Samir V Kamat, DRDO chairman, obtained his BTech (Hons) in 1985 from IIT Kharagpur and, in the next three years, completed his PhD from the Ohio State University in 1988. Amit Kumar at IIT Delhi did his BTech from IIT Kanpur in 1997 and obtained his PhD in 2002 from Cornell University. He is a Bhatnagar Award winner. Shubham Sahay at IIT Kanpur obtained his BTech from IIT (BHU) in 2014 and a PhD from IIT Delhi in 2018. At IIT Kanpur, students have routinely rated his teaching as outstanding.
I can cite any number of cases from our higher education institutes (HEIs) of outstanding teachers and researchers minus a PG degree. Globally too, we have many such examples.
Robert Burns Woodward entered MIT in 1933 for his UG programme but was excluded from MIT at the end of the fall term in1934 due to a lack of attention to formal studies. Later he was allowed to re-enrol in the fall term of 1935. Woodward obtained the UG degree in 1936 and a PhD degree in 1937. He was awarded the 1965 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Sayeef Salahuddin at the University of California Berkeley, who discovered the Negative Capacitance Transistors, received his BSc from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 2003 and a direct PhD from Purdue University in 2007.
It is not true that PhDs who have bypassed the PG degree will have inadequate knowledge of the core discipline, which will lead to degrading teaching or research standards. We may tend to dismiss the above examples as coming from only top institutes such as IITs, Purdue, and MIT.
Let us not underestimate the talent that is present in the university ecosystem of India. Since our admission processes are by elimination rather than selection due to intense competition, a huge pool of highly talented students who could not get into top HEIs is part of the university system. Once we provide the opportunity to the passionate students among these to move into a PhD programme after their UG degree, they will have the chance to blossom into outstanding teachers or researchers.
By keeping our University educational system too rigid, we are only keeping many talented students from reaching the pinnacle of their real potential. That is why the University Grants Commission (UGC) has announced the new four-year UG programme and flexible PhD regulations permitting these students with four-year UG degrees to join PhD programmes.
There is an erroneous belief that UGC has done this to produce more PhDs.
Getting into a PhD programme is also a long commitment requiring determination and hard work. The option of doing a PhD is only for those with the potential, passion, and focus for high attainment in a specific discipline. The goal of UGC in permitting students after a UG degree into PhD programmes is not numbers but quality.
As per NEP 2020, the four-year undergraduate programme offers an honours degree, with the last year dedicated to research or an honours degree with a primary focus on coursework. The new regulations will permit students from both categories to join PhD degree programmes. But how can students who have not chosen the research path in the fourth year be admitted to a PhD programme? After a four-year course-based UG programme, the student may work on an industry or university research project and gain research experience. Such students, too, should get an opportunity to join a PhD programme without being forced to do a PG degree. Or they can be trained in research methods during the beginning of their PhD programme.
In the UGC’s new PhD regulations, anyone who has completed a four-year bachelor’s degree programme in any discipline with a minimum of 75 per cent marks in aggregate or its equivalent grade is eligible for a PhD programme. UGC prescribes only the minimum qualifications for admission to a PhD programme. Universities can raise the bar to ensure that only the deserving are admitted to PhD programmes.
The four-year bachelor’s degree programme introduced in our university system is designed to equip the students with complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creative thinking, and communication skills. This training will accompany rigorous specialisation in a chosen disciplinary or interdisciplinary major and minor subject area.
A research study on the Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physiology, or medicine between 1901 and 2003 indicates that the majority of the winners who discovered their prize-winning results were aged between 31 and 40. Our creativity declines with ageing in most of us. India has almost 250 million students between 15 and 25 years old. The best among these need to be encouraged to get into research and innovation at an early age after their UG degree when their creativity levels are on an ascending trajectory if India has to become a world leader in research and innovation.
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