Choice Based Multidisciplinary Education

In real life situations, a graduate requires not only to have a thorough understanding of the knowledge required to discharge professional duties in a most effective manner, but also of the entire ecosystem of political, sociological, legal, historical, cultural, and technological. Therefore, the graduates coming out of universities need to have a holistic understanding of the world around them which in turn calls for multidisciplinary approach to education. In developed parts of the world, higher education is multidisciplinary which exposes students to diverse disciplines, thoughts, perspectives and skill sets. Exposure to diverse disciplines enables one to amalgamate different perspectives of the subject matter, leading into a wholesome personality. But currently higher education offerings in India are fragmented into silos, as a result fails to produce well rounded graduates, thus are unable to see the world around them with all the required lenses.

To deliver quality higher education, the new policy envisions a complete overhaul and re-energising of the higher education system to overcome the challenges and problems being faced by HEIs. One of the problems reported by the new policy being currently faced by the higher education system in India is, a rigid separation of disciplines, with early specialisation and streaming of students into narrow areas of study. To do away with this problem, the new policylays greater emphasis on multidisciplinary system of education. Such an education is aimed to develop well-rounded individuals, possessing critical 21st century capacities in fields across the arts, humanities, languages, sciences, social sciences, professional, and vocational fields. As per the new policy even the engineering institutions, such as IITs, will have to move towards multidisciplinary education with more arts and humanities subjects.

Introduction of multidisciplinary education at undergraduate level is one of the important features of the NEP-2020. But the policy document only makes a mere mention of this new system without any detailed blueprint which is essential for its implementation in letter and spirit. It merely talks about moving towards a higher educational system consisting of large, multidisciplinary universities and colleges. To standardise the implementation of multidisciplinary education, at least it was needed to draw a broad sketch of this new system in the policy. While implementing multidisciplinary system of education, most important step would be to design a broad format of the course structure to be followed. Based on the experiences of different models of multidisciplinary educational structures in vogue in the world, the structure consisting of the courses classified into; College Core, Discipline Core; and Subject Core would be the most appropriate to follow.

College Core: It include a series of courses that the students across all streams shall have to learn, as are essential ingredients of a wholesome personality. These courses generally are aimed to harness critical thinking, logic and analysis; mathematics and quantitative reasoning; communication skills, and sound grounding in social sciences, humanities, management, civics, creative arts and sciences. It generally includes courses on languages both written & spoken, literature, history, civics, Indian Government, mathematics, ICT, philosophy, sociology, psychology, creative arts, public health, conservation, management, economy, and entrepreneurship.

Discipline Core: The discipline refers to a branch of academic study having varied functional areas. Therefore, discipline core includes the courses that are compulsorily to be learned by the students of a particular discipline regardless of their areas of specialisation. It is not necessary that all disciplines’ will have same number of core courses, rather would vary depending upon the nature of each discipline. The core courses of different disciplines’ are generally well defined, however, additions and deletions takes place with the changing phenomenon of the discipline.

Subject Core: Subject in academics refers to a specific or specialised branch of knowledge of a discipline. The courses which are specifically related to a specific speciality, are referred to as subject core. These vary from subject to subject and are necessary to learn to gain a specialised knowledge orskill sets of a specialised branch.

How many credit hours are required to graduate in a given discipline/subject, are not mentioned in the policy document? Typically, in order to graduate with Bachelor’s degree, students are required to complete 120-130 credit hours, every year 30-40 credits. Generally, science streams require 140 credits and all other streams 120 credits. The credit hour should vary between 3 – 4 hours for each course. For all those courses, where lab work is involved, such courses typically carry 4 credit hours and all other courses are assigned 3 credits only. Besides, a Bachelor’s degree of 120-130 credits is generally a 4-year programme. For Master’s degree, generally, a student is required to complete 70- 80 credits. Given the universal practices, the break-up of the total credits for Bachelor’s degree should be 30- 36 credits for College Core, 48-54 credits for Discipline Core and 24-30 credits for Subject Core which would include an option of internship or research project of 9 -10 credits.

The other question concerning the implementation of Choice Based Multidisciplinary Education is that, “Should a certain number of selected courses be offered per semester or should the students have the freedom to choose the courses for each semester within the framework of maximum and minimum course ceilings, and course prerequisites? Given the spirit of choice based credit system (CBCS), the choice to select the courses in a particular semester should rest with the students, therefore, it would be appropriate to only identify the total number of courses for each group viz; College Core, Discipline Core and Subject Core and allow freedom to the students to choose the courses for each semester. Such a practice is followed in most parts of the world. This will allow the students to complete the degree at their convenient pace. Also there should be a freedom to the students to take a sabbatical leave and rejoin to complete the degree, with a well defined shelf life for the credits already earned. The fact is that the CBCS in vogue in the colleges in Kashmir, is not truly a choice based system. It offers only one choice to choose general electives/ skill courses from a basket of electives but denies students to complete degrees at their own pace, credit transfers and freedom to take a sabbatical leave to rejoin after some time to complete the degree without losing the credits already earned, thus in total contravention to the true spirit of CBCS.

Under the new policy, the undergraduate programme will be of either 3 or 4-year duration, with multiple exit options. After 1st year, a certificate in a discipline, or a diploma after 2 years of study, or a bachelor’s degree after a 3-year would be awarded. The 4-year programme will also be in the offing leading to a degree with ‘Research’ if the students complete a rigorous research project in his or her major area(s) of study. Allowing multiple exit options with appropriate certifications and also an option of a sabbatical leave to rejoin after some time to complete the degree, would offer greater flexibility to the students to pursue their studies. However, a 4-year programme leading to degree with ‘Research’ is likely to serve no meaningful purpose for the reasons that the students:

pursuing still bachelor’s degree are not yet qualified and capable to undertake any meaningful research;

are not yet well equipped with the tools and techniques of research;

are yet to gain mastery in the subject of his specialisation;

largeness of students and lack of qualified faculty who are already suffering from excessive workload would act as a serious constraint.

In view of the above constraints, the option of Bachelor’s degree with ‘Research’ is unlikely to result into any meaningful academic activity, thus in no way is likely to benefit the students in any manner. Similarly, 2-year masters programme with the second year devoted entirely to research for those who have completed the 3-year Bachelor’s programme would also do no good rather such a move will only deteriorate its quality. More appropriate would be to make Bachelor’s degree programme of 4-year duration, and both the years of Masters programme devoted to the gaining of subject knowledge, with last semester both at the UG and PG levels meant for undertaking internship or research project of 9 -10 credits. The new policy also has envisioned internships with local industry, artists, crafts persons, etc., as well as research internships with faculty and researchers at their own or other HEIs/research institutions, so that students may actively engage with the practical side of their learning and, as a by-product, further improve their employability. It is also that one fails to understand the reasons for proposing 1-year Master’s programme for the students who have a 4-year Bachelor’s degree with ‘Research’. Perhaps the policymakers have borrowed this idea from Western World without realising its impact on the quality of the Master’s programme. Besides, admitting to Ph. D. programme with bachelor’s degree would be an unfeasible, rather unwise move because such students have not yet mastered in the subject in which he or she will do research.

The youngsters out of higher secondary schools generally are not able to take a call on life’s choices ahead. As such, apart from imparting in-depth knowledge of the discipline, HEIs have the responsibility in discovering their interests, nurturing their passions, and to counsel and guide these novice souls to navigate this new world full of opportunities. This is where ‘Mentoring’ and ‘Counselling’ comes into play. A close interaction with the mentors goes a long way in shifting gears from higher secondary school to the university and then to the world at large. In the Western world, Mentoring and Counselling has become an integral part of the educational system, owing to the fact that the students who are novices in all respects need to be mentored, guided and helped in nurturing their passions, emotional adjustments and managing stress. This equally important enabling mechanism is grossly missing in Indian HEIs, thus depriving students of this useful opportunity. It is pleasing to note that the new policy does make a mention of counselling to the students but without laying due emphasis. Besides, mentoring which is highly important ingredient of higher education ecosystem has been overlooked by the new policy. However, in view of the great significance of counselling and mentoring, HEIs should at their own put in place systematized arrangement for mentoring and counselling of students.

Author is Former Registrar & Currently, Professor in the Dept. of Commerce, University of Kashmir.