UGC has come up with new rules on Integrated/Dual-degree programs which are so popular not just in India but similar programs have been popular the world over. The new rules essentially ask the universities (including IITs) to stop their current offerings.
The rules notified in the Gazette of India in July, 2014 say the following:
the Integrated/Dual Degree Programmes intend to offer two separate degrees with
an option for an interim exit or lateral entry, the duration of the
Integrated/Dual Degree Programme must not be less than the duration equal to
the sum total of the prescribed duration of the two degrees that are being
combined in the Integrated/Dual Degree Programme. Provided further that both the
degrees awarded under the Integrated /Dual Degree programme shall be
individually and separately recognized as equivalent to corresponding degrees
and not as one single integrated degree."
The attraction of dual-degree programs are two-fold: They are generally of lesser duration than the sum of individual durations of two programs. And one does not need to worry about admission process after the first degree.
The UGC notification specifically says:
"The academic philosophy/rationale behind
offering such integrated programmes should not be for economising on course
requirements or award of double degrees in a fast track."
That UGC does not understand education is pretty obvious, for they just don't seem to understand how universities are able to offer two degrees in a shorter timeframe. The shorter timeframe does not reduce the quality of offering, or requirements, if done properly. Because UGC has no competence to check if this is being done properly or not, it takes the easy way out, ban the offering, or make it so unattractive that universities will stop offering them. A very typical Indian way of regulation - if the regulator is incompetent, instead of fixing the regulation, will ban everything and avoid the need for regulation.
So, how are IITs able to offer BTech-MTech dual degree in 5 years, instead of 6 years. Well, first of all, one realizes that an under-graduate degree is expected to provide a broad-based education, preparing the candidate for a variety of careers after the under-graduate program, including but not limited to higher education, a technical job, a general job (what we call as a non-core career), and pretty much everything else. The curriculum is designed keeping in mind that we do not know the career path of the student. And in particular, there are lots of "elective" courses that are part of the graduation requirement which the student can choose keeping in view the specific career goals or the immediate career goals that s/he may have. Now, if the student has made up his/her mind on the next stage of the career, it is considered alright to reduce that breadth by just a small amount (say a couple of courses) and let those open elective slots be used to take the advanced courses. So essentially, there is a small amount of double counting of courses.
Second, in a typical MTech program, we admit students from diverse background, and hence we have a couple of courses to refresh the under-graduate curriculum to cover topics which we consider as important but generally have not been taught or at least not taught well by other universities. For our dual-degree students, we assume that these couple of refresher courses need not be taught to them since they have not only done those courses as we desire, but also they typically are good students (not everyone can enroll for a dual-degree in IIT Kanpur).
Then we look for areas of overlap. We notice that the goals of the project work overlap with the goals of the thesis work. And hence we could remove the project requirement from the graduation requirements of the dual-degree.
Further, since these are good students, we can allow them to take a bit of an overload (a course extra in a couple of semesters) and earn credits at a slightly faster pace then what is expected from students of either program.
And lastly, we allow these students to stay back in the summer term and do a couple of courses, again thereby earning credits a little faster.
UGC has been promoting the virtues of a credit based system of learning over the last decade. And a credit based system should allow someone to graduate early, if one can complete the credits at a faster pace. Indeed, at IIT Kanpur, we used to talk about a BTech program with a minimum duration of 8 semesters. We have now changed our rules and we talk about a BTech program with a normal duration of 8 semesters. This change is important and forms the core of a credit based system. It is possible for an exceptionally bright student at IIT Kanpur to receive a BTech degree in 7 semesters. And there are many examples of students who have done this, typically students who have fallen ill and hence can not earn any credits in a particular semester, work doubly hard in the remaining semesters, and get a degree in 7 semesters. Students do not go for 7-semester BTech for practical reasons - the placement activity is allowed only after the 7th semester, the joining dates are typically after 8th semester, taking overloads may spoil a few grades, etc. But theoretically one can do a 7-semester BTech. And all this was music to the ears of UGC which wanted to promote credit based system in Indian universities.
If we look at MTech programs, typically a student is expected to do 4 courses a semester (or equivalent work on a project/thesis) for 4 semesters. Why only 4 courses as opposed to 5-6 courses that a BTech student is expected to do in a semester. It is because it is expected that MTech students will have some financial assistantship and that would require the student to work for the department about 8 hours per week (roughly equal to one course). But now, if someone comes to us and says that s/he does not want to take financial assistantship, should be exempted from working for the department, and instead be allowed to do one extra course, and similarly, do an extra course in the summer term so that the requirement of 16 courses (or equivalent project/thesis work) can be completed in 3 semesters, UGC should be happy that their mantra of credit based system is being pursued by Indian universities. But, no, credit based system is not important, since there is no competence to check the quality of those credits. The mantras are only to chant, not to understand and follow. The number of years can be computed very easily by a 5-year old, but to check the quality of credits, one will need the intelligence of a 20-year old, or even higher. Our regulators are happy to assume that they have only the intelligence of a 5-year old, and they can only do counting and accounting, number of years, number of courses, number of days in a year, number of faculty for every 100 students, number of computers, number of books, and so on. Anything that a 5-year old can not do, UGC can not do.
What is strange in these regulations is the distinction it makes between the Integrated degree and a dual-degree. As we noted above, if a university is giving two degrees with an option to exit after the first degree, then the program has to be of duration which is sum of the two durations. But if the university is giving only one degree (higher) then the university can reduce the duration by up to 20 percent. This is really strange. So UGC is accepting that there can be overlaps between the credits of the two degrees, that there can be overloads, or in whatever way it is done, it is possible to complete the requirements of the two degrees in 20% less time, but only if you give one degree, and this can not be done if you are giving two degrees. So if IITK has a BTech-MTech dual degree program, it has to be of 6 years duration, but if IITK has an Integrated MTech program, it can be of 5 years. What really is the difference between the credits requirement of the two programs?
What is most interesting in this whole process is the following. UGC is suggesting that if a university (or IIT) wants to run an integrated MSc (or MA or any master's degree program) program, which does not have an exit option for BSc (or BA, etc.) then the duration of the program can be 4 years. So it turns out that its primary objection to FYUP is that students should be given a Master's degree after four years and not a bachelor's degree. I am sure we will soon see a huge rush for Integrated MSc/MA/MCom programs offered as 4-year programs by lots of universities, particularly in the private sector. And very soon, everyone in India will be doing a 4-year program after 12th class, but it will not be called under-graduate program but a master's program. So far we had only heard of marks inflation and grade inflation, now we will hear of degree inflation.
The situation is even stranger for horizontal dual degrees, that is, two bachelors degrees. If IITK wants to start (and we have considered it in the past) a BTech-BTech dual degree program (for example, someone getting a BTech in Electrical Engineering and a BTech in Chemical Engineering), we will have to create an 8-year program. Does it make any sense whatsoever. Do we ask our students to repeat Physics 101, and Maths 101. What do they do for 8 years. It is fairly common in US universities (and even in India, BITS Pilani runs a hugely popular dual-degree program in which two under-graduate degrees are given). And in all cases, the idea is that any course can satisfy the requirements for both the degrees. So Physics 101 can be used to satisfy the requirement for both BTech in Electrical and BTech in Chemical, and essentially only those courses need to be done for the second degree which have not been done while pursuing the first degree. Through this mechanism, one is able to complete the credit requirements for the second under-graduate degree in just one extra year. But UGC would like to ban all this, and require that the student repeats all common courses. Isn't that a waste of national resources. But UGC does not care. Remember they can only do what a 5-year old can do. And a 5-year old can not understand national waste.
The Darjeeling Mail of 1943
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