One of the major changes introduced by the National Education Policy 2020 was the discontinuation of the MPhil programme (Master of Philosophy) across India. Instead, emphasis has been placed on a four-year Bachelor’s degree (undergraduate) and a research intensive Master’s degree (post-graduation).
Viewing this as a drastic step, most students pursuing MPhil across the country have expressed anxiety over their fate. Apart from jeopardising the future of several students currently enrolled in MPhil degrees, the NEP 2020 has also undermined the relevance and significance of holding a degree such as the MPhil.
Students across various disciplines opt for the MPhil in India after a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MSc). However, a B.Tech student can also enrol for an MPhil programme. The MPhil is a two-year course and for students, it is an opportunity to write their first thesis. It thus acts as a first step towards a PhD.
Additionally, the MPhil programme is one of the most advanced research degrees and trains students to identify problem statements. As a result, the programme also enables students to seek better job opportunities as opposed to the Masters programme. Post their MPhil, several students could work for some time and then decide to enrol for a PhD programme.
The NEP suggests that the four-year degree programme could be more research driven if the student chooses to complete a rigorous research project in their major area of study. As part of their research training, this four-year course will allow students to work on a rigorous research project to develop their research skills. Additionally, the NEP 2020 adds that students opting for a three-year Bachelor’s programme could next do a two-year Master’s programme followed by a PhD.
The significance of MPhil as a degree
By discontinuing the MPhil as a degree, as rightly pointed out by the Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University, Dr Malabika Sarkar, the NEP is adhering to international standards. MPhil as a degree does not hold value internationally. Instead by offering a four-year Bachelor’s programme, it becomes much easier for students writing the GRE. The other advantage which the NEP 2020 intends to project by discontinuing MPhil is that most students opting for a PhD programme will be able to save two years and can directly begin their PhD journey.
Though these two advantages might seem lucrative initially for most students, the discontinuation of MPhil will have several consequences as well.
To begin with, in most Master’s programme across the country, it is not mandatory to submit a dissertation. Most universities either conduct exams or rely on term papers for the completion of a Master’s degree. As far as the research project associated with the four-year Bachelor’s degree programme, it is not clear how much time would students receive to work on this research project. As the current NEP 2020 does not mandate a dissertation component at the Master’s level, students opting for a three-year Bachelor’s degree will write their first thesis when they enrol for a PhD.
On the other hand, most students choosing the four-year Bachelor’s degree will sit for the GRE and try to go abroad. In short, research as an agenda, an integral component of higher education, has not been advanced at all by the NEP 2020.
What does research mean?
By aligning the NEP 2020 with Western structures and by discontinuing MPhil, the quality of research will be hampered. When we say that the quality of research will fall, we basically argue or, rather, ask: where does good quality research or a PhD programme stand in a country like India?
One of the core goals of a PhD programme is to come up with an original idea and position that idea into the larger framework of society. In addition to originality of thought, critical thinking, rigorous writing, innovation, authenticity and relevance of that idea is what a student is expected to develop during the PhD programme. However, in recent times, the PhD programme has become more quantity as opposed to quality. Students are expected to publish and produce results as opposed to reflecting and writing.
Recently, across the globe, Indians toped for publishing in fake journals. Additionally, while the total number of publications might have increased, India continues to rank low with regard to citations. As a result Indian universities continue to lag behind in the major rankings around the world.
The PhD as a degree was initially associated with intellectuals. With time, owing to rising rates of unemployment, most students consider enrolling for a PhD programme due to a monthly stipend. As per the All India Survey of Higher Education, there were 77,798 students enrolled in PhD programmes in 2010. This number had doubled by 2017, when there were 161,412 students in PhD programmes. However, the lack of infrastructure such as libraries, laboratories, equipment often demotivates PhD students in India and prevents them from pursuing quality research.
Apart from lack of quality control, plagiarism is another consistent problem in Indian research. With the implementation of the Academic Performance Index, plagiarism and publishing in fake journals increased significantly for career advancement. As a result, several PhD dissertations in India display plagiarism and fabrication. Instead of improving the quality of research and focusing on areas which could aid PhD students to produce better research, the NEP 2020 has created a system in which a student will write a thesis for the first time as he/she will enter the PhD programme. The MPhil programme was a stepping stone and a degree from which the student could learn as well as make mistakes in writing one’s first thesis.
The Case of Clinical Psychologists
As per the Mental Healthcare Act (MHA, 2017), it is mandatory for a clinical psychologist to hold an MPhil to practice as a licensed clinical psychologist in India. This requirement is different as compared to a medical professional psychiatrist with an MD degree specialising in psychiatry. The MPhil in clinical psychology is a programme which is regulated by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI) and is offered at RCI-recognised institutions across the country. Similar to an MPhil for Humanities and Sciences students, the MPhil for clinical psychologists is a two-year course that focuses on theoretical principles of clinical psychology as well as provides experience with patients/clients in clinical setups. Though the NEP 2020 does not state anything specific for clinical psychologists, the discontinuation of MPhil will surely have a huge impact for clinical psychologists as well.
What does the future hold?
In 2018-19, 30,692 students were enrolled in an MPhil programme. With the removal of MPhil their fate remains uncertain. Additionally, with no mandatory thesis component being inserted at the two year Masters programme, it is unclear how students with a three year Bachelor’s degree, a two year Master’s degree, opting for a PhD program will receive any form of research training. Several universities across India offer an integrated MPhil-PhD programme to help students convert their MPhil topics into PhD dissertations. These integrated programmes provide students more time to read and write, two main steps which are crucial for ensuring good quality research. With MPhil being discontinued, the future of these integrated courses also remain uncertain.
Finally, one of the key goals of the NEP 2020 was to align higher education with international standards. However in many countries such as Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Norway and Spain offer MPhil degrees. Select departments in Belgium, Netherlands and the U.S. also provide an MPhil degree. In these countries the MPhil programme is associated with advanced research and students undergo rigorous research training which they can use for their doctoral work. Thus, without removing the MPhil programme in haste, it would have been helpful, if the NEP 2020 had reviewed the relevance and significance of a programme such as the MPhil.
Jagriti Gangopadhyay (PhD) is an Assistant Professor at the Manipal Centre for Humanities, Manipal, Karnataka. Srijan Sengupta (PhD) is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Metallurgy, Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Featured image: University Grants Commission. Photo: PTI