The recent decision of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to allow students to concurrently pursue two degree programmes in face-to-face full-time mode has raised eyebrows for many. I was also sceptical when media sources reported it and by the time I wrote this article, the UGC’s chief (chef) has prepared a thoughtful menu for both the a la carte and buffet ‘academic epicureans.’ Having designed a menu with such a gastronomical variety, the implementation policy should ensure that there are enough academic institutions to cook and serve the new menu to craving learners. Do we have enough or should we create many institutions is the key question searching for answers.
Some of the common top-of-the-mind challenges to implementing this new policy are the availability of resources—time, person and space. If these are adequately addressed using the New Education Policy (NEP 2020) and deserving Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) are given the policy oxygen to breathe creativity, not only can HEIs cook and serve the menu but also ensure that the learning outcomes are optimally nourished and learners’ appetite satiated in full measure. As a real-time epicurean I once was, I am mindful of the six tastes for ultimate nutrition and likewise the UGC’s double delight a la carte-cum-buffet can revolutionise the learner’s appetite for knowledge with its own
✥ Academic Freedom to HEIs: The NEP 2020 has identified only four types of HEIs—Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERU), research-intensive universities, teaching-intensive universities and degree-granting colleges. The proposed modular identity for HEIs empowers all to grant degrees and need not await the proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). It needs to be translated into actionable agenda by way of providing the required academic freedom to deserving HEIs to start new campuses, academic programmes, flexible curricula, etc. This can be initiated by UGC within its existing framework.
✥ Collaborative competition: With the possible emergence of four types of HEIs, there is a need to collaborate and compete like the IT Services industry did during its formative stages in the first decade of this century. HEIs must collectivise their efforts in contributing their best in creating resources and disaggregate amongst themselves in the consumption of resources. It is in this collaborative competition in contribution and consumption lies the success of creative policies failing which best practices get stuck with the ‘usually favourites’ and other HEIs do not progress substantially.
✥ Ease of teaching-learning: The double demand for next-generational learners and workplace skills triggered by the fourth industrial revolution (IR) has many tipping points for pedagogy. The architect of the term 4th IR, the World Economic Forum (WEF), has several of these tipping point examples—implantable cell phones by 2025, 80 percent of people with digital presence by 2023, 10 percent of reading glasses connected to the internet by 2023, 90 percent of people connected to smartphones and the internet by 2023, one trillion sensors connected to the internet, 50 percent of internet traffic directed to homes and appliances by 2025, etc. With a high premium on self-directed learning and low shelf life on status quo teaching and learning skills, stand-alone degree programmes cannot remain in silos but need to coherently synergise with each other.
✥ Contemporary norms and standards: In the age of lean manufacturing, metaverse-driven digital education etc., the norms and standards in terms of the physical infrastructure like land and building prescribed for all forms of higher education under the ambit of statutory bodies such as UGC, AICTE, NCTE, etc. have to be revisited and made contemporaneous and not antiquated.
✥ Ease of administration: The day-to-day functioning of HEIs needs to be smoothened and streamlined minimising the need to engage in multiple and annual ritualistic exercises that call for submitting identical data. The One Nation, One Data policy has to further be strengthened and streamlined to harness the true potential of HEIs in delivering the double degree learning outcomes.
✥ Creative functionalisation: The NEP 2020 has enough ingredients for the chef’s creativity in the policy menu and the cook’s manoeuvrability in the preparation. It is in this mutually creative navigation by all stakeholders lies the success of such innovative initiatives.
With enough food for thought, let the cooking and serving begin with cooks (HEIs) and leaners awaiting a feast.
Vice-Chancellor, SASTRA Deemed University