Varsities unprepared for CBCS
One of the surest ways of nipping any good academic idea in the bud is to go about it in a haphazard manner, without creating the required minimum infrastructure and not taking key stakeholders on board. The controversy surrounding the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) is representative of the above problems that have alienated major sections of the academic community.
The higher education system in India is a major source of human capital. With approximately 650 different kinds of universities, over 40000 colleges and almost 2.40 crore students, the higher education system in the country is both diverse and gigantic. The intentions of both Ministry of Human Resource Development and the University Grants Commission are without doubt good. However, large-scale education systems are prone to becoming burial grounds for many a good intention. Academic Performance Indicators (API)-Performance Based Appraisal System (PBAS) and Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) are recent examples of the above malaise.
Let me make it clear that the underlying philosophy behind CBCS can be potentially good, but only if it is properly pursued. Both CBCS and Central Universities Act are the result of a political bonhomie between Communist Party of India (Marxist) and United Progressive Alliance-1 government. Political compulsions now are dictating certain teacher groups to oppose what their masters had earlier proposed. All their talk about increasing foreign and private influence in the education sector is mere political posturing. However, we must oppose the implementation of CBCS at this stage because its large-scale introduction will precipitate academic mayhem in our under-prepared higher education system. Before introducing the system across India, pilot test projects at a smaller scale will help.
There are four salient features of CBCS which require in-depth study. The first feature involves the ‘mobility’ of students across institutions. Although ‘mobility’ should welcomed, it does require rigorous preparation: broad agreement on admission policy, uniform calendar (annual/semester), capacity to absorb additional migratory burden in popular courses, uniformity in examination system, agreements on sharing of resources between participating universities/institutions, etc. Have our universities and colleges taken any of these steps?
The second feature of CBCS is the availability of a wide choice of academic disciplines to students. Though the phrase used is ‘cafeteria approach’, at present the universities and higher education institutes do not possess the required infrastructure and finance for even a limited choice-based ‘academic thali ‘. However, the provision for a wider combination of choices for a degree is praiseworthy. The funding agencies shall have to modify their distribution patterns to accommodate increased teaching requirements.
One corollary of the credit-based system is that a student, who for a variety of reasons is forced to discontinue studies midway, can retain earned credits and complete the degree after earning the required additional credits, depending on his/her circumstances. This move shall be useful for those who belong to the economically weaker sections, particularly women. Universities shall need to make amendments to their statutes and ordinances to make this possible. Span period and other issues will require in-depth analysis.
The third feature of the CBCS is replacing the percentage system to the grading system and finally to a Cumulative Grade Point Average. It has not been sufficiently explained as to why and how this system is superior. Also, how will colleges regulate admissions in a large university system on the basis of cumulative averages? In most cases, holding admission tests shall become inevitable. One of the least talked about, but a very significant feature of the CBCS is integrating life-serving ‘skills’ in the academic stream. This attempt cannot be faulted. It is much needed. However, it requires massive preparation and the creation of infrastructure - human, material and technical - along with cooperative formal understandings with various skill providing agencies. Higher education systems have to prepare themselves for this novel but a desirable idea.
It seems that the Visitor of Central Universities, the President of India, along with the Union Minister of HRD and the UGC Chairman has repeatedly discussed the matter with the Vice-Chancellors (VCs) of major Central Universities. All the VCs have agreed to implement CBCS from 2015 -16 without even discussing it with the faculty and students. The MHRD & the UGC should not and cannot take the assurances of the VCs at face value. The stakes are too high. They impinge upon the future of the youth and the future of this country. The status of a university’s preparedness for such a comprehensive change must first be meticulously monitored by the UGC.
Let us take Delhi University (DU) for example. It is not just any central university. With 75 constituent colleges, over 60 teaching university departments, allied with its historical federal character, it is a massive entity. The total student and teacher strength is at least 2.5 times more than those of all the other central universities put together. Except for putting the UGC supplied model syllabi on its website, the varsity has made no other preparation. It has not yet introduced the semester system to its non-formal stream students, who are underprivileged. What sort of mobility would be available to such students who are part of DU itself? The Statutory Authorities of the University, the Executive and the Academic Councils, went through the formality of adopting CBCS without any debate and discussion. Only those who differed were permitted to record their dissents. Is this how autonomous universities take decisions? In addition, more than 4,100 teachers out of about 9,500 are still working on ad hoc basis. The contours of the discourse on CBCS is heavily but naturally influenced by its effect on workload affected teaching positions. One of the first prerequisite in DU for a genuine debate on any reform is first regularise all vacancies through due process.
Despite many directives, DU is going slow on these appointments. However, authorities in DU seem to be in an unholy hurry to implement CBCS because its imminent failure shall smear egg on the combined face of the MHRD and UGC. The university authorities shall blame it on the pressure from UGC. Also, the unceremonious rollback of the failed FYUP shall be avenged. The MHRD & the UGC should first ask universities for the status of their preparedness before implementing CBCS. The insistence on implementing it from the 2015-16 sessions will be an avoidable folly.
(The writer is Member, University Grants Commission. Views expressed are personal)