The Delhi University decision to adopt a four-year Baccalaureate undergraduate degree programme in place of the contemporary three-year Bachelors degree may be an attempt at curriculum innovation, but the absence of academic refinements and adequate discussion among teachers and prospective entrants is a disappointment. The standardisation of courses and certification has provided a stable system for students across the country, and led to predictable outcomes for employers. This is not to say that the products of the system have emerged uniformly educated, skilled and employable. Moreover, there is a long and justified debate on encouraging real innovation in education, with the goal of breaking the silos that mark individual disciplines and allowing students to choose from diverse courses, combining even mathematics and music, and qualify for a degree. It is in this area that DU’s new four-year honours degree system must be put to the test. Does it provide such flexibility to the students or does it enforce a rigid curriculum? Evidently, it would be counterproductive to simply regiment students into a set of foundation and application courses, not all of which match their aptitude. That apprehensions exist about the likely outcomes of the changed curriculum indicates that the university has done a poor job of convincing the intended beneficiaries and the faculty.
At the 61st meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education last month, the point was underscored that India needs a modern national higher education qualification framework. This is based on the need for recognition and acceptability of courses and degrees by all universities on the question of equivalence. As a country with one of the largest higher education systems anywhere — involving over 600 university-level institutions and more than 36,000 colleges — the issue of degree-equivalence, and vertical and horizontal mobility of students must be an important priority when curricular reform is undertaken. While the duration of degree courses may vary, as it does in different countries, it would serve the goals of education better if the credit system for individual courses is standardised and introduced in all universities recognised by the University Grants Commission. Such reform would be a genuine silo-breaker, since students can take a variety of courses including those in core subjects and qualify for a degree. The change at Delhi University has tweaked the course duration, but appears to be short on academic liberalisation of the kind that would make it a real model. Allowing students more choices to exit the degree programme before the fourth year with certification is welcome, but that in itself is hardly revolutionary.