Academics have lauded the IISc move to start bachelor’s programme.

"Excellent!” exclaimed Professor Yashpal when he heard that the country’s premier research institute, the Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore), had approved a plan to start a four-year Bachelor’s programme by 2011.

Prof. Yashpal, who chaired the committee to advice on renovation and rejuvenation of higher education in India, represents a train of thought that seeks to kill two birds with one stone. By relocating undergraduate education and teaching in the university and in research institutes, it raises the bar for undergraduate education by offering quality education and training to this much-neglected section of students. Further, academics point out, the research community too stands to benefit greatly from interacting with young and fresh minds, and this synergy may also help research institutes attract more talent.

Academics have lauded this bold move by the IISc as a landmark decision. The proposed four-year interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science (BS) programme, modelled in part after the one being offered at the California Institute of Technology, is seen as one that will help address basic problems in the higher education system. This will be a unitary, science-based programme, with participation from engineering disciplines, and will draw expertise from across departments.

Universities across the world function in this manner, and India should be no exception, Prof. Yashpal points out. “In fact, I got the greatest ideas when I was interacting with young students. The power of their inquisitive and fresh minds should not be undermined. Somewhere down the line, the research institutes got isolated from education and now is the time to set things right,” he says. He hopes that institutes such as Jawaharlal Nehru University and the IIMs will follow suit.

First step

Apoorv Anand, member of the Yashpal Commitee and a professor at the Delhi University, points out that in India it was considered a somewhat prestigious affair to be an exclusive research institute. Now that the IISc has taken this first step, it will send a strong message to several universities, he says. However, this must not be restricted to the scientific world alone, and the issue of fragmentation is as relevant if not more to the field of research and studies in social sciences.

Take, for instance, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) which has no interaction with a UG programme though (it is) located barely two kilometres away from Delhi University. Institutes must ask themselves whether their research output is adequate, and if not, why they continue to lag behind.

Mr. Anand insists that there is no single formula to go about these changes. A legislation cannot force reforms down anybody’s throat. Institutes themselves must evolve in such a way that they place courses and their purpose in the real social milieu of India.

Scientists, who have over the years devoted their time to research exclusively, believe that this will dilute their research experience and will divert funds. Prof. Yashpal dismisses this argument as a narrow-minded approach. All the greatest universities in the world have UG courses, and their research is getting along rather well, he retorts. He believes that a great portion of the quality crisis in higher education can be addressed by focussing on the UG courses.

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