LEAKED FUTURES: “Why was UGC-NET even made a criterion for admission?” asks disgruntled candidate

As a series of potential exam paper leaks and mishaps rock the country, aspirants of the NEET-UG, NEET-PG and UGC-NET share their anxieties about their futures
Read on to find out more
Read on to find out more(Pic: EdexLive Desk)

The announcement to include the University Grants Commission - National Eligibility Test (UGC-NET) as a criterion for PhD admissions from the June session this year had raised eyebrows, with students and academics alike questioning the exam’s efficiency in assessing candidates’ research abilities. 

However, these concerns seemed to have taken a backseat after the Ministry of Education announced the cancellation of the exam due to “compromised integrity” on June 19 – a day after the exam’s conclusion on June 18 – as the focus shifted to the National Testing Agency’s (NTA) ability (or lack thereof) to conduct examinations without disruption. 

To recall, the NTA was already embroiled in controversy due to discrepancies in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Exam for Undergraduate (NEET-PG) admissions, and a possible paper leak. 

This matter of breaches in the UGC-NET 2024 was eventually handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and a seven-member committee was set up to suggest reforms to the examination process and improve the security of the NTA. 

While these breaches in the UGC-NET warrant a closer inspection, many candidates are of the opinion that the decision to make UGC-NET scores the basis for PhD admissions also warrants equal scrutiny. 

Navya Sri, a UGC-NET candidate from Hyderabad, is one of them. 

“Flawed method to test candidate’s aptitude for PhD”

When Navya saw the question paper for the June session’s UGC-NET, she claimed to have been dumbfounded at how “basic” the questions were.  

“These questions seemed like they were for PG admissions,” she exclaimed. She goes on to allege that some of the questions were lifted straight out of the Common University Entrance Test for Postgraduate (CUET-PG) admissions. 

Further, she says that the nature of the UGC-NET itself made it unsuitable for PhD admissions. 

“There were no questions on research methodology or subjective thinking. The exam only had MCQs (multiple-choice questions) that tested a candidate’s general knowledge. Anyone could clear the exam by rote or through guessing the answers,” she explains. 

According to her, the paper had questions asking candidates to arrange prime ministers, Supreme Court judges, Finance Commission members and more in the right order of succession. 

Navya, who completed her MA and MPhil in Political Science from the University of Hyderabad (UoH), says that this pattern is unsuitable to assess a candidate’s research abilities or critical analysis skills. “As Arts students, we are trained to look at everything with a critical bent. Not everything is an objective fact that we should memorise and remember for an objective test,” she explains. 

While she found the test to be easy, given her education, she says that therein lies the problem. She asks, “If an entrance exam for a PhD, the completion of which involves three to five years of extensive research, does not even test the research capabilities of the candidate, what is it even testing?” 

“Ideally, the paper for PhD admissions should have had different questions from the paper for assistant professorship, but that wasn’t the case,” Navya alleges, adding that the UGC and the NTA have been extremely lackadaisical and “lazy” in the name of “One Nation, One Exam”.

Further, UGC-NET being made mandatory for all universities only complicates things further, she says. 

“No two universities are the same, and trying to standardise their admissions doesn’t ensure that quality is maintained,” she adds, explaining that the university cannot choose candidates that meet their academic standards. 

She takes her own case as an example, elaborating, “When I completed my graduation from Osmania University, I attempted the entrance examinations of both UoH and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). I only realised that the academic standards and pedagogy of UoH were much higher than OU only after appearing for the UoH entrance exam,” she says. 

Moreover, by removing the interview round, the university departments would not gain a chance to assess the candidates, nor would the candidate get a chance to make a positive impression on them, she adds. 

“Breach in UGC-NET could be deeper than what we think”

Navya also thought that something was amiss when she saw the questions. “The paper was so easy and low-effort that I thought that the government could announce a leak after the exam concluded because a tough paper would make it difficult for people to find the answers,” she explains. 

However, she was surprised when the announcement was made soon after the exam. “I thought that the government would announce a leak in August, months after the exam ended,” she said, adding that the increased scrutiny on the NTA after the NEET-UG controversy might have compelled them to make an early announcement. 

The fact that the UGC-NET this year was paper-based only added to her suspicions, she said. “I also acted as an invigilator in many state-level examinations, and most of them were paper-based. The answer sheets were left unattended after being collected and were susceptible to damage or tampering,” she explained.

Further, she adds that this might not even be the first time discrepancies of this scale happened in either the NEET UG or UGC-NET. “Who knows, there might be many instances where the exams were compromised, and the matter was somehow kept under wraps,” she wonders.

Moreover, the fact that their exam centre did not even collect their admit cards was suspicious, she adds. “If we were to keep our admit cards with ourselves, why were we asked to attach our photographs and fingerprint to them? It is almost as if they were not collected deliberately,” she says  She even alleges that candidates could sit wherever they wanted in the exam centre. "I saw people who knew each other sit beside each other during the exam, with the invigilators not objecting," she claims.

She adds that these breaches have made her completely lose trust in the examination process. “I wonder why we even appear for these exams,” she laments. 

For many candidates like Navya, appearing for UGC-NET 2024 when it is conducted again in August is the only option they are left with. 

Navya further adds that many candidates are dependent on the exam for their livelihood and sustenance. She says, “There are many candidates who are pushing their 30s and 40s and want to settle down as assistant professors. A few candidates also want to renew their Junior Research Fellowships (JRFs). This breach disrupted their lives.”

If the UGC-NET was not in the picture for PhD admissions, she says, the PhD admissions would have been completed by now, she adds. 

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