Kerala universities dilute UGC regulations for four-year Honours with research programme

  • UGC framework says the programme can be offered only in departments with research facilities and at least two PhD supervisors
  • Kerala universities diluted the clause and made it any department with at least one teacher with a PhD degree
  • University watchers said the dilution will compromise academic research as students can directly join PhD without a PG degree
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Representational image. Photo: Onmanorama/Canva

Kasaragod: Universities in Kerala have loosened the stringent framework set by the UGC for the four-year 'honours with research' programmes that are set to make postgraduate programmes in the country redundant.

University officials said the conditions were diluted by the direction of the state government to make 'honours with research' accessible to more undergraduate students.

Universities in Kerala are set to roll out the four-year undergraduate programmes (FYUGP) from the 2024-2025 academic year. FYUGP would allow students to exit after three years with a regular three-year undergraduate degree course or with an Honours degree after four years. Students opting for research in the fourth year would get a UG 'Honours with Research' degree. Such students can directly join PhD programmes without a postgraduate degree. Those with a four-year honours degree (without research in the final year) need to attend a one-year PG programme. Those who exited after three years would have to attend the regular two-year PG programmes to pursue PhD research.

However, according to the UGC Curriculum and Credit Framework for Undergraduate Programme, not all departments in colleges can offer 'honours with research' programmes.

The framework released on December 7, 2022, said that departments offering a four-year UG Degree (Honours with Research) "must have at least two permanent faculty members who are recognised as PhD supervisors".

This is to ensure that the department has the requisite research infrastructure such as a library, access to journals, computer lab and software, and laboratory facilities to carry out experimental research work.

Recognised research departments and centres may offer these programmes without prior approval of the affiliated universities but other departments in colleges should seek approval, the framework said.

But the University of Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi University, the University of Calicut, and Kannur University -- the four major universities in Kerala -- have done away with the mandatory requirement of two PhD supervisors in the departments offering 'Honours with Research' undergraduate degree programmes.

University of Kerala
The Academic Council of the University of Kerala, at its meeting held on Friday, May 10, resolved to introduce the Four-Year Undergraduate Programmes in affiliated colleges.

According to the final draft regulation of the Thiruvananthapuram-based University of Kerala, colleges offering postgraduate programmes can introduce a four-year undergraduate honours programme with a research degree within their approved undergraduate programmes. This initiative requires a minimum of two permanent faculty members who are university-approved research guides or two permanent faculty members who are PhD holders.

When a recognised department loses one of its two permanent faculty members who is a university-approved research guide or a PhD holder, it will be ineligible to offer the programme until a new faculty member with the requisite qualifications is recruited, the regulations said.

Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam
Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam. Photo: Rijo Joseph / Manorama

"This option of offering Honours with Research programmes in departments with faculty members who are eligible to guide PhD scholars is not available in the UGC framework," said Dr Shino P Jose, president, Kerala Private College Teachers' Association (Kannur Region). What the university should do is give PhD guideship to eligible faculty members and raise the academic standards of the departments in colleges, he said.

Kerala University Vice-Chancellor Prof Mohanan Kunnummal said he would not be able to comment on the matter "off-hand", and will have to check with the registrar. He was contacted on Friday, the same day the Academic Council took up the matter.

Mahatma Gandhi University
If the University of Kerala said it would offer Honours with Research in colleges with PG programmes, Kottayam-based Mahatma Gandhi diluted the regulations further.

In its regulations issued in February 2024, MG University said that recognised research departments or (any) departments with at least two faculty members having PhD shall offer honours with research programmes.

Several college teachers said the university diluted the UGC regulations to deny PhD guideship to eligible faculty members in colleges.

University of Calicut
The University of Calicut diluted the requirement to just one faculty member with a PhD. In the regulation released in February, the University of Calicut said that departments with a "minimum one faculty member with PhD (not PhD guideship)" can offer Honours with Research programmes, provided they have the necessary infrastructure. Such departments should get prior approval from the university, it said.

Kannur University
Kannur University said recognised research departments or departments with at least two faculty members with PhD may be permitted to offer the honours with the research programme.

"It was not the decision of the university. It was the decision of the state government," said Prof Anil Ramachandran, Dean and in charge of framing the guidelines for FYUGP for Kannur University.

If the universities stuck to the UGC framework, Kerala could offer honours with research programmes only in a few colleges and university departments, he said. "And there will be a situation where our children will not be able to benefit from the honours with research programmes. It will be a big loss for our students," he said. That was why the state government changed the regulations, said Prof Ramachandran. "We cannot call it a dilution... The decision was taken after a lot of discussion," he said. The government set the benchmark and all universities followed it, he said.

Kannur University administrative block. Photo: Manorama

The state government does not have the right to dilute or change UGC regulations and framework, said R S Sasikumar, chairman of the Save University Campaign Committee, a whistleblower organisation. "According to the Supreme Court ruling, UGC regulations and frameworks are deemed to be implemented. State governments cannot fiddle with regulations," he said.

But by diluting the framework for honours with research programmes, the government has compromised on the quality of research and it will vitiate the academic ambience of university campuses, said Sasikumar. "Because students with this four-year degree will be directly joining PhD on campuses," he said.

Dr Shino Jose said universities could have used the FYUGP as an opportunity to give guideship to eligible college teachers and increase the research output of the universities.

To be sure, Kannur University called for applications from college teachers to become PhD supervisors in September 2023. But the university froze the process citing "lack of clarity" in giving PhD guideship to faculty members of undergraduate colleges. The university sought a clarification from the UGC six months ago. "We have not yet got any reply," said Prof Ramachandran.

But by diluting UGC regulations, the universities have put the future of students at risk. "Now students passing out from institutes and departments that followed UGC regulations can approach courts against those students who did not in the case of jobs or PhD admissions, alleging their degrees are not valid," he said.

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