(In light of Delhi University’s proposal to introduce a four-year undergraduate programme under NEP, The Quint debates whether the move will benefit students. This is the counterview. You may read the view by Satish Deshpande here.)
The NEP 2020 is a transformational policy and not an incremental one, which means that the pathways for moving from the ground realities of the present education system towards the future envisaged by the policy are complex and varied.
The policy outlines a clear vision for higher education in India in the future and makes the necessary reforms to help achieve this vision, but leaves it up to educators, educationists, and the managements of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to imbibe the spirit of the policy and chart their own pathways towards realising the vision.
The vision includes enabling students to receive a holistic education by helping them identify and develop their interests and abilities, beginning already at the secondary school stage.
Towards a Liberal Framework
Introducing the option of a Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) is but a natural step forward in this direction. The FYUP has been very successful in many countries and its benefits have been described in detail in the DNEP 2019.
Within the framework of a liberal education, the FYUP can help to develop all capacities of students – intellectual, aesthetic, social, physical, emotional and moral.
Additionally, it can also give students a broad exposure that prepares them for the long term in a rapidly changing employment landscape.
Indian students need to be liberated from the restrictive subject combinations that are available to them at the present time so that they can explore more widely before settling into their chosen disciplines.
The additional year is necessary to help students find the appropriate balance between time spent in exploration of disciplines and time spent acquiring sufficient expertise in their chosen disciplines, and optionally also taking up a research project.
Apart from students who are uncertain about their disciplinary interests, other groups that will benefit immensely from the FYUP include those who are likely to take up further studies at the graduate level potentially leading to a career in research, and also aspiring teachers in higher education for whom a Masters’ degree is a minimum qualification.
Grounded in Research
Arguably, the most important reason to introduce the FYUP is the space that it will create for students to pursue undergraduate research, thereby helping to nurture a culture of research in colleges and universities, which is a pressing need in the country today given that knowledge economies rely critically on the continuous creation of new knowledge.
The NEP incentivises FYUP students to take up research by enabling direct admission to PhD programmes.
However, the policy is cognisant of the fact that there is very little research being done within the university system today and that both faculty members and students will require considerable support to be able to change this.
The new National Research Foundation will not just fund high-quality peer-reviewed research proposals but will provide mentorship to faculty members and students from experienced researchers.
A Flexible Approach to FYUP
The FYUP has not been made mandatory at all, either for institutions to offer it or for students to take it, if and when it is offered. There are several reasons for this, but costs and the ability of many HEIs to deliver are two of the most important.
The Bachelors’ degree is an aspirational goal in India but the additional cost of paying for a fourth year of education may be too high for many students.
Therefore, the policy empowers HEIs to offer both 3-year and 4-year Bachelors’ degrees and also flexible length Masters’ degree (1-year, 2-years, and the integrated 5-years) programmes.
Most of the undergraduate education takes place in the nearly 40,000 affiliated colleges in the country and many of these are unlikely to be able to offer the FYUP given that nearly 40% of colleges offer only a single programme and over 60% of colleges are in rural areas (data from AISHE 2018-19).
However, the present 3-year programmes require considerable upgradation, as is evident from the employability figures which are in the range of 35%-45% for most of them
Of Research & Internships, Not Coursework
The NEP 2020 has left it to HEIs and their faculty members to take an informed decision on whether they would like to introduce the FYUP at all and if yes to devise a suitable plan for doing so.
The approximately 750 autonomous colleges in the country and the non-affiliating universities that are highly accredited can most easily introduce the FYUP and provide a wider choice of subjects to students by bringing down the barriers between their different undergraduate programmes.
However, the purpose of the FYUP would not be fully served if the additional year were to be used only for more coursework, albeit in a wider range of subjects.
The value of the FYUP will only come to the fore when research, projects, portfolios, internships, apprenticeships and so on are all woven into course design and the evaluation of students.
This will require considerable additional work by faculty members. It is important therefore, that all faculty positions are filled on priority and that managements of HEIs involve faculty members at all stages of decision-making regarding the FYUP.
Credit Bank a ‘Game Changer’
The NEP goes much further towards enabling HEIs to serve students, society and the economy by integrating not just arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences into the FYUPs, but also professional and vocational education.
It also enables HEIs to share courses and credits to benefit their students.
The Academic Bank of Credits is a game changer that will allow sharing of credits not just between HEIs, both public and private, but also with private companies that are providing high-quality education, as is the case with UpGrad and IIT Madras or IIIT Bangalore.
The policy also enables HEIs to offer courses not just in the face-to-face mode but also in the online or even distance mode, with the appropriate accreditation.
The focus of the NEP is firmly on the quality of education and the freedoms that it provides to HEIs comes with only one caveat – mandatory and regular accreditation every few years, to build confidence among all stakeholders including teachers, students, parents and employers.
(Dr Leena Wadia is a Senior Fellow at the Observer research Foundation. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)