December 31, 2015 brought to an end a lot more than just a year for 27-year-old K Sudeep (name changed). Sudeep moved from Uttarakhand, where he was pursuing a PhD in electrical engineering, to his home in another state. He was expelled or "asked to discontinue" (as the institute put it) nearly six months after he joined one of India's premium institutions- IIT Roorkee.
The names of Sudeep and five others who were pursuing PhD programmes in different departments in IIT-R were struck off from the institute's roll on December 31 as they had scored less than 7 CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) in Pre-PhD courses.
In August last year, IIT-Roorkee had expelled over 70 B.Tech students for underperformance after their second-semester exams. The institute later took a lenient view and readmitted them with stringent pre-conditions.
While the institute had then defended its decision pointing out the institute’s “premier” tag and rules regarding underperformance being clearly being communicated to students, Rajveer Choudhary, treasurer of the Students' Affair Council of IIT Roorkee, had a different take on the issue. One of the points that he raised was that many students hail from vernacular backgrounds which make it “difficult for them to comprehend certain subjects” and that “they should have been given time to adjust to the academic environment in the institute.”
There was however not much that the six PhD research scholars could do since the institute ordinance states that "the minimum CGPA requirement for pre-PhD courses will be seven taking all courses recommended by SRC including seminar."
Sudeep and another research scholar that The News Minute spoke to claim that the treatment meted out to them is not only unreasonable but also unjust.
In their defence, they pointed out the following facts and allegations:
- While their grades were below the required minimum, they had not failed in any paper.
- They had been given only 5 months in the institute when according to the rules they had to clear their course work over a period of 15 months.
- The existing ordinance at the time of their admission was later modified, and the changed version was not communicated to them properly.
- The ordinance does not mention the provision of "one attempt" to get 7 CGPA failing which research scholars have to discontinue from the course.
- That research scholars could not take extra papers was also not mentioned in the ordinance.
"We only came to know about the modified version of the ordinance in August,” says Sudeep.
Sudeep was pursuing his PhD from IIT-R, as he did his MTech from another college, on an MHRD scholarship.
While credits from the seminar, which was due for the second semester, is also part of the CGPA and is pending, Sudeep could not take his seminar as he was asked to leave at the end of the first semester. The seminar could not have increased his GDPA to 7, he was told. "The one attempt rule is not mentioned in the ordinance. It is an unwritten, undocumented rule," he claims.
Sudeep agrees that IIT's are some of the country's leading academic institutions and getting through can hardly be a cakewalk.
"There is no time for improvement. They need to reconsider their rules. We were after all selected after a stringent admission process. And some of our seniors who did not perform well initially, later went on to win awards and recognition," he says.
He goes on to mention that after clearing GATE, 400 students were shortlisted for admission in the Electrical Engineering department of IIT-R. This was followed by a written test and an interview where 12 students were finally selected for the PhD course.
"There could be several reasons why a person could not perform well in a semester. They could fall sick or have personal issues. Can't they be given another chance?" a desperate Sudeep asks.
Rajesh Mishra (name changed) is a 27-year-old with partial vision in both eyes and had joined the Saharanpur campus of the institute in the Paper Technology department in July 2015 under the physically challenged category, and he too has been expelled. After completing B.Tech from MP and M.Tech from IIT-Roorkee, Mishra was working as an engineer in a paper mill in another state and he left his job to get a doctorate.
"The rules are unfair," Mishra says reiterating Sudeep’s stance of the ordinance being modified.
What IIT-Roorkee had to say
Pramod Agarwal, the Dean of Academics at IIT-R, said that the students had not been expelled, but were "not allowed to continue" due to not getting the passing grades.
He denied the students' claim that the ordinance was modified after they had taken admission and their course had already started by then and that the rules had not been conveyed to them properly.
"The rules were made before February 14," said Agarwal.
When asked if the institute had made known to the students the modified rules before admission, he said, "We took all precautions to give the rules before admission. Whether students were aware of them, we can't say."
Agarwal, however, refused to answer any more questions on the issue and said that the Deputy Registrar (DR) was the right person to comment on the issue. When TNM contacted the DR, he said he was "unaware of the incident", that the Dean- Academics was "the right person to speak to about rules of the institute" and that the DR could only help if we needed information under RTI. Subsequent calls made to Agarwal's office were not met with a response.
Does the one-attempt rule apply in IITs all across India?
The rules vary across institutes.
The Deputy Registrar at IIT-Hyderabad said that she "cannot give specifics about IIT-H's rules" and that those could be found on the institute's website. However, rules relating to Pre-PhD course credit requirements could not be found on the website.
Sunil Kumar, professor in the Department of Physics, IIT-Madras and Director-in-charge of IIT-Palakkad, explained the rules in IIT-Madras's PhD courses.
"Research scholars need to get an average of 7.5 (CGPA) in the courses they take, they have to complete this requirement before they can submit their thesis.
For every student, there is a doctoral committee that monitors his/her performance. The committee can recommend additional courses and change of courses depending on how the student’s research program and course work is progressing.
At the end of the second semester, they have to undergo a comprehensive exam. If they do not get the passing grades in it, they get one more attempt.
They need to clear their comprehensive examination by the end of third semester. They have to clear other courses only before they submit their thesis.”
Can the institute change rules in the middle of the term? “Normally this is not done. The institute senate can change the academic rules, but it is always applicable only with the next batch of students,” he added.
Mishra has also returned home where his family including his mother, father and siblings live.
"Tension hai. Kuch samajh nai aa raha (I am tense. Cannot understand anything.)," he says, adding that he’d like to finish his PhD. "I can't put too much pressure on my eyes. There's also pressure to speak and write in English. I am from a village. The institute has no special classes for those who have difficulty in coping," he adds.
Meanwhile, Sudeep is trying to get a job in the same organisation where he worked before he moved to IIT-Roorkee. While he knows that he has lost an academic year, he hopes to finish his PhD in the near future.
Meanwhile, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has written a letter to the MHRD seeking their intervention, in which he writes, “Mr (name of one student) and other students have been denied the opportunity to take additional papers to improve their grade and their term has been terminated without due cause. The PhD ordinances of the institute do not list any rules to this effect and such a practice is not adopted in other IITs as well."
Mentioning the increasing number of dropout rates in IIT-R, the former union minister further wrote, "This is a worrying issue and requires the institute to take all measures to retain students instead of terminating their term through arbitrary practices."