The University Grants Commission (UGC: Higher Education Regulatory Body of India) has recently decided to ask all universities to move to a choice-based credit system. This is a welcome move and is good for the long-term educational reforms that are due for a long time. There are, however, several issues that need to be looked at before operationalizing it. Listed below are some of my concerns for discussion and debate:
- In a choice-based credit system, the duration of any degree program is defined by completion of the required number of credits and thus, the duration of the degree program is always stated as “The Normal duration of the program”. The normal length of the degree program is defined as the time it would take an average student to complete the degree. But if an exceptionally well student were to complete the required credits in 2.5 years, will the UGC permit that he be awarded the degree before three years?
- In a choice-based credit system, the total number of credits is defined for all degree programs. Out of this total number of credits, a certain number of credits are for general education which is from areas such as Language, social science, humanities, pure science, and mathematics. The purpose of this to bring in an interdisciplinary approach to higher education. I do not see any evidence as of yet on this aspect.
- A good choice-based credit system requires a good system of open registration for courses by students. Students are allowed to register across schools and departments for courses of their interest. Our universities at this point in time have no such system of student registration management. So how is this going to be done?
- The beauty of a choice-based credit system is based on flexibility to both teachers and the students. The principle applied is that one who teaches, designs the syllabus, sets the assessment criteria, defines the assessment patterns and conducts the assessments. But our university system is based on a centralized examination system where the syllabus is given by someone, the question papers as set by someone else and the course is delivered by another person. So how will choice-based credit system work under a system of centralized examinations?
I feel that there is a serious misunderstanding about the choice-based credit system in India and it is likely to do damage if not done in the right way. It is very important that first the administrative structure of the universities be reformed to bring it in tune with the requirements of the credit based system. There is an interesting example that one can look into to understand this change process.
During the period when the Soviet Union was breaking apart, a number of experts including from Harvard University were putting the process to introduce democracy in the country. Things, however, went bad and the union collapsed. The main reason was that they tried to impose democracy overnight on a system which was governed by a command system at that time. Although the command system was changed and a democratic structure was put in place, the institutions that govern democracy did not exist and that became the cause of its breakdown.
I feel we are doing the same thing in our universities. Today the governance structure of our universities is not in tune with what is required for the introduction of Choice Based Credit System but we are pushing ahead with it. There are two reasons for this; the first is that maybe those who are responsible for the groundwork don’t have enough Idea of what a Choice Based Credit System is or they just do not care for its success or failure.
This is being done in a rush and will lead to a major problem in the times to come unless more work on its understanding is done and the governance structure of the universities goes through a major transformation.