Degrees of separation: Why just freedom from MPhil, let PhDs go too

PhDs only inflate our ego

So, it's better, if they go

-Poet Dilip Chitre, in an e-mail to this writer, 2005

The New Education Policy, 2020, has recommended that the M Phil degree be scrapped. It has already been discontinued. At the risk of sounding like an academic iconoclast, nay a vandal, I'm of the view that even the PhD degree must also be done away with, or at the most, be optional and not a sine que non to becoming a university lecturer or professor. Universities abroad have already done away with MPhil as something unnecessary or a useless appendage to a Master's.

Education in India has always been degree-oriented, with minimum emphasis on true learning and research. The government's decision to shelve the idea of pursuing an MPhil is prudent in the sense that an MPhil is a quasi-research work, with incomplete and inadequate conclusion/s. At the most, it's an advanced research paper or a dissertation that lacks definite outcome. In other words, it's just an improvement upon one's Master's. The basic prerequisites for a candidate to becoming a lecturer or professor are Master's, MPhil and PhD. This has engendered a huge and most insidious education industry in India, with scores of spurious doctorates. Shell out the required moolah and you too can become a PhD the very next day.

According to a report in Education Today (2010), the Indian education system churned out the maximum MPhil and PhDs in the world! Are Indian students so brilliant? If they're really that good, why do 23 colleges out of 39 under the aegis of Oxford University and 16 under Cambridge University ask Indian doctorates in Humanities to undergo a Recapitulation of Theses to be qualified as genuine PhD degree-holders? Balliol, the best college in the world under Oxford University, notifies only seven premier Indian universities and their PhD degree-holders in English Literature. Students of other Indian universities with a doctorate in English Literature aren't entertained!

Across the country, the education mafia, with deep pockets, have trivialised education and traduced its escutcheon. This is all the more obvious and obnoxious in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Northern states. Deemed universities (the concept of a deemed varsity is nowhere to be found in the world) in Maharashtra and Karnataka distribute degrees, including MPhils and PhDs at random, and charge heavily for them.

It's akin to a Christie's auction in London or Sotheby's sales in the Big Apple! Calcutta University made it clear way back in 1980 that an MPhil or PhD should be much more than a thesis, it should be a treatise. Ask a doctorate student or his/her guide in English literature the difference between a thesis and a treatise, and you're sure to get an evasive answer. Because they've not studied anything.

Even after 73 years of Independence, the bulk of PhDs and MPhils from Indian universities is divided into two categories: Shakespearean plays and post-colonial studies, as if there's nothing beyond the Bard of Avon's oeuvre and post-colonial works in English literature! Till 2015, 1,063 M Phil and doctoral theses were submitted only on Shakespearean dramas, with most of the 'research' analyses revolving around only five very famous plays of Shakespeare, of his 37 dramas. His 154 magnificent sonnets were seldom touched by candidates because the guides were not qualified to understand the import of most of the Shakespearean sonnets! Furthermore, the candidates are at the mercy of their guides. They've to take up the subjects suggested by their incompetent 'mentors.'

I'm surprised that UGC and higher education in India still don't allow a student to take up the research work sans any guide, whereas all European and American Universities make the role of a guide optional, if not outright superfluous. Yours truly got his first doctorate degree from Oxford under the tutelage of a nominal guide. Even in Pakistani universities, the concept of a guide is optional; nominal or no-guide. So, there's no elbow or legroom for a candidate pursuing his or her research work in India.

We talk about liberalism in the academic sphere, but which university in India offers Literary Works and Studies in Gay Culture, despite decriminalising homosexuality a brace of years ago? Mind you, the subject is still taboo in India. I remember not being allowed to pursue my MPhil on Sukhan-e-Firaq mein humjinsi anasir (Homosexual elements in Firaq's poetry). Professors in India were scandalised because the very topic was a pariah to them! It's worthwhile to mention that one of the foremost Urdu poets of the last century, Raghupati Sahay ' Firaq ' Gorakhpuri was an unabashed homosexual. Finally, I got my degree from Karachi University, Pakistan. No university in India let me pursue a PhD on Mohammad Rafi's musicality, though the country goes ga-ga over the legend. But Lahore University wholeheartedly accepted me. I got both the degrees from Pakistani varsities without any guide! This is liberalism in academics.

When you're hamstrung by a rigmarole of silly rules and handicapped by red-tapism, how can you pursue a higher or advanced degree? And even if you get the go-ahead, there're so many impediments that many PhD candidates leave their works halfway through. To cut the matter short, higher education in India has hit the nadir and degenerated into a commodity. The abject commercialisation of education and research work has resulted in the mass production of oafs and brainless students. It's therefore, imperative to look into the quality of research work in India. Ergo, it'll be in the fitness of things if the government decides that in the next five years, there'll be no MPhil or PhD studies. Focus on Master's level to produce genuinely brainy students who'll be naturally inclined to pursue doctorates, rather than allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to get one to desecrate the academic arena and spread the miasma of mediocrity and mass-productivity.

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