A member of the Board of Studies of English and Comparative Literature at the Central University of Kerala (CUK) has resigned in protest against the administration’s order asking all departments to prepare “a shelf of projects” in line with “national priorities” for PhD scholars.
The directive came on March 13. The circular was issued at the behest of the Union HRD Ministry, which, at a meeting of vice-chancellors of central universities in December last year, had asked the V-Cs to “discourage research in irrelevant areas”.
“When Fellows are being admitted for PhDs, the topics for the thesis should be in accordance with the national priorities. Allotting privilege topics to the PhD students should be dispensed with,” states the minutes of the meeting held December 15, 2018.
CUK subsequently wrote to all Deans and Heads of Departments to prepare a list of projects “considering national priorities”. The circular states that students in future can only opt for research topics from the predetermined list. Under the current system, a PhD hopeful proposes a topic for her thesis during her interview at the university, and is grilled on it by the interview panel. The panel either approves the proposal, or makes some changes to it. But in general, students are free to pursue research in the areas they want.
Meena T Pillai, a professor from the University of Kerala (which is different from the CUK), resigned from the Board of Studies of English and Comparative Literature on Wednesday to mark her protest against the university’s decision. She was an external member of the Board of Studies. “Research on, say, a small tribal community in a remote village of Kerala would be a priority. So who decides what is relevant and irrelevant? Even to bring in specific classifications and categorisations in research is against the very spirit of higher education. Research is also critique, dissent and the right to ask questions. The moment you start deciding what areas of research one should limit oneself to, where is the academic freedom of the researcher?” Pillai told The Sunday Express.
This week, CUK issued a clarification to its March 13 circular, saying that by “national priorities” it meant research that was useful to society. CUK V-C Gopakumar declined to comment, and directed queries to the university Registrar. The Sunday Express could not reach the CUK Registrar.