Although India has made significant progress in education quantitatively, at different levels, higher education was always a priority. This is witnessed by the fact that the first education commission after independence set up was University Education Commission in 1948.
One of the biggest challenges that modern higher education in India faced was the lack of a multidisciplinary approach to education. After completing matriculation, the student was asked to opt for a discipline or stream often not of her choice and which rarely she could change later.
To me, there were three visible reasons which had chocked the career options for a student. One, she was given a combination of four or five subjects in which one of her subjects of interest was falling, but she was not comfortable in other subjects available/kept in the subject combination.
Second, the student could not find the subject of her choice in the nearby institution, and due to socio-economic & cultural reasons, she was discouraged from seeking admission to the far-away institution that offers the subject of her choice, resulting in choosing a stream, not of her choice in the nearby institution.
Third, the student could not opt for subjects from multiple streams or switch to different streams. Even though a student from science could later shift to arts, social science, commerce or humanities but there wasn't any such option vise versa.
Sometimes there was also no synchronisation of streams or subject combinations between 12th class and then college education, and for that matter, a student was forced to opt for a stream/subject combination already kept available by the college, which most of the time was different from what she has studied at the higher secondary level. As such, a student was dropping out in the middle.
Thus, the Indian System of Education deserved an overhaul on various fronts for a long time. National Education Policy (NEP-2020) has identified these grave challenges which needed a response immediately, and in this direction, a window has been opened to tackle such issues through multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary approaches in education.
In order to guarantee the harmony and integrity of knowledge, NEP-2020 has advocated multidisciplinary education as a holistic approach across all sciences. At Para 10.2, NEP-2020 has referenced a multidisciplinary approach from the ancient Indian education system and envisaged a pressing need to get back the great tradition for holistic and innovative developments.
To cater to the needs of thousands of students worldwide, at Para 10.7, NEP-2020 expects that all the country's higher education institutions shall be multidisciplinary by 2030. This approach would aim to develop all human faculties in an integrated way, and for attaining the global standards, MERUs (Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities) will be set up. NEP-2020 at Para 10.11 also envisaged that Single-stream Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) will be phased out and converted towards multidisciplinary institutions or part of multidisciplinary clusters.
It is an opportune time for autonomous HEIs, especially for universities, to adopt the multidisciplinary approach in education from the ensuing academic session with little effort, as different disciplines already exist there.
The universities have already made committees and task forces to implement NEP-2020 in their respective institutions, and in the first phase it is high time for such committees & task forces to identify the courses in a program (discipline-wise) that shall be offered in a multidisciplinary way.
The core committee should also focus on framing the University Master Timetable (UMT) for the entire university, which is quite possible. On the one side, it will help avoid clashes in class timings, and on the other, it will also facilitate the optimal utilisation of human resources and infrastructure available on the campus.
The aspiring student, while applying for a particular program in any institution, shall be given this UMT along with the prospects of the courses available for multidisciplinary education so that she can decide in advance what subjects/courses in which discipline along with the timing of the classes she would be comfortable.
In this way, she will opt for the subjects of her choice without any confusion. Here, the university should take precautions that the academic calendar must not be disturbed while offering multidisciplinary education and the degrees should not be stretched more than the allotted time.
The core committee should be given the mandate to fix the criteria in terms of the percentage of credits a student should earn from the discipline of her choice for a particular award, and accordingly, a certificate, diploma or degree be awarded to her in a particular discipline.
It is high time that all the universities in the region should join their heads together and develop a common core curriculum program/discipline wise and course wise to make possible the smooth transfer of students along with their earned credits.
The course compatibility will help students' flexibility in terms of time, space, mode, or institution. At the institutional level, it is time to decide if a student wishes to earn some credits online via MOOCs, etc., how many credits she will be allowed to earn. In this regard, UGC recommendations should be taken into consideration.
At the beginning of each academic session, the university shall identify the courses available on the SWAYAM platform (MOOC Courses) discipline wise. In this regard, a Guidance Cell could be established in the university to guide students to opt for online courses suitable to their program.
The NEP-2020 has restructured school and higher education. Now, qualifications will be awarded on the bases of 10 different levels. The first 04 levels have been assigned to school education, and the remaining levels to higher education. This restructuring has been done keeping in view the provisions of multiple exit and entry points at different levels.
The universities should develop a policy at the departmental level for awarding the certificate, diploma or degree to students at different qualification levels. Let the departments be advised to prepare a road map for the multiple exit and entry policy in their programs. They should come up with concrete suggestions on how best they can implement it in their departments.
The departments should also give food for thought to the National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF) on how best the recommendations for bridge course can be worked out to get the optimum results (an exit 10-credit bridge course lasting two months, including at least 6-credit job-specific internship/apprenticeship) that will help pass-outs at different levels to acquire job-ready competencies required to enter the workforce.
Some changes at the PG level have been recommended by NEP-2020, which is then reflected through NHEQF. The Universities of the region should start restructuring the curriculum but not in a hurry because it will be implemented at least after few years when the first crop of Honours will be ready to reap.
Now it is also high time to change the recruitment policy of the Govt. The recruitment policy of our country is based on the previous education structure, and now I am of the considered opinion that recruitment policy should be based on the levels instead of on the degrees, and Govt. might have started to look into it.
In line with the NEP-2020, the UGC has published the guidelines to push for multidisciplinary higher education. These guidelines have paved the way for institutions to start more new and relevant programs and for the student to get more than one degree simultaneously.
Now, higher education institutions can take different routes for adopting multidisciplinary nature. The stand-alone institutions can join hands with the nearby institutions clustering to transform into a university. A student has also been given the flexibility to complete one degree at the host institution.
Simultaneously, she can earn a second degree at the partnering institution without going through the new admission process if the two institutions have collaborated. This process will regain the status of higher education at the international level, which is poor due to the single-stream nature. On the one side, this is a step towards discouraging dropout & virtual exclusion and, on the other, grabbing the opportunities to experiment with students' aptitude at different levels that will help them be successful in their career life.
To conclude, multidisciplinary education aims to develop hybrid thinking that is imperative in solving many of today’s complex problems and all HEIs of the country should step up to start multidisciplinary education.
Dr. Mohammad Sayid Bhat is Sr. Assistant Professor in Department of Education at Central University of Kashmir.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.