Is upending teacher eligibility qualifications the panacea for higher education?

The purpose of education is dying in the race for livelihood and fulfilling aspirations of others. There's a need for rudimentary introspection as mere dependence on qualification in choosing teachers may deprive the best ones from joining the noble academic profession, writes Onkar Singh.

It has been made mandatory to hold a doctorate degree for entry-level teachers in higher education. Surely, the upgradation of eligibility qualification is bound to add value to the academics and appears a universal beacon of hope for improvement in the quality of higher education. But the factors challenging the quality of the higher education need rudimentary introspection.

The worthiness of any educated one rolling out from higher education institutions (HEIs) is actually gauged from widely differing perspectives. For example, the research establishments look for sound fundamentals and understanding, industry expects them to have the varying specific skill sets required by them, etc. Therefore, the purpose of education gets lost in the race for the livelihood of an individual and fulfilling aspirations of employers and others.

However, the overall performances of HEIs are ranked by different ranking frameworks and act as an indicator of the health of HEIs for the public at large.

Indubitably, the teachers carry out the teaching-learning processes and the rigour of these processes ascertain the extent of competency generation in the educated ones. Capability and competency of teachers affect the quality of interactions with the learners. Nevertheless, the regular teaching processes in the classroom and laboratories are also a function of certain other enablers facilitating the teachers in these processes, so it is not the teacher alone who is solely responsible for the quality of education.

Dating back to the pre-independence and post-independence period, one can find that the number of doctorate degree holders were very few. The first PhD is claimed to be awarded in 1904 and since then the total number of PhD holders started increasing gradually. Till a few decades back, the sizeable number of senior teachers without a PhD degree could be located in India’s HEIs. Surprisingly, this non-PhD. degree holders were also supervising PhD scholars and exemplary works have been carried out under their supervisions. Thence, the PhD was not the binding qualification for teachers, and also, the quality of education did not get affected by it. 

With the upsurge in the number of HEIs of University stature, the numbers of opportunities for pursuing PhD have increased significantly. Now PhD admissions are held regularly in HEIs very similar to the undergraduate and postgraduate admissions. The convocation statistics evince that there are certain HEIs conferring the number of PhD degrees in three digits every year.  This upswing in the number of PhD degree holders is directly proportional to the aspirants. But the reasons for students pursuing PhD degree are not centred on their passion for research alone rather it is also the consequence of ‘What to do after Graduation/Post graduation in the absence of any job?

It is very common to see that a large number of students continue studying i.e. graduation followed by post-graduation and doctoral programmes merely due to no other avenue available to them. At times, some HEIs seem worried about the quality of students aspiring for post-graduation and doctoral programmes. However, this concern takes a backseat when HEIs are made to compete with each other for better ranking whose process has these statistics too as part of some assessable attribute.

Ideally, the students in any course should essentially have a passion for pursuing it. It is also discomforting to see that irrespective of the subjects, a large number of PhD degree holders too are either unable to get employment or get underemployment.

There have been instances of substandard works being awarded PhD degrees by some Universities leading to their cancellation after establishing malpractices. The instances of plagiarism in PhD works led to the promulgation of specific regulations with punitive provisions for preventing it.

There are ample cases of inadequacy in the quality of research output in the form of publications, patents and knowledge creation as compared to the top-ranking HEIs of the world. Thus, core competence and the capability of candidates admitted in PhD programmes and the overall worthiness of a large number of PhD degrees being pursued in the country warrants an honest introspection by respective HEIs.

It could be understood from a simple case that anyone who is even below mediocre and devoid of passion for studying further, may move to pursue post-graduation and PhD degree because of no other option available. In such case, the award of the PhD degree in due course may equip him/her in a narrow band of PhD related work, but the deficiencies in core competence, capabilities and skill sets may continue till one does not specifically work for overcoming them, which does not happen generally.

Thus, in the prevailing circumstances, counting on the PhD. degree as a quality assurance measure for the adequacy of knowledge and capability as a teacher does not augur well. There is the likelihood of some good postgraduates or even graduates who have been brilliant scholars in the primary, secondary and senior secondary level of education to possess better competence as a subject teacher at entry-level in HEIs.

Hooking up brilliant minds after graduation and nurturing them till PhD degree can yield better quality academics. Thorough brainstorming is inevitable for getting the best stuff as teachers in HEIs.

Why should not a framework be created for selecting the would-be teachers immediately after graduation based on rigorous testing on all dimensions required in a teacher and then pushing them for post-graduation and doctoral degrees at the cost of public exchequer in the form of scholarships for attracting the best minds in higher education?

It is the core capability of candidates that need to be assessed for choosing suitable teachers and mere dependence on some qualification may deprive the best ones of joining the noble academic profession.

(The views expressed are the writer's own)

First Published:Dec. 30, 2020, 3:18 p.m.

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