A University Grants Commission (UGC) notification has said that the Academic Bank of Credits will help students select the best courses or combination of courses to suit their aptitude and to tailor their degrees or make specific modifications or specialisations rather than undergoing the rigid, regularly prescribed degree, or courses of a single university. While being a digital bank, the ABC is expected to facilitate multidisciplinary and holistic education and multiple entry and exit in higher education.
Changing job profiles
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“The current structure of our education system is extremely rigid in which academia decides which courses to offer the students. This has left them with little or no choices in line with their career aspirations. Today, it is important to develop students more holistically to prepare them not just for one job of today which at some point may get outdated, but many jobs of tomorrow,” says Bhushan Patwardhan, former vice chairman of UGC and distinguished professor at Savitribai Phule and Pune University (SPPU). He elaborates that market dynamics and its expectations from the graduates are changing, hence the emphasis on evolving the education system.
Rupamanjari Ghosh, vice-chancellor, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi – NCR, and Co-chair, FICCI Higher Education Committee, however, raises some pertinent points about the scheme which she agrees is meant to help students to carve out their own learning path to attain academic qualifications as per their choices, allowing mobility across disciplines and across higher education institutions. “This is no doubt a good idea, which should empower the students in the country, to discover and fully develop their unique potentials. But such an open choice given in the ABC scheme without proper guidance is not going to work — it will cause uncertainty and anxiety in our youngsters (and their families),” she says.
Higher education, in her opinion, is meant to create the leaders of tomorrow, with life skills that do not become obsolete — creative people, capable of critical thinking and hence logical decision-making. “The university output should contribute to R&D – leadership in thoughts and actions. This needs to be understood and practised in a coordinated fashion across multiple institutions.”
Calling for the need to monitor the quality of the teaching-learning process across these multiple institutions under the ABC scheme — the content as well as the method of delivery of the content, Ghosh emphasises, “It is the quality that matters and not the number of credits earned. One drawback is those good universities are not degree distributing shops and university education is not just about getting a degree certificate. The campus experience, the 24×7 learning, social engagements are all crucial for the holistic 360-degree development of a human being. How will this be addressed?” she asks.
Upskilling for the future
Patwardhan too believes that students need to be groomed for employment and entrepreneurial ventures if they are given the freedom to choose. “This is in keeping with the NEP’s focus on a more student-centric education as opposed to the institution/teacher-centric education.” Not every subject that the student wants is available at the institution in which he/she enrolled. By making their own choices from different subjects and institutions that come under the ABC scheme, they will be able to acquire relevant skill sets which will augment their educational qualifications for better careers,” Patwardhan says.
“The skill component in education was earlier available in isolation that widened the gap between skill-based, blue-collared education and white collared traditional pedagogy. Sticking to just one basic degree reflects a colonial system of education which is redundant,” Patwardhan says, alluding to Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of ‘Shram Pratishtha’ which he feels needs to be implemented with its focus on hands-on learning.
“Under the new initiative, students can acquire credits from even a skill university registered under the ABC or they can acquire relevant skills as part of the embedded internship programme in BA, BSc or BCom programmes. In doing so, the students’ profile is set to change. They also have the flexibility to earn up to 40% credits from ‘outside sources’ be it through online courses via SWAYAM, NPTEL, V-Lab etc, industry internships or work in business enterprises all of which will be counted as part of the curricular activity,” Patwardhan says.
Emphasising that ABC will create “a bridge between skills, knowledge and education as opposed to the earlier compliance mode”, he adds that students are likely to become more performance-oriented irrespective of the discipline they come from.
Repository of credits
While analysing the new scheme, Bhaskar Ramamurthi, director, IIT Madras, claims that the ABC enables “credits earned in bursts of learning, maybe in different institutions at different locations and different times (due to constraints faced by the student)”. These can be transferred to a degree-granting institution towards a diploma or degree, based on the institution’s quality standards. “The ABC is not related to any existing inadequacy but just an authentic digital record of credits – it can open up more opportunities but cannot by itself make up for lack of institutions, or lack of good degree/diploma programmes.”
Substitute for printed documents
In terms of the students’ job prospects post the new scheme, Ramamurthi says, the value of a degree or diploma in the employment market will be determined by the quality of the programme devised by an institution and its own quality standards and standards for credit transfer. “It is commonplace these days to undertake lifelong learning and earning credits through re-skilling. An authentic record of such credits will help a person seek new avenues. Ultimately though, ABC is a convenient and authenticated replacement for printed certificates,” Ramamurthi adds.