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Only a degree

Why would those with PhDs apply for grade IV jobs? It is doubtful that many are under the illusion that PhDs awarded at Indian universities count for something.

The facts are by now known to everyone. The Uttar Pradesh government received 23.25 lakh applications for 368 posts of grade IV staff (peons) at the state secretariat. The applicants included 1,52,000 graduates and 250-odd PhDs. And the minimum qualifications for these jobs? Class V-pass and the ability to ride a bicycle. The high numbers of graduates and PhDs applying for jobs for which they are overqualified could be due to poor employment opportunities in UP/ India and/ or the quality of higher education in the country. Perhaps it is a bit of both.

Why would those with PhDs apply for grade IV jobs? It is doubtful that many are under the illusion that PhDs awarded at Indian universities count for something. While there may be a lack of sufficient employment opportunities in education and allied areas in UP and elsewhere, one would expect that those with half-decent PhDs would be able to find white-collar jobs in other sectors. Certainly, such individuals would not apply for lowly positions with the state government.

Most likely, the PhDs who applied for clerical jobs in UP earned their degrees the easy way. These applicants, and countless others, may have come in contact with opportunistic professors who took them under their wing. It is not particularly important whether they approached the professors, or if the latter encouraged them to sign on for a PhD. In either case, most of those who registered for PhDs were probably poorly equipped and trained — though not necessarily poorly qualified in terms of degrees and marks/ grades — for the task at hand. Ordinarily, they should not have been pursuing a PhD. However, with more than a little help from their supervisors, usually in the form of plagiarism and “fixing” the decisions of department and university committees as well as external examiners, hundreds of men and women have been able to get a piece of paper that confers on them a PhD.

Even the Central government and the Supreme Court agree that PhDs from Indian universities are useless. Why else would the UGC and the SC insist on all applicants for faculty positions at colleges and universities, whether or not they hold PhDs, clearing the National Eligibility Test (NET) or the State Level Eligibility Test (SLET)? The PhDs who applied for clerical positions in UP are most likely those who failed to get past the NET/ SLET hurdle. It is also likely that those who applied for the positions have been unable to secure and/ or hold on to a white collar job because their lack of knowledge and skills is found out quite easily. The PhD applicants belong to, in Craig Jeffrey’s description, the “timepass” generation, which is “just waiting” in the hopes of getting a job.

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One small clarification is necessary. The point here is not to blame applicants with poor-quality PhDs. Many of them are, above all, victims of India’s broken higher education system; otherwise, they would not be submitting job applications for grade IV staff. The 250 PhDs applying for clerical positions confirm the worst about our higher education system. It tells us that the government, the UGC and the universities themselves are not able to properly regulate the smallest sector in the higher education set-up: the PhD programme.

There are calls to produce more PhDs because the numbers of Indians attending college is expected to continue to grow till 2030. At the same time, however, whatever little that is being done to improve the quality of higher education, including and especially at the level of MA/ MSc/ MTech and PhD programmes, is woefully inadequate.

The writer is assistant professor, BITS Pilani-Goa

First published on: 06-10-2015 at 12:19:28 am
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