Published: 18th October 2020
64 reserved PhD, MPhil seats may go vacant: UoH Students’ Union on hunger strike against new qualifying criteria
12 percent of PhD seats reserved for the OBCs, 42 percent for SCs, 56 percent of the STs, 75 percent for the Physically Challenged category could go vacant this year
Several students of the University of Hyderabad have been protesting against the administration for bringing in new qualifying criteria that may result in nearly 64 PhD and MPhil reserved seats going vacant this coming academic year. Students are a relay hunger strike demanding that the administration immediately withdraw this new criteria as the ones to be worst impacted are students from marginalised communities.
Two students from the Students’ Union, the Acting President Sree Charan and the General Secretary Gopi Swamy started fasting on Sunday morning. On Friday, the University released a list of shortlisted candidates for many of the departments and the Union claims that by their estimation, over 64 seats reserved for OBC, SC, ST categories could remain unfilled this year. The University, in a circular issued on October 5, states that the UGC Regulations 2016 had been adopted by their 78th Academic Council for this year. The 2016 UGC Regulations “provided that a relaxation of 5 percent of marks (from 50 percent to 45 percent) shall be allowed for the candidates belonging to SC, ST, OBC, differently-abled category in the entrance exams conducted by the Universities.”
The Union alleged that the new regulations were discriminatory by nature against students from marginalised communities and are angry that the University allegedly decided to implement it without consulting them. “A virtual Academic Council took place this time and the Students’ Union was not told of this new decision. According to the Lyngdoh Committee, the students are supposed to be made aware of these academic decisions. Already 64 seats are going vacant and after the interview, that number is bound to increase,” Gopi said. The Ambedkar Students Association on campus had also raised the issue of reserved PhD seats going vacant previously as well.
“This is a structural alienation of students from marginalised communities,” Gopi argued. In a letter to the Vice Chancellor, the Students’ Union said that the cut-off criterion was exclusionary, claiming that it will leave most research seats vacant. “In our university, each and every school/ department/ centre follows autonomous admission procedures. As some departments follow negative marking with objective questions, some follow objective entrance without negative marking, and in other departments entrances are in descriptive mode. In this situation, a centralised and expected cut off is vague and merely exclusionary. This will leave seats vacant especially in reserved categories and also in interdisciplinary courses,” they wrote.
Kiran Kumar Gowd, a member of Youth for Inclusive and Sustainable Society (YISS), UoH and the President of the OBC Students Association argued that the University is selective of the ways in which it adopts UGC regulations and uses its autonomy, “Negative marking especially affects students from marginalised communities to pursue research They cannot decide to adopt the UGC regulation on cut-off marks and then come up with this concept of negative marking which they are defending because they are an autonomous institution. These concepts are only creating more hurdles for marginalised and poor students,” he added.
According to the YISS, 12 percent of PhD seats reserved for the OBCs, 42 percent for SCs, 56 percent of the STs, 75 percent for the Physically Challenged category and 48 percent of the EWS are going vacant, “Taking into account the general seats that are also going vacant, we can expect 95 PhD seats to remain vacant this year,” Gowd said.
The students also say they want to remind the University that the UGC regulation stating the cut-off was followed by this statement — ‘if in spite of the relaxation, the seats allotted for SC, ST, OBC, differently abled category remain unfilled, the concerned Universities shall launch a Special Admission Drive for the particular category within one month from the date of closure of admissions of General Category. The concerned University will devise its own admission procedure, along with eligibility conditions to ensure that most of the seats under these categories are filled.’
“If the University wants to follow the Regulation then why are they not following this part where the UGC is saying that a Special Admission Drive must be conducted. The University has to make an attempt to fill up these seats,” Gopi said.
Gowd also says that according to the data that his group has collected, they have also noticed a dip in the number of PhD seats that are being offered as well. The YISS claims that in 2016-17, 57 seats were notified, the next year it was 62, followed by 39, then last year the University was offering 46 seats and this year it has come down to 37. “Inspite of the recruitment of new faculty members at all three levels - Professor, Associate Professor and Assistant Professor in a few departments, the numbers have not increased. The vacancies are not being notified according to the UGC Regulations. Some departments are not following the Regulation in the name of discretion and autonomy,” he said. He adds, that reducing the seats would impact the research and output and deprive marginalised students of opportunities, “We have not calculated the students who were awarded their PhDs after November 30, 2019, if we take that into consideration, 194 vacancies should be available but only 33 have been notified,” the YISS said in their letter to the administration.
Another demand that the students are raising is for the University to follow the 1:6 ratio — shortlisting six students for one seat, which they claim was what the University was previously following, “Some students can also compete for the general category seats and yet only two or three are getting called for the reserved seats,” Gowd adds. “We reject this anti-student, anti-reservation policy and demand that the University implement the 1:6 ratio,” Gopi said.
The Students’ Union also added that a huge section of people were not even able to attend this year’s entrance exam due to the pandemic, especially those from marginalised sections, “This is very obvious from the attendance in entrance exams this year. Deciding on a fixed cut-off will turn out to be another level of exclusion for these students, who will be denied the chance because they could not have done well in entrance exams in the current situation. The case of JNU is in front of all of us when it tried to implement the draconian UGC recommendations,” they said.
In a statement, the Ambedkar Students Association pointed out that they had fought through various representations and protests last year after an RTI revealed 'blatant violation of reservation policy'. "We demanded that the administration keep a check on this impunity granted to academic units through which reservation was violated. While the spirit of the recommendations we made was to 'ensure the University fulfils its mandate of filling all the seats and as per the reservation policy', the administration has clearly manipulated the same in adopting the UGC regulations in toto," the ASA said in a statement. "The current state of implementation of reservation by UoH is dismal in numbers of reserved seats left vacant. It should ideally devise admission procedures to facilitate high intake of marginalised students on par with percentage of allotted reservation. We shall stand committed to our struggle for social justice. Saying it again, loud and clear, 'Reservation is our right and not a mercy," the Association stated.
Gopi said that they would be continuing their relay hunger strike and in case they don’t hear a positive response from the administration, they would not hesitate to start an indefinite hunger strike.
We have reached out to the University for a comment and will update this copy when we receive it.