark only), written-answer questions, or a combination of the two—which is something that can be conducted by the NTA, as per its own website. The JNUTA hopes the Academic Council will free the university from the imposition of a one-size-fits-all format in the admission tests across disciplines without any sensitivity to their specific needs.
    • The viva-voce examinations for PhD admissions, both for the JRF stream as well as the JNUEE one, have been, for some years, an object of concern for applicants from diverse backgrounds. For the JNUEE stream, it will be recalled that the 141st and 142nd AC had discussed and debated the Nafey Committee Report, which had carried out an extensive analysis of JNU admissions data of 3 years across centres and programmes in the university. Since the Nafey Committee had found there was evidence of underperformance of the reserved categories in the viva voce as compared to the written test, the AC had recommended that the weightage of viva voce should be reduced to 20%; however amendments to the UGC Regulations in 2017 (fixing the percentage of viva marks at 30%) have hampered the implementation of this decision. Similarly concerning is the fact that the JRF stream has a viva voce weightage of a hundred per cent. Given that there remains an unacceptable shortfall in the fulfilment of reservation in the PhD admissions, the JNUTA believes that the Academic Council must deliberate afresh on both these issues, develop fresh guidelines on the conduct of the viva voce, and if it so decides, approach the UGC for amendment to the Regulations. 
    • On the deprivation points, a JNUTA team presented its importance to the Vice Chancellor in a meeting held on July 4, 2022, which made a place for candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds in the JNU admission process and was an integral part of the JNU admission process (including the PhD programme) till 2016-17.  It is important that the AC deliberates on the issue of restoring deprivation points in PhD entrance examination process and ensuring that the social, cultural and educational backgrounds do not place any candidate at a disadvantage and prevent their being assessed in the viva-voce on their strengths and potential. 

JNUTA urges the JNU Vice-Chancellor and administration to hold an emergency Academic Council as soon as possible as it believes it to be the only institutional process to resolve the issues outlined above.

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