Sources in the HRD ministry said that the words “national priorities” were inserted by a junior bureaucrat into the official minutes of the meeting (Representational image) | Twitter
Text Size:

New Delhi: A bureaucratic oversight may have resulted in the confusion surrounding an order issued by Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) regarding topics that students looking to earn PhD degrees should focus on.

Sources in the HRD ministry told ThePrint that the words “national priorities” were inserted by a junior bureaucrat into the official minutes of the meeting, held on the issue in December, and faulted him for the confusion.

The issue hit headlines last week after a Kerala professor, Meena T. Pillai, quit the Board of Studies at the Central University of Kerala in protest against a circular that the university had issued on 13 March urging departments to only admit students for PhDs if their choice of subjects related to “national priorities”.

Sources in the ministry, however, said neither a discussion on PhD topics on “national priorities”, the way it was made out to be, took place nor was such a circular sent by the government. An official note released by the ministry also confirms this.

“There was a meeting of vice-chancellors in December last year where various issues related to academics were discussed. In that meeting, someone pointed out that many irrelevant PhDs are being done these days, which actually have no contribution to society and nation building,” a senior ministry official aware of the developments told ThePrint.

“Everyone agreed to this and it was decided that better PhDs should be done, that are of some relevance to the nation.”

The official blamed this for the “confusion”.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.


“This meeting was minuted and some junior officer of the under-secretary level inserted the word national priorities in the minutes,” the official said. “It could have just been PhDs of importance or some other word. None of us paid attention to that particular term and it went ahead as it is.

“The minutes were circulated to all central universities but no one else seems to have paid attention to the term except Kerala University, which went ahead and issued a circular asking people to chose topics of national priorities and the entire matter took a controversial turn,” the official added.

Also read: PhDs in ‘national priorities’: How does Javadekar-led HRD stand affect Indian scholarship?

No public mention of such PhD topics

Sources told ThePrint that it was after the minutes of the meeting was circulated to all universities, that Kerala University took out its circular based on the meeting.

While the minutes of the meeting, accessed by ThePrint, mention the words “national priority”, the government never issued a circular nor an official order directing universities to comply with it. HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar too hasn’t mentioned in any public appearance or through a press note that PhD topics should be of national priorities.

The move attracted massive criticism from academics as well as opposition parties. Congress President Rahul Gandhi had even called Javadekar, a “self-attested wise of the intelligent Prime Minister, who will tell scholars what to do”.

Also read: India likely to benefit as UK lifts limit on PhD level work visas

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

3 Comments Share Your Views


  1. There is certainly a need to have respect for the highest academic degree (PhD). It should not be awarded to all and sundry.
    Most of our Universities have abandoned academic rigour & quality benchmarks and only populist measures of increasing enrolment and number of students passing out matters . It is a shame for academia that PhD’s are reported to be applicants for class IV jobs.
    Further,when we have doubts about quality of our regular University/ college faculty with Masters and PhD degrees, then it is a matter of serious concern. It goes to prove that by merely forcing a PhD degree requirement for faculty positions, standards of research and teaching can not be made better. PhD should only be a desirable & not be an essential qualification. Considering the widely varying PhD standards prevailing in the country,
    It is recommended that a central apex body be made a nodal agency for approval of PhD topic ,guide , pre PhD Seminar and Thesis examiners. Maximum manipulations happen at these stages. Clearing a national level comprehensive written and oral exam
    Should be prerequisite for thesis submission.

  2. Somebody did suggest that this was a great idea and I fully agree.

    Who can deny that PhDs on national priorities like Demonetization, GST, Joblessness, Aadhaar, use of Money Bills and Ordinances to subvert the Parliament are the crying need of the hour.

  3. Julian Huxley was asked, “what good is butterfly”, as she was doing research on butterfly. She answered ” what good are you?”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here