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

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - HT Education - - Front Page - Gauri Kohli Gauri Kohli

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.

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