In light of cancellation of UGC-NET June 2024 session, scholars look at what has been going wrong with the exam

After the introduction of the government's One Nation, One Exam policy, will UGC-NET survive the 'test'? What do scholars and students opine? Read here
UGC NET and all that has been going wrong with it
UGC NET and all that has been going wrong with it(Pic: EdexLive Desk)

The Ministry of Education announced that the UGC-NET June 2024 exam has been cancelled. While it comes as a surprise for many, experts feel that a problem has been brewing with the exam itself. 

The new guidelines

On March 27, 2024, the University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman, M Jagadesh Kumar, declared that the National Eligibility Test (NET) scores can now be used for admission to PhD programmes in place of entrance tests by different universities and Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs).

Defining its purpose, the notice read, "To help the students with one national entrance test for PhD admissions as a part of implementing the National Education Policy 2020, the UGC constituted an expert committee to review the provisions of the National Eligibility Test (NET)."

Considering the ongoing barrage of criticism directed at the National Testing Agency (NTA) which conducted the controversy-ridden National Eligibility and Entrance Test - Undergraduate (NEET-UG) and also oversaw the June session of the UGC-NET 2024, was this change welcomed by academicians and aspirants?

Antara Chakrabarty, a fourth-year sociology PhD scholar at South Asian University (SAU), shared with EdexLive that there was a strong expectation that the question paper would be conceptual and research-oriented this time. However, it turned out to be rather disappointing.

She further contended that the whole idea of the exam is dismissed as it fails to check:

Research and writing capabilities, does it measure it correctly?

As per Chakrabarty, PhD largely involves producing a thesis and research publications, she questions whether an ill-researched student would be able to get a free pass if they qualify for the NET examination, or a qualified candidate would be denied their proper place due to low scores.

She also adds that due to these MCQ (Multiple Choice Question) eligibility tests, and no proper training in research, there is a rise in paid research proposal writing. "PhD is a personal venture giving a choice to the researcher to choose what they can work on, but now, scoring a particular score would add unnecessary pressure on students who may be lacking in privilege," said Antara.

Can this deteriorating standard be able to effectively judge students?

Chakrabarty opines that the subject matter of the questions has gone down over the years. Stating the change in its pattern, from essay-type questions to MCQs, and the merging of Paper I and Paper II since December 2018 — she contends that the pattern had a standard to it. However, she states that in recent years, the paper started copying the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) pattern of code-based answers, which may prove problematic in a few cases.

Chakrabarty, who has more than two years of experience in mentoring UGC-NET students, says that the questions recently are "unrelated" and have no "underlying value".

"For instance, the June 2024 Sociology paper was filled with chronology-based questions on thinkers and books. Which peripheral theorist wrote which book in which year — how is it relevant for the student? More so, the Political Science paper was filled with unnecessary chronology-based questions on the Chief Justices of India (CJI). It seems like the questions were made by people who are not in touch with how and what needs to be seen while assessing pivotal capabilities which are essential," said the scholar.

Exam only for a few, and not for all?

Drawing attention to a lesser-discussed point, Chakrabarty contends that the questions were copied from textbooks followed in the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK). She further told EdexLive that English medium students would fail to answer them if they didn't memorise it. For students from other vernacular mediums, she questions if they would be able to answer questions that they have absolutely no idea about.

She asserted, "Students from vernacular mediums, no matter how well they understand the subject or have read it, cannot answer such questions. There are no translated versions of these books. The question makers are insensitive towards the language barrier. Are only English medium students now fit to do PhDs or get bare minimum funds during PhD in the name of Junior Research Fellowship (JRF)?"

The advent of rote learning and a copy-paste culture?

Emphasising the impracticality of the questions, Antara alleges that the sociology questions were copied from textbooks that are followed in countries like the USA and the UK. She says that these questions cannot be answered by anyone if they haven't memorised them.

Commenting on the redundancy of the MCQ culture and the falling standard of the questions, she said that the 'academia chain' would see a downgrading. This would also fuel a coaching culture, and research would be rendered dormant, with no individual thinking and researchers with no basic knowledge or skills.

Why do students who have already passed the exam need to re-appear?

For Loni Ahmed Das, a former student of the University of Hyderabad (UoH) and belonging to a marginalised section of the society, procuring a Junior Research Fellow (JRF) was a milestone achieved. She qualified for it in the year 2023, and her scores will be valid for the next three years since the year of qualification. However, she cannot avail the fellowship unless enrolled at an HEI or a university, and has a new, valid, UGC-NET score.

The recent changes have certainly crippled her prospects as she had to re-appear for UGC-NET despite qualifying it in 2023.

"Previously, central universities had their examinations, but UoH is now accepting UGC-NET scores. Not only is the autonomy of the university dead, but prospects of scholars like us have also dimmed," expresses an irate Loni.

Prevailing confusion

For Nishi, an aspirant, other sets of problems crept in while she appeared for the UGC-NET June 2024 session. Not only does she have no idea what scores shall be deemed acceptable by universities, but only students with high JRF scores will be summoned for admission. She calls this "highly exclusionary and unfair", given that students, even if they qualified for UGC-NET, might not get a chance to enroll in PhD courses, especially at central universities and other renowned universities as there might be higher competition.

"NET exams are now like a gamble. It seems like one doesn't need in-depth knowledge to crack it," expresses Nishi. 

What do you think about the NET exam being nothing but a gamble? Let us know in the comments section.

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