Controversy
In a circular, the Central University of Kerala asked departments to discourage PhD research in ‘irrelevant areas’.

Central University of Kerala (CUK) in Kasaragod district has come out with a new directive for the students enrolling in the PhD programmes - topics for the thesis should be in accordance with the “national priorities” and allotting “privilege topics” should be dispensed with.  

The circular issued on Wednesday not only said that researches in ‘irrelevant areas’ should be discouraged, but that the PhD students in the university will only have the option to select topics from a ‘shelf of project’ or the list of topics prepared by each department.

Directions have also been given to the heads of the departments in the university to conduct meeting with faculties and create this shelf of projects. The circular has, however, not specified the ‘irrelevant topics’ or topics of national priorities.

According to a University official of CUK, this move will prevent students from doing researches that are repetitive in nature. “Students often come up with a lot of topics that don’t have any value or relevance today or to societies or for further studies. Students from various humanities departments, especially, propose outdated topics that don’t benefit anybody,” the official told TNM.

The departments are yet to put together a list of research topics, he added.

The University issued the circular following a Vice Chancellors meeting in New Delhi in December. The meeting was held to review the implementation status of all parameters indicated by Central Universities in the Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding between CUK, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and University Grants Commission (UGC).

‘Move to silence dissenting voice’: Students

Students at the Central University of Kerala, however, have expressed their apprehensions over the circular, stating that it is part of a larger agenda to further saffronise the campus.

A PhD scholar at the university, who did not wish to be named, told TNM that the students also doubt that the rule is to silence the dissenting voices on the campus.

“When a student takes up research topics on the LGBTQ+ or Dalit communities, there will naturally be discussions and discourse about these issues on the campus; and the authorities fear this. They fear the students will be aware of a lot of things and will react when they see some discriminations on campus. The involvement of the students in such issues beyond the academics is what they are trying to avoid through this new rule,” said the student.

The students also expressed that by keeping a provision of ‘irrelevant topic’ in the rule book, the university will completely cut down discourse around marginalised communities.

“Even now, some departments have a certain level of dislike for students who are doing researches on Ambedkarism and Dalit issues. Students from Social Sciences stream constantly question the university and their wrong-doings. As far as we can comprehend, through this circular, the authorities do not want to take any more students who voice against them,” said Ajith, another PhD scholar of CUK.

Earlier, students had criticised the university authorities for being autocratic in its functioning. A student was expelled from the university a few months ago, for taking part in a protest against the unilateral moves of the authorities and for putting a Facebook post criticising the administration.

In another occasion, a professor of the university was suspended from the post of Head of Department of English and Comparative Literature. The professor had put a Facebook post in support of a student who was arrested for breaking the glass pane of a fire alarm in the hostel.