In this recent academia.SE question, the questioner mentions that as an undergraduate they did research with an assistant professor. That faculty member had a master's degree (only) at the time and has since moved on to be a PhD student at another institution.

To my American eyes, it seems strange to have the positions of "graduate student" and "faculty member" intertwined like this. In a comment, the questioner wrote

Just to shed some more light on this, I come from India and here it is part of official policy to allow people with graduate degrees to rise to posts as high as assistant professor. I am not sure why this difference in academic practice has not come to the notice of admissions committees in the US in spite of the fact that thousands of Indian students have gone there over the years.

Well, I am the chair of a graduate admissions committee, and indeed this difference in academic practice had not come to my notice until now. I would like to understand it better -- in particular:

1) What does this position entail?
2) Which Indian institutions and departments are (still) hiring assistant professors with masters degrees?
3) Can a master's degree assistant professor retain that position indefinitely? Do they?
4) What percentage of higher-rank Indian professors did an assistant professorship between a master's and a PhD degree?

[Here follows more information about why I am asking the question and context about how what I know so far makes it sound different from the US. It is not necessary to read this part or address it in an answer.]

In the United States there are so many PhDs looking for academic jobs that the days when someone without a PhD can teach advanced undergraduates at a research university or nationally ranked liberal arts college are almost completely past (more precisely: there are still some such people, but they were hired a long time ago). However there are other institutions of higher learning in which faculty can teach with master's degrees, and I have known some cases. (I suspect that the window for this is shrinking as well, as we continue to produce many more PhDs desiring academic positions than the market can bear.)

But I don't know of any American institution of higher learning in which a faculty member with a master's degree can be an assistant professor but have no higher rank. Moreover, the type of institution which has tenure track faculty with master's degrees is quite different from the type of institution in which (i) faculty do research with their undergraduates and (ii) send students to graduate school. (I tried to choose language to minimize the elitism / academic caste-ism in that last assertion, but that minimum is unfortunately positive, since American academia is elitist...)

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    More than half your question is about the USA. Are you interested in India, or with a comparison to the American system? Translation of academic ranks is usually doomed to fail. (And I don't see why American titles should be the gold standard, but that's a different question.)
    – user9646
    Aug 13, 2018 at 15:50
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    If you look at the US in, say, the late 50s or early 60s - it was quite common for people to be hired as Assistant Professors and expected to finish their PhD by the time they were up for tenure. Aug 13, 2018 at 16:09
  • @Najib: I am the chair of the admissions committee at a department at a US university, which is why I am trying to understand Indian admissions from a US perspective. The OP from the linked to question said he was applying to US, Canada and Europe, so I am tackling part of that interface. Aug 13, 2018 at 16:22
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    "Translation of academic ranks is usually doomed to fail." I'm not attempting a translation but rather an understanding. Also I think your sentiment is a bit defeatist: I believe I know how to translate "Lecturer [UK]", "maître de conférences [France]" and a few other things into American terms. They do not correspond exactly to any American academic rank, but one can still convey the meaning. [And I wrote that comment before I noticed that you yourself offer a translation of the latter term on your bio!] Aug 13, 2018 at 16:25
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    @PeteL.Clark I guess what I'm trying to say is "what does the position 'assistant professor' entail" is different from "what would 'assistant professor' correspond to in the US", so I think it's best to say precisely which you would be more interested in... I think it should be possible to describe the job without making a (necessarily flawed) correspondence with another system.
    – user9646
    Aug 13, 2018 at 16:35

2 Answers 2


The University Grants Commission of India (UGC India) is a statutory government body tasked with the development, implementation and monitoring of quality standards in higher education.

Just a few weeks ago, UGC India released the Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and other Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education Regulations 2018. The Regulations apply to "... every University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, Provincial Act or a State Act, every Institution including a Constituent or an affiliated College recognized by the Commission, in consultation with the University concerned under Clause (i) of Section 2 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 and every Institution deemed to be a University under Section 3 of the said Act."

The minimum qualifications required for the post of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, Senior Professor, and other posts in a University are defined by the Regulations.

The Regulations are quite involved and appear to have internally conflicting provisions at times (at least to my eyes). I've drawn out the relevant sections here, but you can access the full document online.

3.7 The Ph.D. Degree shall be a mandatory qualification for appointment and promotion to the post of Professor. 3.8 The Ph.D. Degree shall be a mandatory qualification for appointment and promotion to the post of Associate Professor. 3.9 The Ph.D. Degree shall be a mandatory qualification for promotion to the post of Assistant Professor (Selection Grade/Academic Level 12) in Universities. 3.10 The Ph.D. Degree shall be a mandatory qualification for direct recruitment to the post of Assistant Professor in Universities with effect from 01.07.2021.

For direct recruitment in the Science Discipline, Section 4.0 lays out that Assistant Professors must have either of the following:

  1. A Master's degree with 55% marks (or an equivalent grade in a point-scale wherever the grading system is followed) in a concerned/relevant/allied subject from an Indian University, or an equivalent degree from an accredited foreign university AND the candidate must have cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) conducted by the UGC or the CSIR, or a similar test accredited by the UGC.

    Candidates may be exempt from the NET if they registered for a Ph.D. programme prior to July 11, 2009 subject to the fulfillment of the following conditions:

    • The Ph.D. degree of the candidate has been awarded in a regular mode;
    • The Ph.D. thesis has been evaluated by at least two external examiners;
    • An open Ph.D. viva voce of the candidate has been conducted;
    • The Candidate has published two research papers from his/her Ph.D. work, out of which at least one is in a refereed journal;
    • The candidate has presented at least two papers based on his/her Ph.D work in conferences/seminars sponsored/funded/supported by the UGC / ICSSR/ CSIR or any similar agency


  1. A Ph.D degree has been obtained from a foreign university/institution with a ranking among top 500 in the World University Ranking (at any time) by any one of the following: (i) Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) (ii) the Times Higher Education (THE) or (iii) the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Shanghai)

Overall, it makes for a rather interesting read if you're into that sort of thing.



Indian universities are not very homogeneous, but it may be helpful to divide them into two categories:

(1) National institutes/universities:The top-tier universities with highly competitive admissions and recruitment processes. A commonly stated figure is that 1% of applicants make it to these institutes, though I think it may now be closer to 10%, with more institutes opening in recent years. In this category, an Assistant Professor must hold a PhD and have 3 years post-doctoral experience.

(2) Other universities: One requires a Master degree and must qualify a national-level entrance exam to become Assistant Professor. Yes, one may continue in this post without a doctorate, though in practice this is rare. Full professors (and perhaps associate professors too- not sure on this) require PhD.

The second category might appear strange from a US perspective. It may help to recognize that these universities tend to place pedagogy over research. This is an outcome of having a large population and limited employment prospects without a college degree.


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