Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

Problem of control and governance of knowledge in a globalised world


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: UGC

Mains level: Paper 2- Impact of UGC's criteria in evaluation of research on social sciences and humanities

The article highlights the issues with the criteria applied by the UGC to evaluate the faculty research.

Impact of UGC standardisation on social sciences and humanities research

  • UGC has been the regulatory body responsible for maintaining standards in higher education, while addressing challenges of globalisation.
  • Processes of UGC mandated standardisation have in particular impacted social sciences and humanities research in Indian universities.
  • Over the years, UGC has linked institutional funding to ranking and accreditation systems like NAAC and NIRF.
  • In order to evaluate institutions, these bodies have evolved  criteria, which rank universities based on faculty research measured by citations in global journal databases like SCOPUS.
  • In comparison, importance granted to research outputs like books or other forms is declining.

Issues with the criteria

  • The insistence of publication in journals fails to distinguish between the varied trajectory of disciplines.
  • While in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Management) disciplines, research is often highly objective and quantified.
  • In social sciences and humanities research is subjective, analytical and argumentative.
  • In disciplines like history, sociology, politics, philosophy, psychology and literature, researchers spend years writing books that engage with ideas in complex ways.
  • In devaluing books as authentic forms of research, UGC does major disservice to scholars of social sciences and humanities.
  • Due to emphasis on publication, teachers spend most of their productive time writing articles and getting them published, thereby missing out on quality engagement with pedagogy and research.

Issues with the process of peer review

  • The process of peer review itself is subjective, and depends upon the knowledge, inclination and availability of time of the particular reviewer.
  • It is often quite challenging for scholars to meet peer-review standards of A-listed journals.
  • This has actually required the UGC to expand its own list, ending up including and subsequently deleting a large number of locally published journals.

Issue of inaccessibility

  • Publication of research in paywalled journal databases makes research inaccessible for students as universities continue to cut down library budgets.
  • Students and teachers, access articles through pirated sites like Libgen and Scihub, prone to be shut down at any point of time as evident from the litigations.
  • Clearly, access to knowledge is structurally made inequitable in favour of the elite and/or moneyed institutions and their constituents.

Way forward

  • The above arguments maintain for the possible multiplicity that can emerge as the end-result of research.
  • Interdisciplinary and practice-based research can throw up social and ecological experiments, artworks and performances, and numerous new outcomes yet to be conceived as research outputs.
  • While the UGC hopes to raise the standards to global levels, precarity of employment, longer teaching hours, a dismal student-teacher ratio, lack of sabbaticals, research and travel grants, access to research facilities and office space, adversely impact the research potential of teachers.
  • Regulating research needs to be replaced with facilitating research, allowing minds to think and gestate.
  • Regulations without facilitation will merely bureaucratise the governance of knowledge without generating any pathbreaking insights.


The UGC needs to widen its criteria which values publication of a book as much as a research paper in the mandated journal to widen the research in social sciences and humanities.

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