As things stand
“Creating a better future requires creativity in the present,” Matthew Goldfinger said. In light of the University Grants Commission’s recent crackdown on universities offering a four-year bachelor programme, one is forced to believe that, perhaps, the organisation entrusted with maintaining high standards of education in the country is not open to innovative thinking.
UGC has invoked the guidelines set by the National Education Policy (NEP) of 1986 which envisages a common structure of education — 10+2+3, to state that running four-year bachelor courses violates the mandate. This has led to the Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) being scrapped by Delhi University, having been introduced just last year. Several other universities have also been asked to follow suit.
What is FYUP
The FYUP has been inspired by a Western system of education and enables a combination of classroom learning, fieldwork and internships, and also involves a certain exposure to the humanities. Under the FYUP, students had to take up 11 mandatory foundation courses and two discipline courses, one being what they major in. They can get an Associate Baccalaureate (after two years), Baccalaureate (three years), or a Baccalaureate with Honours (four years) and this was done to introduce a healthy interdisciplinary approach to education.
It has been stated in DU’s defence that a student can exit after the third year with a Bachelor’s, and if the student completes all four years s/he will be awarded a Bachelor of honours degree. But the varsity was directed by the UGC to shut down the programme and to make appropriate arrangements for the students admitted under the four-year programme so that they can easily migrate to three-year and not lose a year, essentially putting a stop to what might have been a new way forward.
Shortly after this fiasco, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, was also directed to do away with their four-year BS programme, to which it has been admitting close to 110 students every year. But after a brief struggle, UGC has now allowed IISc to continue its four-year undergraduate programme after IISc proposed to restructure the format as a three-year course for BSc degree and four-year BSc research degree.
Also on the radar
Shiv Nadar University, Noida, New Delhi, established by the honcho of HCL, also offers four-year interdisciplinary BA and BSc programmes, while Symbiosis University offers Bachelor of Arts (Liberal Arts Degree) and Bachelor of Science (Liberal Arts Degree) programme covered over eight semesters. Both private universities will appeal, we are told. BR Ambedkar University,
New Delhi, also offers a four-year programme. UGC is looking into the cases of OP Jindal University, Sonepat, Ashoka University, Sonepat, and Azim Premji University, Bangalore.
Shiv Nadar University is in the middle of offering a clarification to UGC and refrained from commenting on the issue.
The issues that need to be addressed are: Do moves like this curb innovation? Why wasn’t sufficient time granted to test the efficacy of the FYUP in Delhi University? Why must programmes be restructured instead of tweaking the NEP to accommodate newer methods?
What academia thinks
Prof P Thyagarajan, former Vice-Chancellor of Madras University, speaks candidly on the issue. “There is no doubt that there must be scope for innovation and flexibility in our higher education system. We need to develop programmes based on the need for employability and skill development. The FYUP model has emulated a Western structure and places a lot of emphasis on communication, humanities, skill development and internships, and appears as a good package. The reform process has thereby been curbed by the UGC.”
He is of the opinion, much like other sources, that an undergraduate programme should be a minimum of three years and any addition beyond that will only be a value-add as long as it’s well-defined. He says, “I am not comfortable with the way things have shaped up. Several alternate models have been suggested like completing a regular Bachelor’s and pursuing vocational and skill development courses thereafter. But one must take a broader perspective and suggest a unitised and modular curriculum with adequate faculty guidance. Do not curb reform; instead innovate within the framework of the NEP. Sudden changes like this will definitely affect the future of students. What is best for the students should be the priority.”
Prof Thyagarajan who has served on many UGC committees believes that a better framework is definitely needed to adapt to changing scenarios. Value education (which must be differentiated from spiritual education) must be mandatory in all courses. When asked if UGC shies away from experimentation, he vehemently denies it stating, “UGC has brought in many well thought-out moves and experiments till date, like the quality maintenance initiative among PhDs, which has been an important reform. But issues like the current one come from many levels, which may be the problem. It is essential to revisit the policy, keeping in mind the viewpoint of stakeholders — academia, students and public.”
A different take
Prof Gopalji Malviya, Dean, Central University of Jammu, who has also served on UGC committees and at the University of Madras as HoD of the Defence and Strategic Studies department, raises several important issues. “To begin with, I believe the four-year programme was a mistake, considering we have acute shortage of teachers. But a UGC committee had given the green signal to starting this course and the same organisation revokes this decision a year later. How is it that two committees under the same organisation makes and breaks one initiative? And how does the UGC expect the universities to now finish a course in three years, which was meant to be completed in four?”
He points out that this is an indication that Indian higher education is at crossroads. “The idea would have worked had it been uniformly applied across all Central Universities. This lack of uniformity points to an elitist approach.” He concurs with Prof Thyagarajan when he says, “While making policy changes such as this, one has to conduct detailed discussions to get inputs from students, faculty and the industry.”
He believes that a renowned institution like IISc should be allowed to enjoy autonomy for the kind of infrastructure, talent pool and teachers they have. “But if IISc has been granted permission, does it indicate a discriminatory approach? It is time that the UGC and HRD Ministry announce a clear-cut and transparent policy direction. This sort of inconsistency in policies only harms the student community,” he says.
A second-year student of Mathematics (Hons) at St Stephen’s College, New Delhi, has had a rollercoaster ride since he signed up for his favourite subject at the prominent school. “We were forced to take up subjects like Science and Life, Applied Language Course and Modern Indian Literature, subjects I had no interest in.” Not being given a choice has been the central theme of this entire debacle. “From the time they introduced the FYUP to scrapping it, the teachers and students were never consulted. Now we’re scrambling to finish more papers in less time. But a majority of the students believe that doing away with the FYUP is a good idea,” he said.
A case of overstepping?
In recent times, the 16 IITs of our country have received directives from UGC asking them to restructure their courses to align with the UGC mandate, which has led to a standoff. As expected, the IITs did not take to it well. Their defence being that the IITs fall under an Act of the Parliament — Institutes of Technology Act of 1961 — and are not governed by the UGC. The UGC defends itself by saying the communiqué has been misconstrued by the IITs as an encroachment, and that the specification of degrees has been entrusted with the UGC. If the mandate is to be followed, the IITs will have to tweak their four-year bachelor’s as well. The issue now stands to be discussed at a meeting of the IIT Council (UGC Chairman is also a member) with the HRD Minister.
The flaws in our higher education system have never been more obvious than now, with the regulator taking on the role of senior citizen, refusing to move with the times and holding the others back in the name of regulation.