What’s the harm in pursuing two degrees simultaneously?
STOP SIGN Experts divided on UGC’s order. Some say students’ knowledge base will be expanded, others feel academic standards will get diluted
A recent notification by the University Grants Commission (UGC) has left Komal Sharma ( name changed on request) worried and confused. She had enrolled for two courses – an MA in economics at a Central university and another master’s in a distance learning institute last year. She wanted to add value to her CV and save an academic year by pursuing two degrees.
However, UGC, in its January 2016 order, said it “does not endorse the idea of allowing students to pursue two degrees simultaneously.” The education regulator directed universities to conduct programmes according to the First Degree and Master’s Degree Regulations 2003 and also follow norms prescribed by the statutory councils, wherever applicable. “I am not sure how this will impact my qualifications or job prospects,” says Sharma.
Students take up to or more degree programme at one time for added qualifications and improved CVs. Whether they should be allowed remains a much- debated issue. Some experts say pursuing two degrees together helps students in many ways. Their knowledge base is expanded and multidisciplinary education, a must for all-round development of young minds, is encouraged. Others say it may not be feasible with practical challenges like the choice-based credit system, different modes of evaluation, faculty-student ratio etc. Professor Nageshwar Rao, vice chancellor (incharge), Indira Gandhi National Open University, says, “Universities in India are more focussed on knowledge- based education. In such a situation, allowing students to pursue two degrees together may not serve the purpose of gaining meaningful education. The focus should be on skill-based education and the human resource development ministry along with other institutions and universities is working towards this. The National Skills Qualifications Framework is a step in this direction that aims to organise all qualifications according to a series of levels of knowledge, skills and aptitude. Allowing students to go for short-term courses in parttime/distance learning mode is a good idea.”
According to MM Ansari, f o r m e r m e m b e r, U G C , “University degrees are getting increasingly delinked from jobs. Why should students chase degrees that do not enhance their social and economic status? In fact, course content of every degree programme is planned in such a way that students can master the theoretical and practical components. Learning requirements and time frame for doing justice with the process of teaching and learning are duly kept in mind. We can’t, therefore, allow two or more degrees simultaneously at the cost of diluting standard of education.” Interestingly, UGC had accepted a proposal to allow students to take up two degree programmes together in 2013. An expert committee of the commission had recommended in 2012 that students enrolled in a regular degree course should be allowed to pursue an additional degree simultaneously under open or distance education mode.
An expert committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Professor Furqan Qamar to look into the issue.
The committee suggested that a student enrolled in a degree programme under regular mode may be allowed to pursue a maximum of one additional degree programme simultaneously under open/distance mode from the same or a different university. However, two degree programmes under regular mode may not be allowed simultaneously as it may create logistic, administrative and academic problems.
Another suggestion was to allow students pursuing a degree programme under regular mode to pursue a maximum of one certificate/diploma/advanced diploma/PG diploma programme simultaneously either in regular or open and distance mode in the same university or from other institutions. UGC, at a meeting on July 31, 2013, had decided to accept the panel’s recommendations on allowing additional degree programmes.
“I endorse the committee’s recommendations as these were made in view of the changing higher education scenario,” says Professor Iqbal Ahmad, who was a member of the committee.
The Distance Education Council in June 2012 had said that two degree programmes could not be pursued simultaneously. It’s a mix bag (of emotions) for research scholars from across the country. The good news is that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has directed all universities to disburse fellowships under prominent schemes by March 31, 2016. However, the extension given to a UGC review committee examining government plans to scrap non-NET fellowships has also upset many scholars.
The fellowships that will be disbursed by the end of this month include the National Eligibility Test-Junior Research Fellowship, Post Doctoral Fellowships for Women, Post Doctoral Fellowships for SC/ST Candidates, BSR Fellowships i n Science, Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowships for SC/ST Students, Maulana Azad National Fellowship for Minority Students and PG Scholarships to GATE/ GPAT-qualified candidates. The universities have been directed to pay out of the grant already released by UGC or from their own resources which will be reimbursed (by UGC) later.
However, scholars who have been fighting a battle against gover nment plans to scrap non-NET fellowships and want increased funding are unhappy with the two-month extension given by the human resource development ministry to a UGC review committee examining the issue. Headed by Gautam Barua, director, IIT Guwahati, the committee was set up in October last year after nationwide protests from research scholars under the #OccupyUGC movement and was expected to submit its report last month.
“Our fellow students are in jail for demanding an increase in funding. The HRD minister has been pushed on the backfoot on this issue, along with the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Rohith Vemula row, and is now playing victim in order to divert attention. We have been trying to set up a meeting with the review committee to put forth our views but nothing has happened,” says Shehla Rashid Shora, acting president, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, who has been at the forefront of the research scholars’ campaign.
Scholars also say that the extension will add to the dilemma of new students joining the MPhil and PhD batches. “It is a big blow to students who will be joining this year. It is still not clear whether the review committee will be able to submit its report by March 31, 2016. By then, the notification for admission to the MPhil and PhD programmes at most institutions, including the IITs, Central and state universities, will be released,” says Zuhail KP, president, Hyderabad Central University Students’ Union.
Research scholars also say that they are being discriminated against on the basis of NET and non-NET fellowships. “The term non-NET fellowships is ambiguous. It should be called non-JRF (junior research fellowship). The extension given to the review committee is a mere attempt to put the issue on the backburner,” says Vikash Swarup, researcher at Allahabad University.
Junior research f ell ows receive, for the first two years
25,000 per month and 30% house rent allowance (HRA) as well as a contingency grant for each year. Senior research fellows receive, for three years, 28,000 per month, 30% HRA and a contingency grant for each year. NonNET fellows receive only monthly grants of 5,000 for MPhil and
8,000 for PhD.