On four year Bachelor’s programme in Science

I have been thinking about the recent discussions about the four year Bachelor’s programme in sciences at the Indian Institute of Science.

According to a news report:

The ministry said that the four-year programme in general streams of arts, science and commerce had violated the National Policy on Education, 1986. The ministry says the NPE provides for 10+2+3 system for students pursuing general stream of education.

I was curious about the National Policy on Education, 1986 — primarily to see what the rationale behind such a prescription is. The document is available here; as far as I can see, this is all it says:

The National System of Education envisages a common educational structure. The 10+2+3 system has now been accepted in all parts of the country. 

So, in the document, there is really no justification except for common structure. The document, also notes that the Policy from 1968 wanted the 10+2+3 system to be made broadly acceptable; and, in 1986, it seems that the introduction of the 10+2+3 system was seen as the most notable development.  So, I can understand how UGC might see the introduction of the 4 year Science undergraduate programme as a retrograde move.

However, there seem to be some strong arguments as to why we should at least experiment with a four year degree programme in science:

A paper prepared jointly by three Indian science academies in 2008 identified various limitations of the present system that focuses on quantity of information rather than the quality of education. The report argued for a four-year program with an emphasis on flexibility in curriculum, choice of subjects and research experience. They also recommended allowing students to switch between science and engineering.

I also agree with the following point from Guttal’s post:

India’s requirement as a large and diverse country cannot and should not rely on a failed mode of higher education uniformly imposed across the entire country. Experiments to improve education must be encouraged, especially if the premier institutes of the country are taking the lead. We can only know what works best if we attempt a variety of approaches.

Hence, I feel UGC should allow the four year programmes on an experimental basis (at least in places like IISc where both the Institution and the stakeholders, namely, faculty, students and parents seem to be in favour of the experiment). 

Finally, personally, even as a matter of policy, I am not in favour of strict uniformity while I am all for broad uniformity; of course, where there are deviations from the uniformity, UGC and MHRD should spend more effort to make sure that the changes are in keeping with the spirit of things. I believe, in the long run, this is the only way to make our academic system more robust, flexible, innovative and modern.

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