The HRD ministry’s move to make holding a PhD mandatory for recruitment as assistant professor at universities—assistant professors at the college level, though, only need to have cleared NET—should seem a step in the right direction. Universities in many developed nations, including the US, require assistant professors to hold doctorates even if it is not mandated by any statute. Given how poor research output is, one of the reasons why Indian universities, save one or two, don’t make the cut for a top 100/200 spot in global rankings, making it mandatory for university students—post-graduate and doctorate level—to receive instruction from those who have undergone the rigours of research is a good idea.
The problem is that India’s record in research, which produces the PhDs the government wants to make mandatory for university teaching positions, is quite poor. As per a study by ITIF, a US-based think tank, India had just 15 researchers per 100,000 people in 2016—placing the country in the bottom five in a list of 56 countries. The per capita government funding for university research was just $12, and the government spend on R&D was $464, lower than even Kenya’s. Making matters worse, the quality of research output in India is abysmal. Regulatory ineptitude let CMJ University, a private university, in Meghalaya award 434 PhDs in the academic year 2012-2013 while having just 10 faculty members who had doctorate degrees—the university continues to be recognised by the UGC. No wonder, then, that India had just 8 citable research documents per 100,000 people, compared with Brazil’s 29 and Switzerland’s 469, and just 50 citations, compared with Switzerland’s 7,380. Until India fixes the quality of its research, simply mandating that university assistant professors must hold a doctorate degree will prove futile. To do that, the government must take a hard look at its funding of university research and how it has handled regulation of higher education.