From 2013, the University of Delhi (DU) is likely to introduce a four-year undergraduate degree. Some experts say it will give a student a solid foundation in a single discipline, while others point to resource and structural contraints.
“The four-year system will give a student exposure to a broad set of subjects/ disciplines through the general studies courses and will also provide the requisite space necessary for foundations to be built in a single discipline. This is particularly important for the student who wishes to pursue higher studies in that discipline,” says Geetha Venkataraman, dean, School of Undergr-aduate Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD).
AUD’s school system allows it to offer degrees of a flexible duration. “The structure we have enables us to design three-year honours programmes, four-year dual honours programmes and also allows to integrate our undergraduate programmes with master’s programmes,” she adds.
According to Venkataram-an, the four-year system will also encourage students to explore other disciplines. It might also be possible for students to do bridge courses in the first year so that they could choose streams or majors they may not have considered at school. “Much depends on the implementation, and on the blueprint and fine print,” she says.
There are experts who favour a four-year course but point to the many challenges that need to be addressed. Says Sudhanshu Bhushan, professor and head, department of higher & professional education, National University of Educational Planning and Administration: “It requires the teacher to be prepared to deliver that curriculum.
Another important factor is how one can get the structure ready for that. Will there be no divide between colleges and PG departments of the university? The challenge is how that divide is to be breached. Synthesis of UG and PG courses is the curricular challenge.”
Commenting on the need for teachers prepared to deliver such programmes, Abhijit V Banerjee of the department of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says, “Four years of classes may well be a good idea by itself, especially given the weakness of our high school education (as reflected in the low Programme for International Student Assessment scores for example) but who will teach those classes? As any university administrator knows, the entire country is facing a scarcity of competent professors. Can we as a nation afford what it would cost to staff that extra year of courses with good people?”
Other questions are related to various disciplines. Will a student studying at a college that offers commerce courses be able to take up subjects like history? And are DU colleges prepared to handle the rush of students in these new courses?
“Once the system is in place, colleges will declare the availability of infrastructure and courses. A lot depends on the University Grants Commission as it will have to give extra grants to make the additional subjects stronger in these colleges,” says PC Jain, principal, Shri Ram College of Commerce.
Philip G Altbach, Monan University professor, director, Centre for International Higher Education, Boston College, says, “The four-year structure is typically American and the three-year variation is typical of the UK. There is some degree of global reconsideration going on. For example, Hong Kong has just shifted from a three to a four-year bachelor's so that it can be consistent with mainland China’s four-year pattern. I suspect that if Indian students saw a four-year bachelor’s providing advantages in the job market, it would gain popularity. There are also arguments that such a degree... could add a significant dimension to the educational experience of a student.”