The University Grants Commission’s (UGC) approval of the proposal allowing students to pursue two degrees simultaneously to help them improve their career prospects is futuristic and pro-student. It is a step forward and a move up from the over-regulation that was previously choking the sector.
But, it has to clear the bureaucratic bottlenecks and ensure that the new mode does not create further educational and social divide.
According to UGC vice-chairman Bhushan Patwardhan, the nod will allow students to complete courses in the same or different streams at the same time from the same institution or different institutions, provided the institution offers multiple modes of learning. One of the two degrees, however, has to be through regular mode as minimum attendance criteria has to be met, and the other has to be through online distance learning.
A few higher educational institutions in India, for long, offered integrated degree programmes that allow students to obtain a graduate and a post graduate degree in a given field in a shorter duration than it would take to pursue them separately—the several B.Tech-cum-MS programmes stand testimony to the popularity of this option. However, so far, there was no option of pursuing degrees in both engineering and humanities at the same time.
While an “official notification will be issued soon”, the finer details about eligibility are being worked out by the Commission.
A flexible degree opens a world of new possibilities. It lets candidates to choose the primary field of study and try other disciplines that suit their goals or taste and helps explore their passion. The major advantage of pursuing a dual degree is that it’s easier to make contacts with academics, students and professionals. This helps in widening the networks and enhances job opportunities as employers prefer candidates with inter-disciplinary knowledge and adaptability skills.
The UGC’s decision will positively impact the career prospects of students and is an acknowledgement of an increased demand in the job market for multi-disciplinary skills. In a globalized world, skills acquired through multi-disciplinary education assume even greater importance as jobs are no longer silos of technical knowledge. While specialisations remain as important as ever, the ability to think critically and laterally is now equally crucial to professional success.
The policy can also give an impetus to online education in India as the UGC has allowed top 100 universities, as rated by the National Institutional Ranking Framework, to offer their degrees fully online under the automatic route.
The dual degree programme would facilitate work integrated learning and help students land in jobs even while earning credits. Available as 6-12 months of professional programmes ensuring placement, they can include an industry-based project, ensure professional placement under the supervision of an academic supervisor, industry study tour or student exchange programme with international exchange partners, etc.
The concept is more popular in European Union, as the labour market also sees advantages in candidates with more skill sets.
It may be mentioned that a committee set up in 2012, headed by the then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, Furqan Qamar recommended dual degree but the idea was turned down.
While the finer modalities are yet to be made public, it is advisable to keep in mind several research reports which maintained that online mode can never be a substitute for a teacher in the classroom. Universities will have to navigate through a lot of bureaucratic hurdles, regulatory framework, work out equivalencies, if they want to offer even online courses, let alone degrees. If the new offering has to be a success, the UGC has to free up the space of online and distance education, put in place mechanisms to curb any malpractices and frauds and work on the entry requirements for both the courses.
From a student’s perspective, it remains to be seen if they can complete both courses at the same time. Whether they will have the energy to take up two degree courses at the same time is a question.
The move has implications for access and equity. Students from the well-to-do sections can access and avail themselves of the new scheme while the economically weaker candidates would find it difficult.
Also, as the programmes offered in online mode are more likely to be in English medium, it becomes a major stumbling block for those with language handicap or the ones with regional language competencies.
Given the Covid-19 situation, the switch to digital mode of education at various levels has been faster even as administrators, faculty in universities and edu tech companies are rethinking higher education. Will the dual degree programme, once embraced by a large section of the student clientele, push the regular mode of education into oblivion?
One will have to guard against such an impending peril as regular mode of education offers greater scope to spark curiosity, ignite passion, strengthen social skills and the emotional quotient