How DU’s Undergraduate Curriculum Framework Will Help India’s Higher Education Keep up With International Standards

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The highlight of DU’s Undergraduate Curriculum Framework is student centricity. Till now, in the higher education framework, while structuring the curriculum framework, not much attention was given to the special situation or needs of the students

This statement stands true for the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, prepared under the guidance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to bring about a change in the education system of the country, unveiled one and a half years ago. It was acclaimed all across, but at the same time, it was also evinced that its implementation would be a huge challenge.

Fortunately, to turn this great vision document into a reality, in the university’s system, the University of Delhi (DU) has taken a concrete step, when under the leadership and supervision of professor Yogesh Singh, a transformative and far-reaching curriculum framework was devised for the undergraduate stage of higher education; a framework which can be a model for the entire country. This Undergraduate Curriculum Framework (UGCF), to be implemented from the academic year 2020-23, is a student-centric framework and has been designed keeping in mind the employability, research prospects, national interest as well as international standards. But even then, a few people are not convinced.

The highlight of DU’s Undergraduate Curriculum Framework (UGCF) is student centricity. Till now, in the higher education framework, while structuring the curriculum framework, not much attention was given to the special situation or needs of the students and a straitjacket approach had been the rule. In a country like India, having a diverse social, economic, geographical, and educational background, the students have their own unique situations, needs as well as aptitudes. But barring exceptions, so far, only a limited choice of subjects/ courses in a stream is available to students in all the universities including DU. Now, in the new UGCF of DU, students will get a wide opportunity to study subjects/ courses outside their stream. For example, students of science stream can earn a ‘Major’ in Mathematics or Chemistry along with a ‘Minor’ in Psychology or Economics as their Honours degree.

This system has been in place for years in all the top international universities. It must be understood that this structure is going to be very beneficial for the emerging multitasking types of jobs as well as in multi-disciplinary research. For some skeptics, this will lead to an erosion of expertise in the stream. Here, it must be emphasized that in the UGCF, the option to take ‘Minor’ from the same stream will also be available. For instance, a ‘Major’ in Physics can be done along with a ‘Minor’ in Mathematics. That is, students will get a variety of options to choose the subjects from, according to their aptitude, interests, and needs; a choice which is very limited currently.

Another outstanding feature of DU’s UGCF is that for the first time, in the history of independent India, an effort has been made to get rid of the Macaulay model of education in the true sense. It is very obvious that the present framework of undergraduate education is mainly limited to books or classrooms. Students are largely cut off from the real world. The bookish knowledge they acquire is of no or very little use in practical life or for employment. One often comes across the media reports that lakhs of youth having an undergraduate degree or a postgraduate qualification including Ph.D. apply for the post of peon. Not only are these people not well equipped to be absorbed in the emerging new kinds of jobs, but they are also not trained for any self-employment, which is a huge waste of time, money, and energy of the educated youth, and indirectly, resources of the country as well.

Keeping these issues in consideration and in the spirit of NEP-2020, the new UGCF ensures that DU students, even in the traditional Bachelor programs, will now get a ‘hands-on experience having the opportunity to do an ‘internship’ or ‘apprenticeship’ or ‘project’, etc, for four semesters. An important point to note here is that the marks obtained above will be included in the mark sheets. This new arrangement, influenced by ancient Indian ethos as well as the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi in modern times, will promote both employment as well as self-employment. All top international universities also provide similar kinds of ‘hands-on’ training for their students. Today, a variety of employable skill enhancement courses will be available under UGCF. Currently, various popular professional courses related to computer programming, data handling, web designing, multimedia, etc, are available only as an ‘add-on course’.

One of the salient objectives of NEP-2020 is the all-around development of students with Indian values. In line with this spirit, perhaps for the first time in Indian education, ‘Value Addition Courses’ like Indian Culture, Ethics, Sports Education, etc, with real-life experience will be mandatory under UGCF. Importantly, their marks will also be added to the mark sheets so that students take them seriously.

NEP-2020 also envisions establishing India as a future superpower in the field of research and innovation. UGCF is fully conscious of this and students will be exposed to research training from the very first stage of higher education i.e. bachelor level. In the fourth year, they will get an opportunity to write a dissertation, again a practice prevalent in the best universities of the world. The new framework is so flexible and student-friendly that it provides students with the freedom of choice here too. For instance, after one or two years of studies, if a student wishes to pursue a master’s degree or Ph.D. in a ‘Minor’ subject, he/she will have the opportunity to write the dissertation in a ‘Minor’ subject as well.

The complete undergraduate program, proposed in UGCF, as envisioned by the NEP-2020, will be of four years having provisions for multi-entry and multi-exit points; acquiring certificates and diplomas for each stage if a student leaves midway because of any reason, the facility of transfer of credit from other institutions shall be available, making the process student-friendly.

So, why is there a controversy over such a good curriculum, prepared meticulously, incorporating suggestions from all the Heads of Departments, college principals, and other stakeholders? One reason for the controversy is purely ideological, which in fact negates the entire NEP-2020 as such. Second, an illusion has been created that this UGCF will lead to layoffs of teachers as some credits will be reduced. However, this is not true. The UGCF proposes 132 credits in three years and 176 credits in four years which is much more than what the UGC’s ‘Guidelines for Multiple Entry and Exit in Academic Programme’ has in place. As per UGC guidelines, while in three years, credit should be in the range of 108 to 120, a four-year degree can have 144 to 160 credits so that students should not be overburdened. All other universities of the country have credit-load as per the UGC guideline. The International standard is even more stringent, having a credit-load range of 96-108 in three years, and 128 –144 credits in four years. But the proposed DU framework has relatively increased the credit-load keeping in mind the interests of the teachers.

It must be added here that even while comparing with the existing standard, as the options for the Discipline Specific Electives Courses will be much more than what is being offered presently the sections per class related to that subject will also be more, hence the number of teachers required will not decrease. It is also worth mentioning that since there is no reduction in the number of students, there is no possibility, accordingly, of retrenchment of teachers. Rather, the number of teachers will only increase because of an additional year, the fourth year, for which the additional number of teachers will be required for every subject.

Today, after 75 years of Independence, when we are celebrating the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, our undergraduate education, fortunately, is also going to be completely independent in the true sense for the first time setting new records in the interest of the students and the nation. It’s desirable that all the stakeholders related to education must extend their full cooperation in this innovative expedition to revamp higher education. This is what India expects from them

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