Spot the right candidates for excellence in research
M.Phil, Ph.D need separate entrance tests, with subjective questions
Shelley Walia
RAISING the standards of excellence in research remains a futile exercise as there is really no application of the mind. Day in and day out academic committees make rules off the cuff without having a long-time perspective on the repercussions of their policy decisions.


Spot the right candidates for excellence in research
M.Phil, Ph.D need separate entrance tests, with subjective questions
Shelley Walia

The entrance examination procedure, if revamped, will help build up the intake and quality of research candidates.
The entrance examination procedure, if revamped, will help build up the intake and quality of research candidates. — Thinkstockphotos

RAISING the standards of excellence in research remains a futile exercise as there is really no application of the mind. Day in and day out academic committees make rules off the cuff without having a long-time perspective on the repercussions of their policy decisions. I want to take up only one case of the joint examinations system for the M.Phil/Ph.D entrance examination upheld by Panjab University, Chandigarh.

The procedures governing the entrance examination conducted for identifying and evaluating research potential in students require urgent attention. The enrolments for the M.Phil course in the Department of English and Cultural Studies has fallen considerably this year and the prime reason behind this dismal result is the joint entrance examination conducted for both M.Phil and Ph.D.

M.Phil and Ph.D are two separate research-oriented disciplines, and the fact that they are both pre-doctoral courses does not make the two analogous in their pursuits. Though both the courses run parallel in their methodologies and objectives, some of which are to inculcate a critical bent of mind and to explore unexplored domains in diverse fields of study, we cannot overlook the completely distinct frameworks of time and course substance which the two adopt.

An M.Phil course is a rigorous preparatory platform, which equips the candidates with necessary tools and methodologies required by them to take on doctoral research. It sharpens the critical faculties of the candidates so as to groom them for full-fledged research. It is during this preparatory research course that the students are acquainted and familiarised with various nuances and diverse fields of their subject, so that they can decide their topic of research with prudence and experience.

However, the entrance examination conducted jointly for M.Phil and Ph.D candidates, by virtue of its ‘joint’ nature, automatically increases the enrolments for Ph.D while drastically cutting down the enrolments for the M.Phil course. All those candidates who wish to enrol for the M.Phil course prior to their Ph.D instantly change their decision in favour of a Ph.D if they clear the entrance test. The result is that most of the candidates end up queuing outside Ph.D supervisors’ offices, even the ones who have absolutely no knowledge of research methodologies and no experience in writing research papers. This also adversely affects the quality of candidates taking up doctoral research. However, the course work for Ph.D does take up research methodology for one semester compared with two semesters, which the M.Phil course consists of, but indicates the vast difference in the rigour of the curriculum of the two courses.

Thus, the immediate endeavour should be to prevent this disproportionate ratio of candidates taking up M.Phil and Ph.D, and to maintain a balanced intake of students into both the courses. This can only be done if the joint entrance test conducted for M.Phil and Ph.D is replaced with separate entrance tests for both the courses. Moreover interviews for both the courses must be made mandatory with at least 40 per cent pass marks. This practice will not only save the M.Phil admissions from dwindling further but will also raise the benchmark for potential Ph.D candidates, opening the enrolment only for those who possess the required research potential.

The second cause for concern, which must be addressed immediately, is the nature and the quality of the paper set for potential research candidates in the entrance examination. Currently, one of the papers is of an objective-type pattern containing multiple choice questions. However, this type of examination completely overlooks the fact that the candidates are to be examined for their grammatical and writing skills, vocabulary and expression along with ability to argue logically. This is one very major reason for the drop in the quality of candidates selected for Ph.D. programmes. The objective pattern of the paper is designed only to test the memory and retaining power of students, whereas it loses out on the most significant aspects of testing a student of humanities for his ability to employ linguistic devices effectively.

Therefore, it becomes imperative to introduce the subjective pattern of testing for research-oriented courses like M.Phil and Ph.D, and do away with the objective type that is usually set by senior professors resorting to ‘cheap’ help books readily available in the market. Through such an examination, no aim to size up the research potential of a candidate can be achieved. Multiple choice questions lack any discerning or imaginative content going beyond the factual? This applies to the NET examination as well, which fails wretchedly to pick gifted teachers owing to the nature of its multiple choice questions.

Who has written the Battle of Baltic? Or, what is the chronological order of the works of Thomas Campbell? Do you know that John Whiting’s The Devil is based on salvation or love? Which of the four choices is not written by Norman Fredrick Simpson? Which plays are not the production of the Royal Court Theatre? Do you know that The Wishing Tree is a book for children written by William Faulkner? Or when was the first volume of poems by Robert Frost published? One could go on and on to show that knowing answers to this kind of a ‘school quiz’ is nothing but meaningless trivia that does not gauge the research aptitude of a candidate or his intelligence. I remember the hilarious joke in my first year at the university where this professor spent days on end telling us about the innumerable works of Charles Dickens in their exact chronology of publication. I still marvel at his memory, but if anyone put me off Dickens for good, it was him. I have no other memory of such a teacher so full of merely the factual, the last of the ingredients that are required for research of any consequence.

The entrance examination procedure, if revamped in order to go well with the requirements of research-oriented disciplines like M.Phil and Ph.D, will not only yield enhanced results but also build up the intake and quality of research candidates in both M.Phil as well as Ph.D courses.


Campus Notes

Indian Institute of Management, Rohtak

Business summit held

THE Indian Institute of Management organised a business summit on its campus to honour successful business leaders and provide them a platform to enlighten students on the theme “Growing the Business: From Present to Future”. Senior business leaders based out of the NCR region came forward to discuss the challenges they face while taking their business forward in turbulent times. The summit commenced with a welcome address by Professor P. Rameshan, Director, IIM, Rohtak, followed by the keynote address by Kuldeepak Virmani, vice-president, Corporate, Daikin India. Virmani said, “Excellence is what gets you through turbulent times. The three most essential ingredients for professional excellence are knowledge, skills and management of conflicts. Corporates need to provide a harmonious blend of these ingredients, along with effective change management, to sustain excellence.” This was followed by an experience-sharing session, where business executives talked about how their organisation grew in turbulent times. A panel discussion as well as a case discussion and analysis were held in subsequent sessions as part of the summit. T.D. Bahety, director, Kanoria Chemicals and Industries Ltd., emphasised on the importance of keeping oneself abreast of the latest technologies and reducing dependency on expensive manpower. Kapil Bardeja, CEO, Kritikal Securescan, provided helpful insights into entrepreneurship skills required in difficult economic times. He also focused on the importance of taking calculated risks and looking out for opportunities.

Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak

UGC NET coaching

The University Centre for Competitive Examinations (UCCE) has started UGC NET examination coaching and guidance programme. Anil Kumar Rao, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Rohtak Range, while inaugurating the coaching programme laid emphasis on sincere efforts and hard work in a planned way to achieve success in competitive examinations. Professor Pramod Bhardwaj, director, UCCE, threw light on the schedule of the guidance programme. He said the programme would focus on the Teaching & Research Aptitude paper of the UGC NET examination.

Seminar on Kabir

A national-level seminar on Sant Kabir was held here recently under the aegis of the Sant Kabir Chair and Department of Hindi. Vice-Chancellor H.S. Chahal inaugurated the seminar. Professor Gopeshwar Singh from the University of Delhi delivered the keynote address, while Professor Nityanand Tiwari, a noted scholar, delivered the presidential address. A special lecture was also delivered by Professor Rohini Aggarwal.

Quality of education discussed

A meeting of heads of university teaching departments and deans of faculties was held recently on the university campus under the chairmanship of Maharshi Dayanand University Vice-Chancellor H.S. Chahal to discuss ways and means to ensure quality education and research in the university. Similarly, a meeting of all principals of the affiliated degree colleges was held under the chairmanship of the Vice-Chancellor to ensure better co-ordination between the colleges and the university. Addressing the principals, the Vice-Chancellor emphasised on regular holding of classes, improving the academic delivery mechanism, and developing skills in students for increasing employability. Admission- and examination-related issues were also discussed in the meeting.

Youth festival from Nov 8

Maharshi Dayanand University will organise a three-day Inter-Zonal Youth Festival from November 8 to 10 on its campus. The ambassador of Mongolia, Sanjaasuren Bayarra, will be the chief guest at the inaugural ceremony of the festival.

— Contributed by Bijendra Ahlawat



Exercise helps improve teens’ academic grades

WASHINGTON: Doing moderate to vigorous exercise regularly improves teens’ academic performance, and particularly seems to help girls do better in science, a new study has revealed. Researchers based their findings on a representative sample of almost 5,000 children who were all part of the “Children of the 90s” study, also known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC).

The duration and intensity of the children’s daily physical activity levels were measured for periods of between three and seven days, when they were aged 11, using a device called an accelerometer, worn on an elasticated belt. It was found that the average daily number of minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise the 11 year olds clocked up was 29 for boys and 18 for girls — significantly less than the recommended 60 minutes.

The children’s academic performance in English, maths, and science was then formally assessed at the ages of 11, 13, and 15 or 16. The analysis showed that at the age of 11, better academic performance across all three subjects was linked to the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity undertaken. Physical activity benefited girls’ performance in science, in particular.

Academic performance at the age of 13 was similarly linked to how much moderate to vigorous exercise pupils had had at the age of 11, while by the age of 15 or 16 GCSE, exam results also showed a link to exercise, with an increase in performance for every additional 17 minutes per day (boys) and 12 minutes per day (girls) spent doing more intensive exercise at the age of 11. The study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. — ANI