The Way Forward” published in AIU |

Dr. Suresh Yenugu, Department of Animal Biology, University of Hyderabad article titled “UGC Guidelines on Pursuing two Academic Programmes Simultaneously: The Way Forwardwas” published in Association of Indian Universities (AIU).

Dr. Suresh Yenugu

The story so far:

The niversity Grants Commission (UGC) in its letter D.O.No.1-6/2007 (CPP-II) (New), dated 13th April, 2022 communicated guidelines to all Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs; Universities and colleges) on allowing students to pursue two full time academic programmes simultaneously  (1, 2). HEIs were advised to implement these guidelines for the benefit of students. The guidelines emphasized on the necessity to meet the aspirations of the students keeping in view of the proposals envisaged in the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP-2020) (3). Primary objectives of these guidelines (verbatim) are:

  1. recognizing, identifying, and fostering the unique capabilities of each student, by sensitizing teachers as well as parents to promote each student’s holistic development in both academic and non-academic spheres;
  2. no hard separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, between vocational and academic streams, etc. in order to eliminate harmful hierarchies among, and silos between different areas of learning;
  3. multidisciplinarity and a holistic education across the sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities, and sports for a multidisciplinary world in order to ensure the unity and integrity of all knowledge;
  4. enabling an individual to study one or more specialized areas of interest at a deep level, and also develop character, ethical and constitutional values, intellectual curiosity, scientific temper, creativity, spirit of service.
  5. offering the students, a range of disciplines including sciences, social sciences, arts, humanities, languages, as well as professional, technical, and vocational subjects to make them thoughtful, well-rounded, and creative individuals.
  6. preparing students for more meaningful and satisfying lives and work roles and enable economic independence.

The guidelines allow a student to pursue two full time academic programs in physical mode simultaneously on condition that there is no overlap in the class timings of both these programs. Alternatively, a student is allowed to enrol for a degree program in the physical mode and can pursue another degree / diploma in the Open and Distance Learning (ODL) / online mode or both the degrees in the ODL / online mode simultaneously. It is mandated that the degree taken in the ODL / online mode should be only from the HEIs which are recognized by UGC / Statutory Council / Govt. of India; and that the degree or diploma programmes under these guidelines shall be governed by the regulations notified by the UGC and also the respective statutory / professional councils, wherever applicable. It is also mentioned that these guidelines come into effect from the date of notification by UGC. A student who has already done two academic programmes simultaneously prior to the notification of these guidelines cannot claim for a retrospective benefit. Finally, these guidelines are applicable only to students pursuing academic programmes other than Ph.D.  In this backdrop, HEIs were advised by UGC to devise mechanisms through relevant academic bodies to allow students to pursue two full time academic programs simultaneously.

Dual degrees (with extended time frame) vs double degree (within the time frame).

The concept of dual degree programs is being practiced in Indian HEIs for quite some time. Some institutions, especially the technical ones, offer the Bachelors-Master’s degree program. A 3+2 years of study results in award of both B.Tech and M.Tech degrees. The student is at an advantage because of the shorter time duration to obtain a Master’s degree, which in a normal mode would have been 6 years. HEIs allow students to undergo the fourth and fifth years of study in the same institution or a collaborating institution, which is either in India or abroad; an added advantage to the student in securing a foreign degree. On the same lines, Indian HEIs also offer Masters-Masters dual degree programs, wherein the student studies two specializations; one year for each specialization and finally earns two Masters degrees in the same time frame, which in the normal mode takes 4 years. Though the above mentioned dual degree programs indicate that two degrees are possible in a shorter time frame, the student makes only one enrolment and that the student is bound to be associated with the primary institution to get the degree(s). With the new guidelines of UGC, for a double degree, the student can have two enrolments distinctly for two degree programs; one or both of them can be ODL / online mode; alternatively one or both of them can be physical mode.

In the international scenario, HEIs in many countries offer double degree programs (4). To name a few, Sultan Sharif Ali Islamic University, Brunei; University of Waterloo & Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada); The Paris Institute of Political Studies and the University of British Columbia, France; Universitas Indonesia & University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Indonesia; Autonomous University of Nuevo León & Nagaoka University of Technology, Mexico and Japan; University of Amsterdam, Netherlands – are some of the foreign institutions that confer double degrees at the undergraduate level. Similarly double degrees at the graduate level are offered by Copenhagen Business School & Italy – Bocconi University, Denmark; ParisTech, France; University of Groningen & United Kingdom – Newcastle University, Netherlands; University of Houston, USA. While the above list may not be exhaustive, implementation of award of double degrees seems to be internationally practiced and accepted. The Indian education system has undergone several overhauls in the last century (implementation of updated / revised national education policies) and more so over has witnessed tremendous shifts in course content, pedagogy and educational administration. The leverage granted in UGC guidelines to allow HEIs for devising mechanisms to allow students to take up two full time degree courses simultaneously shall be viewed as one of the many steps that add to the educational opportunities to our students on par with global practices.

The way forward in implementing the guidelines

1. Nomenclature

The complete onus and modalities of implementing these guidelines now rests on the HEIs. Guidelines of UGC provided ample space for the HEIs to come up with their own methods of allowing students to pursue two full time degrees at the same time. Students opting for two degrees in the physical mode shall be identified exclusively with a program name, because other students may opt only for a single degree. Further classification of the students who opt for two degrees is required since some of them may opt for one degree through physical mode and the other with ODL / online mode. Thus, one of the primary tasks for HEIs would be to come up with clear cut nomenclatures. Different HEIs coming up with different nomenclatures will only result in confusion in the long run. A common terminology for these programs shall be framed by UGC and the same followed by all HEIs. For the sake of convenience, in this commentary, the term double degree is used.

2. Levels of the two degrees opted

Based on these guidelines, it is to be assumed that a student can enrol for two degrees at the same time. However, there seems to be ambiguity on the levels of the two degrees a student can opt. Multiple possibilities come into picture: two degrees of same level (Bachelor’s-Bachelor’s; Master’s-Masters), one higher degree and one lower degree (Masters-Bachelor’s; Bachelor’s-Diploma) and interestingly one lower degree and one higher degree (Bachelor’s-Master’s; Diploma-Bachelor’s). In many of the HEIs, the basic qualification for an integrated Master’s program is same as that of the Bachelor’s program (+2 qualified) and for integrated Ph.D., program it is same as that of the Master’s program (graduation). Thus, the extent of leverage that a student has to choose on the levels of the course should be clearly defined. Leaving a free hand, especially to private HEIs and colleges, in this aspect will result in tactics that will put students at a stake. UGC shall issue clear instructions as to whether a student can choose two degrees of same levels or varying levels.

3. Credits vs time

As per the draft version of the National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF), graduate, graduate (honours) and post graduate courses are placed at level 7, 8 and 9 respectively (5). The number of credits to be obtained for the conferment of these degrees are 120, 160 and 80 credits for a graduate, graduate (Honours) and post graduate respectively; an average requirement of 20 credits per semester (5). The draft curricular framework prescribes the number of learning hours required for each credit in a four year degree program (6). Foe one credit, a minimum of 15 hours of teaching in a semester is required along with 30 hours of out-of-class activities such as preparation for classes/lessons, completing assignments which form a part of the course work, and independent reading and study. For laboratory courses, it is 30 hours per credit in a semester along with 15 hours of out-of-class activities such as preparation for the practicum, completing assignments which form a part of the course work, and independent reading and study. It turns out that the total learner engaged time for a one credit would be 45 hours, which culminates to 900 hours (20 credits x 45 hours per credit) per semester. For a student who opts for double degree, 1800 learning hours are expected. While the semester duration may vary anywhere between 4 to 5 months, the learning hours per month would range from 450 to 360 for a double degree student. While the student may be enthusiastic, HEIs shall take extra care to assess whether 450 to 360 learning hours for a student is within the acceptable limits i.e. whether the student can have enough time to spend on other extra-curricular activities, which are very important for the overall development of the student in terms of physical, mental and emotional spheres. NEP-2020 strongly emphasises a holistic and stress free way of education; and designing of academic curriculum for the double degree course should be in accordance of the free spirit for education as envisaged.

4. Parental and peer pressure

A serious and never ending nightmare that majority of students undergo throughout their education is the pressure from parents to perform better and this is aggravated by comparing them with their peers. The rat race to secure admissions in elite institutions such as IITs and IIMs is fuelled by the over expectation of the parents. Children are admitted in coaching centres right from the days of high school and made to study for long hours with an intent of securing high ranks in the national level tests. Added to this, the students undergo enormous pressure to finish the studies to complete their degrees. Now that HEIs allow enrolment of a student in two full time degree programs, in general, there could a pressure from the parents on the student to take up two degrees. One of the main objectives of the NEP-2020 is to give utmost freedom to the student to earn a degree with his/her own natural abilities in a holistic way; and this is supported by exit option and accumulation of credits in academic bank of credits. It is highly speculative as to what will be the fallout of the new guidelines on the student, especially in terms of parental pressure. While UGC can regulate the academic and administrative aspects of the double degree program, there is no scope for interference to avoid parental pressure; except for issuing advisories to parents to allow their wards for a pressure free education.

5. Fee structure

In light of the free hand given to HEIs by UGC to devise their own mechanisms to offer full time double degrees to their students, monetary aspects come into picture, especially when students choose to purse the two degrees with the same institution in a physical mode. There are no specific guidelines by UGC or any other body to regulate the fee structure in private HEIs and thus the fee structure of private HEIs is far higher than the public HEIs. In a scenario of a student opting for two degree program, she / he will be attending classes / practical sessions in two different streams, thus increasing the investment cost of the institution.  This may translate into even doubling of the fee, thus putting severe financial burden on the student. It is possible that some of the courses in both the degrees may overlap, especially when the student chooses to do two degrees in allied subjects. A standard fee structure should be prescribed by UGC basing on the types of two degrees the student chooses, especially when one of them is practical based while the other one is theory based.

6. How wide – how narrow

When it comes to being rewarded with two degrees in the time frame spent for one degree, there could be enormous response to this mechanism. The situation becomes interesting when a student chooses to opt for two degree programs in closely related subjects within an institution. For example, when degree programs in biochemistry and biotechnology are chosen by a student, there are many courses that overlap. Awarding an additional degree for putting just a little extra effort needs to be thought of. It becomes very important to clearly define as to how much percent component of the courses should be unique for each degree such that the student actually gains distinct knowledge in two disciplines. Ignorance to this will lead to mushrooming of colleges and HEIs that will design courses that are too similar, teach and evaluate simultaneously and finally award two degrees. It becomes a win-win situation for the student as well as the HEIs at the cost of quality education. On a different note, with the opening up of higher education to encourage multidisciplinarity, the requirements in the previous qualifications to enrol in a bachelor’s degree are relaxed. The chances become much wider with the implementation of CUCET for admissions to bachelor’s programs in Central Universities and possibly in State and private Universities. A student of science stream in the intermediate (+2) is eligible to enrol in arts / humanities / social sciences and vice versa to an extent. In such a scenario, students admitted to the double degree program have a choice to enrol in two degrees of wide disciplines. How much of this width will be allowed shall be carefully designed by HEIs such that the student receiving two degrees has enough knowledge in both these two disciplines, and see to it that the combination of the knowledge from both the degrees will actually enhance her / his career prospects.

7. Additional infrastructure and teaching load

With the enrolment of students in the two degree program, the foot fall in the class rooms and laboratories is bound to increase, though there may not be an increase in the overall strength in the institution. The student intake of most Departments and Schools of HEIs is primarily dependent on human resources, infrastructure and recurring costs. With the implementation of UGC guidelines to offer full time double degrees, HEIs needs to ramp up facilities to meet the increased strength. Especially, when public HEIs have started implementing the EWS quota in student enrolment and trying adjust / enhance the infrastructure, an additional effort to accommodate the extra students at the department levels is going to be a challenge. While this may be possible for private HEIs, the situation is grim for public HEIs which offer education at minimum fees and primarily depend on the Government for all the costs. Further, the teaching load of faculty members is bound to increase in terms of the number of students to be taught and evaluated. Teaching timetables have to reframed to accommodate the extra students; and this naturally stretches the teaching schedule such as having early morning and late evening classes. Burden on the teaching hours of faculty members is inevitable and this may have serious impact on the research output in HEIs that consider research as one of their primary goals. This needs to be addressed by recruiting additional faculty members and employing tutors.

8. Double degree at University of Hyderabad – an earlier attempt

Another possibility is to specialized centres in each of the HEIs that will specifically cater the complete requirements or additional requirements for the second degree. Double degree enrolled student has to declare as to which her / his first degree is; and attends the specialized centre for the second degree. Such an attempt was made at the School of Life Sciences, University of Hyderabad few years back. It was proposed to award two degrees, provided, the student takes additional courses that are unique to the second degree. To cite an example, Animal Biotechnology students can enrol for additional courses that are mandatory requirements for a Zoology degree. At the end of the primary course, provided the student has passed in the additional Zoology courses, the student would be awarded two degrees i.e in Animal Biotechnology and Zoology.  The task of providing additional courses was assigned to the newly started Skill Development Centre at School of Life Sciences. This proposal could not take off due to the stringent UGC guidelines at that time. With the new UGC guidelines allowing students to enrol for two degrees, the above mentioned proposal may be a reality at University of Hyderabad.

9. Other aspects

UGC guidelines specifically state that two full time degrees can be pursued simultaneously in a physical mode within an institution. On the other hand, if one of the degrees is opted in ODL / online mode, there appears to be no bar on the location of the institution offering this degree. In larger cities, there are multiple institutions with easy accessibility. In the international education scenario, there are instances wherein double degrees are awarded by two institutions that are continentally apart. Allowing a student to register for two degrees in two different institutions that are physically not far apart (a clear cut definition of how much is “far apart” is required) will provide two different learning experiences. HEIs in close vicinity shall consider this possibility.

A pertinent question that ligers is, what if a HEI does not implement these guidelines. The UGC in its letter to all HEIs and colleges “requested” to implement these guidelines for the benefit of students. In the fast emerging Indian education sector, wherein HEIs are given ample freedom to offer education as per the needs and situations at the ground level, does a HEI has the freedom to delay or not to implement the double degree scheme? Revamping the infrastructure to implement the double degree may be the primary concern for majority of the public institutions; and to achieve this, financial and logistic support from UGC and Ministry of Education is crucial.

 Conclusions:

The initiative of UGC to allow students to pursue two full time degrees in the same time frame appears to be in line with global practices of education, especially when Indian education system is experiencing phenomenal changes in the last few years. However, the guidelines have provided enormous leverage to HEIs to work out the modalities for the implementation of the double degree program. This may dent the educational and administrative practices, especially in the private HEIs that will try to attract more student enrolment. In the past, the regulations issued by UGC, for example, maintenance of academic standards for the award of PhD degrees, were thoroughly debated and notified through the Gazette of India. On the same lines, for the benefit of students and to prevent confusion in HEIs, UGC should frame regulations for the implementation of the double degree program.

 Conflicts of interest

The author has no conflicts of interest to declare.

REFERENCES

The article was published in the Association of Indian Universities in Vol. 60, No.22 during May 30 – June 05, 2022, University News (A Weekly Journal of Higher Education)

About University of Hyderabad

The University of Hyderabad is an institute of post-graduate teaching and research. The school was established by an act of the Parliament of India in 1974 as a Central University. Over the years, it has emerged as a top ranking institute of higher education and research in India. The university also offers courses under distance learning programs. The university is a member of the ‘Association of Indian Universities’ (AIU), the ‘Association of Commonwealth Universities’ (ACU) and ‘International Council for Distance Education’. An Academic Staff College has been functioning on the university campus since 1988 under the UGC scheme for improving the standards of teaching in colleges and universities. The college organizes orientation and refresher courses for college and university teachers.

For more information, visit: University Of Hyderabad

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