The Jawaharlal Nehru University Teachers’ Association on Thursday welcomed the Delhi High Court’s order striking down a University Grants Commission regulation from 2016 allowing students admission to MPhil and PhD courses solely on the basis of viva voce, an oral examination. The court held on October 1 that the regulation was arbitrary and violates the right to equality as mentioned in Article 14 of the Constitution.
Students seeking admission to MPhil or PhD courses usually face a two-stage process. The candidates are first required to qualify a written test, in which they are expected to secure at least 50% marks, and then clear a viva voce. For admission, while some universities considered a formula that took into account the student’s performance both in an entrance test and interview, a few had a test-only policy. The 2016 regulation changed that to lay sole emphasis on the interview.
“In the opinion of this court, the entire weightage to performance of a candidate in the interview, or viva voce, based on the evaluation of the ‘power point’ presentation affords the widest latitude to arbitrary and capricious behaviour of the members of the board, who know that the fate of admission hangs in their hands,” the court said in its judgement. “Discretion, wherever allowed, is to be minimised; more so when it concerns admission to academic institutions.”
The court further said: “Academics are no doubt brilliant in their fields; however they are not immune to baser tendencies, such as unconscious bias [subject matter mannerisms, perceived lack of respect, etc]. This can tend to cloud their wisdom and conferring the exclusive power to admit a student at MPhil/PhD levels would therefore be arbitrary.”
The court also directed the university and the University Grants Commission to work out a criterion to give some concession to candidates from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Class communities in the preliminary written test.
The petitioners pointed out to the court that JNU provided only 102 seats in both the courses in the current academic year following the regulation, compared to 970 seats in 2016-’17.
In its judgement, the High Court reprimanded JNU for wasting valuable resources, the teachers’ association said in a statement. “JNUTA has consistently argued that the seat cuts in JNU in 2017 and 2018 were in violation of the CEI Act [Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act] and that the 100% viva voce and uniform eligibility marks without concessions to marginalized communities were unfair, discriminatory, and antithetical to social justice.”
The association said the court’s judgement has vindicated its position. “JNUTA urges the JNU administration to stop arbitrary and discriminatory practices in the admissions process,” it added. “The JNU administration should implement the Delhi High Court’s orders in toto.”
The association accused the university administration of introducing online examinations based on multiple choice questions. This is a non-inclusive and discriminatory practice, the teachers’ body said. “JNUTA urges the JNU administration from desisting from such steam-rolling action that directly contradicts the fundamental precepts of social justice,” it added.