Allowing students to pursue a multidisciplinary academic path is a step forward by the UGC.
Last week, University Grants Commission (UGC), India’s higher education regulator, approved a proposal that will allow students to pursue dual degrees. Official notification of the guidelines for this is awaited, but the policy is expected to mandate that one of the two degrees being pursued simultaneously be in the regular mode, while the other may be through the open/distance learning, or online. The rule has been promulgated keeping in mind the requirement of physical attendance that is a crucial part of most Indian degree-granting institutions.
There are no restrictions on the stream and/or subject in which the second degree may be obtained. India has, for long, offered integrated degree programmes, that allow students to obtain, for instance, both a graduate and a postgraduate degree in a given field in a shorter duration than it would take to pursue them separately—the several BTech-cum-MS programmes testify to the popularity of this option. However, so far, there was no option of pursuing degrees in both engineering and literature at the same time.
UGC’s decision, aimed to improve the career prospects of students, is an acknowledgement of an increased demand in the job market for multidisciplinary skills. In an increasingly interconnected world, 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. In this context, the skills that a multidisciplinary education can impart assume even greater importance.
The policy can also give an impetus to online education in India. UGC’s recent decision, in light of the corona crisis, to allow the top 100 Indian universities, as rated by the National Institutional Ranking Framework, to offer their degrees fully online under the automatic route is a step forward in this direction, and a move up from the over-regulation that was previously choking the sector.
But, it still leaves 90% of the country’s over 900 universities to navigate through a lot of bureaucratic red tape if they want to offer even online courses, let alone degrees. While UGC has done well to better attune higher education to the job market by allowing dual degrees, it must also simultaneously move on freeing up the space of online and distance education if it is to make its new offering a success.