Some years ago, during my stewardship of the University of Delhi, we launched several initiatives at the undergraduate level. One of them was a transdisciplinary degree in humanities, which relied heavily on digital technology. Initially, we had christened it as a Baccalaureate. We were, however, compelled by the UGC to reverse the decision. Their concern was that the degree must relate to the programme. I tried to tell them that the UGC’s PhD and MPhil degrees were about philosophy and not related to the content or subject of a PhD or MPhil, but to no avail. After much deliberation, we chose to call it ‘B.Tech Humanities-Design Your Degree’.
In giving it a simple baccalaureate tag, we were trying to convey that it does not matter how we name a degree programme; the important thing was to offer an innovative learning programme that had strength and credibility. More importantly, it was a bold new attempt to forge a meeting ground between humanities and technology, so that our students would be truly empowered. We hoped the B.Tech label might convey our ideas adequately. Unfortunately, the UGC was again a bit mystified by the label ‘B.Tech’.
At a meeting in the erstwhile HRD ministry—now known as the education ministry I was asked to explain its use. I reasoned that we needed four years of study and this programme required the use of digital technology. I mentioned that I was teaching a one-semester course in this programme that drew upon the various connections of data to literature and life. I illustrated how students were working on projects to learn about the frequency of occurrence of English letters in literature and how it connected to aspects of life and IT in practical ways. My students were working on digital projects related to the works of Arthur Connan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe and Edward Grierson. This required heavy use of software and coding with which the students coped well because they were working in groups and had also incorporated students of another IT and Mathematics degree course.
I explained further that in this new programme, students could draw half the credit over four years from almost any course of any discipline that was being offered at the undergraduate or postgraduate level at the University of Delhi. The other credit worth two years of learning was to be obtained through collaborative project-based learning in groups of eight students each. There was a mentor assigned to each group to help them move towards a sharper focus over the four years. This passed muster at the highest levels, but within a year the UGC changed its stance and compelled mutilation of the programme to a three-year BA in Social Science. Much effort was also made to destroy the content. My fervent appeals to consider the fact that the same UGC was happy to recognise a BA in engineering from Cambridge University as well as Harvard University fell on deaf ears.
Former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University; Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston, US