A Bridge Too Far

Governance National Opinion

Getting rid of the MPhil programme could prove costly to higher education, says Nishant Kumar

The MPhil, a two-year advanced postgraduate programme, has long been a vital step on the road to developing the research and analytical skills required to write a doctoral dissertation and earn a PhD. That invaluable learning experience could now be history.

The National Education Policy (NEP), announced by the union ministry of education in July 2020, called for the discontinuation of the MPhil programme and recommended that universities allow candidates to enroll for a PhD after a four-year graduation course. Students and teachers alike are aghast.

Harsh Vardhan, a PhD candidate at JNU in Delhi, “The MPhil provided valuable training in academic writing, a skill that takes a long time to master and is essential for a doctoral degree. There was no focus on research in our master’s programme. MPhil has given me some time to think about how to explore my area of interest in research.” He now wonders whether his MPhil degree will even be valid after the discontinuation of the programme.

Sheema Aleem, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi points out that some students pursue a PhD without an MPhil. But she says an MPhil makes a “huge difference” in developing their understanding for research. “The main reason why we recommend an MPhil before a PhD is because it helps students understand the research methodologies well. It is like a stepping stone towards a PhD,” she explains.

But the fact is, the MPhil is steadily losing popularity. According to data from the education ministry, the number of MPhil students dropped from 43,267 in 2016-17 to 34,109 in 2017-18 to just 30,692 in 2018-19. So the government proposes to introduce a research component in graduation itself and to restructure some of the higher education courses.

The undergraduate degree will be of either a three or four-year duration. The four-year course will be not mandatory for the degree. A research component will be introduced in the fourth year of graduation and that will make a student eligible to pursue research. The government claimed it was done to align the Indian education system with Western models.

The MPhil degree offered in some of the premier universities in India can be traced back to the early 70s. Currently, universities in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand offer MPhil as a part of a PhD programme. It is essentially a first step in research methodology, especially in the design of field studies and empirical work. It helps expose students to data gathering, preparing questionnaires and surveys and gives them hands-on experience as opposed to having only theoretical knowledge.

But as Malabika Sarkar, vice-chancellor of Ashoka University, Sonepat told Hindustan Times in an interview, the MPhil does not hold significance internationally. “Pursuing a PhD after completion of a master’s degree is better. It should be mandatory for students to complete a mini-thesis within five years of their undergraduate and postgraduate programmes before pursuing a PhD,” she said.

Even before the NEP, MPhil was not a mandatory requirement for students to pursue PhD. For many, It helped in securing teaching jobs in universities. But for most students, the MPhil is their first brush with the requirements of serious research that helps them decide if they wish to pursue the subject further.

nishant.k@iijnm.org

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