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The Honours debate

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Some faculty members say the cut-off of 70 per cent marks in the qualifying examination will be a deterrent. Many others feel the government is imposing its will on the universities.G. KRISHNAKUMAR listens to various views.

Confusion looms large over the State government’s decision to launch Honours degree programmes in select colleges across the State this academic year.

Almost three weeks after the Higher Education Department informed the vice-chancellors that the “government desires that the courses should be started this academic year itself,” no concrete steps have been taken to make it a reality.

The colleges selected for offering the courses include Government Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram (BA Honours English); Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam (BA Honours Economics); Victoria College, Palakkad (B.Com. Honours), and Brennen College, Thalassery, (B.Sc. Honours Mathematics).

As per the direction given to the vice-chancellors by the Principal Secretary, Higher Education, on July 9, the colleges selected are being considered for upgrade as centres of excellence under the 12{+t}{+h}Five Year Plan. This move is part of a broader strategy to enhance the quality of the degree and potential for employment.

Candidates in the general category need to score 70 per cent marks in the qualifying examination to apply for the Honours courses. For students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe communities, the qualifying marks should be 60 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively. The intake for each course is 30. There will be an internal system for the annual evaluation of the course. There will be six hours of regular classes a day. The government will provide facilities for students to carry out their internship.

The coordinators for the programmes will be appointed by a selection committee consisting of the Secretary, Higher Education Department, the Director of Collegiate Education, the Additional Director of Collegiate Education, the Principal of the college concerned, and the Head of the Department. The coordinators will receive a remuneration of Rs. 40,000 a month. The existing faculty can be utilised and if necessary, guest faculty shall be appointed for the additional work.

Faculty members who spoke to The Hindu-EducationPlus on condition of anonymity pointed out that the major hurdle before the colleges is how to find the right mix of students. As per the admission norms proposed by the Higher Education Department, a candidate in the general category applying for the Honours courses should have scored 70 per cent marks in the qualifying examination.

A senior faculty member of Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam, admitted that it would be an impossible task to fill the seats, as first semester classes had already started in affiliated colleges of Mahatma Gandhi University. With the minimum eligibility fixed at 70 per cent, it might be difficult to fill the seats as students who meet the criteria would have definitely joined an undergraduate programme by this time, he said.

Relaxation

But P.K. Velayudhan, Additional Director of Collegiate Education, exuded confidence when he said that there would be several students who were yet to get a seat for a degree programme despite bagging 70 per cent marks in the qualifying examination. He said the eligibility criteria would be relaxed this year, if colleges failed to fill the seats.

Dr. Velayudhan said the colleges shortlisted for starting the Honours courses could conduct the admission on their own this year.

An entrance examination would be conducted from next year for the degree Honours courses, he said.

Though the government seems upbeat about its initiative, the degree Honours programme at the undergraduate level has evoked mixed reactions among the stakeholders.

Rajan Varughese, former Pro Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University and senior faculty of U.C. College in Aluva, blamed the government for imposing its own wisdom in the form of the scheme and syllabus of the BA programme and handing it over to the same to the university for immediate approval.

“The present attempt is to bypass the powers of the academic council and the Board of Studies, which are the backbone of the university in academic matters. But the government has now shown scant regard for the law governing the field and is acting against the Act and Statute of the universities,” he said.

A.V. George, Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, said the Higher Education Department had already forwarded the syllabus for the B.A. Honours (Economics) programme to be offered by Maharaja’s College.

The government has requested the university to place the proposal before the Board of Studies for immediate approval, he said.

Welcoming the move to start the Honours degree programmes, Sr. Teresa, Principal of St. Teresa’s College, said that aided colleges would be ready to start such programmes without any delay. The curriculum for the Honours programmes was different from the regular courses and had high quality, she said.

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