The recent and abrupt announcement of the Chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC) Prof M Jagadesh Kumar that universities will be allowed for students to undertake twin degree programme simultaneously, is smacked with ineptitude and exhibits total lack of understanding of the higher education systems in India.
UGC is the only grant-giving commission in India vested with the responsibilities to coordinate and regulate the standards of higher education institutions and provide funds to them.
UGC is responsible for coordinating, determining and maintaining standards of higher education. The University Grants Commission provides recognition to universities in India and disburses funds to such, recognised universities and colleges. Therefore UGC is supposed to promote, coordinate and formulate minimum standards in higher education in India. UGC is also expected to prevent commercialisation of higher education
All these years right from the time of inception of the UGC in 1945, to oversee the work of the three Central Universities of Aligarh, Banaras and Delhi, and later in 1947, UGC extended its responsibility to cover all Indian universities. UGC has played its role as a standard setting body. National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) was established by the UGC in September 1994 at Bangalore for evaluating the performance of the Universities and Colleges in the Country to help the UGC in its bench marking of Higher education Institutions.
The various Universities in India, function as autonomous bodies in granting degrees and setting up their own standards. Most of these Universities do not allow students to pursue any other course of studies for fear of dilution of standards and often these degrees remain mere name sake degrees without the necessary rigours of academic disciple.
Enabling the students to stretch beyond their capabilities and get rewarded for such additional efforts is of course a good trend in academics, but the same should not be at the cost of diluting the quality of their degrees or learning and any such move though achievable and is desirable, provided that academic leaders are able to plan adequately and also provide necessary facilities in terms of logistics of their studies, infrastructure and the required manpower. When most of the Government run universities (Both State as well as Central) are presently functioning with less than 50% of the required faculty and even infrastructural facilities are inadequate, declarations about twin degree formats by the head of UGC is not just an euphemism but rather a political statement or is it to appease the political masters is a million-dollar question.
Briefly looking at the present day academic arrangements where a student undergoing a full time instructions need to attend to his lectures or classes for 90 working days in a semester and it comes to 180 days during an academic year. (That is two semesters). There are in a year 185 days left, which include Sundays and regular public holidays. Therefore, a second-degree programme has to be optional.
A twin or concurrent degree programme will not only rupture the existing rhythm of academic activities, it would cause unnecessary stress on the system and people who man the academic systems be it the Head of the institution, the faculty or the support and the administrative staff.
These pronouncements by officials occupying the highest echelons of academic institutions, without ensuring the necessary manpower and infrastructural facilities is just what is happening with the implementation of the National Educational policy 2020. Many high level conferences and seminars are being held at the highest academic levels in the country and there are statements made by those who are considered as academic stalwarts but nobody is concerned about the basic and fundamental preconditions that are mentioned in the official NEP 2020.
The NEP2020 clearly mentions (para 267.2 at page 61) that “The Centre and the States will work together to increase the public investment in Education sector to reach 6% of GDP at the earliest. This is considered extremely critical for achieving the high-quality and equitable public education system that is truly needed for India's future economic, social, cultural, intellectual, and technological progress and growth”
The first and foremost pre-condition for any quality upgradation in education is provision for adequate funds.
Secondly if one goes through the various recommendations of the Policy statement of NEP2020 almost every proposal is accompanied by organising training for faculty, recruitment of adequate faculty, setting up of training centres and producing new teaching materials.
This same concerns applies to the proposal of double or concurrent degree programmes. It will require additional faculty, additional man power and additional infrastructural, facilities to manage such programmes.
Academicians should know that unlike politicians they need to have clear vision and clear thinking as to how it could be achieved before entering into any public announcements or discourse on changes in education.
If the political leaders and policy makers are aspiring that India should emulate the standards of higher education like the Western nations, then they should be ready and willing to provide infrastructure, facilities and faculties. It’s high time, true, capable and concerned academicians step out to guide education in the country, rather, let it be managed by politically motivated academicians.
(The writer is a professor of Law and an Educational consultant)