The first change has been to scrap all BTech-MTech dual degree programs, and add all the dual-degree seats to the corresponding BTech program. The idea is to offer flexibility to all students. The dual-degree will continue to be offered, but it will be an option for students of BTech programs. So after you have been in the system for a couple of years, you can decide whether you want to graduate with a BTech degree or want an MTech degree as well (besides other new options that have been created).
The second change that you will notice is that instead of 5-year Integrated MSc programs, we now have 4-year BS (Bachelor of Science) programs. These are in the disciplines of Physics, Chemistry, Economics, and Maths and Computing. The report of the Academic Review Committee, available from the Dean of Academic Affairs website, does not elaborate the reasons for this change. But I can make a guess.
Several academicians and national academies have previously talked about the need to make the under-graduate degree in all disciplines, but particularly in Science, to be of 4-year duration, as opposed to the current 3-year BSc. And this change can only happen when some Institute displays a leadership position and just does it, and hopefully, others by looking at the success of this program, will follow. Of course, for the foreseeable future, there will be both a 3-year under-graduate program in most universities, and a 4-year undergraduate program in some universities. Both will be named "Bachelor of Science." To differentiate between the two programs, their short form will be different. The 3-year degree will be known as "BSc" while the 4-year degree will be known as "BS".
It is good that IIT Kanpur has taken a leadership position in introducing BS. But whether this is going to be a sustained leadership position, only time will tell. Obviously, there will be problems that the first couple of batches will face. You will have to explain to everyone that you are not a failure who is doing a 3-year program in four years, but really a pioneer who is helping move this idea that the under-graduate program should be of 4-years. How much will IIT Kanpur support you when you have to provide all these explanations, I don't know. If you are having a difficulty in getting admission to a PhD program somewhere, will Director, IIT Kanpur, pick up the phone and talk to the Director there to explain this new degree. Well, it depends on who the Director will be 4 years from now. So there are some risks, but a good move by IIT Kanpur.
The third major change this year has been the introduction of double major and minor programs. Theoretically, it will now be possible for someone doing an undergraduate program in discipline "X" to also get a second undergraduate degree in any discipline "Y", by spending just one year extra. It is possible because if you look at the detailed curriculum of various programs, you would notice that out of about 40 odd courses to be done, only 15 courses or so are from the discipline itself. You have to do a lot of courses in Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Technical Arts, Engineering Sciences, Humanities, several non-discipline electives, and so on. So to get another degree you only need to do these 15 courses (or whatever that number is for a specific program). It is expected that some of those courses you will be able to do in the "elective slots" of the original undergraduate degree. Some courses may be waived (like B Tech Project may not be necessary in the second undergraduate degree, and some courses in the two disciplines may have significant overlap, and hence waived). The remaining courses you should be able to do in one extra year.
As a concept, this is great. Provides excellent flexibility, the reason because of which I have been recommending IIT Bombay to JEE candidates. But unfortunately, the devil is in the detail.
There is a lack of clarity on how liberal will be the implementation. My guess is that it won't be very liberal. So the report I referred to in the beginning says that the option for double major will be available to only those students who have a CPI of 8.0 or above. This means that you will have to be approximately in the top 40 percent of the class to avail of this option. That is somewhat restrictive already. The next thing it says is that the departments can restrict "admission" of second degree students to 10 percent of their strength. So, for Computer Science, we will have the right to restrict admission to ONLY 9 students, our current batch strength being 92. And, I can tell you that our department will probably restrict access to the minimum number, nine, and most other "popular" departments may do the same thing.
The detailed rules are yet to be formed, and the chances are that it would be possible for someone to change one's mind and after a semester or two, just inform us that s/he is no longer interested in the second major. If this happens, then I would expect that 9 toppers amongst the non-CSE students would ask for admission to Computer Science major, do a couple of CS courses, and then withdraw, but then it will be too late for others to be given admission.
So, I think the impact of second major would be very negligible. Till all the rules are framed, my advice would be to not be swayed by the announcement of double major. We offer good programs anyway. So consider IIT Kanpur based on that. If you are able to get double major in your preferred discipline, that will be an added advantage later on.
The last time IIT Kanpur introduced a new type of program, which was the BTech-MTech dual degree, it could not come up with clear, student-friendly rules for 10 years. And I have no hope of IIT Kanpur deciding rules on a fast track for the double major students.
My guess is that the implementation of minor program will be more liberal, and a lot more students will be able to do courses in another discipline to get a minor, than the double major.
But as always, I am not an official spokesperson of IIT Kanpur. I do not take any responsibility for correctness of the information provided here. Please read the ARC report that I have linked above for more details. And follow my opinions at your own risk.
Added on 1st July, 2011
PDF file for the Frequently Asked Questions on New Changes