Sheetal Chawla is doing her degree in economics at Ethiraj College, Chennai. At the same time, she is also pursuing her CA, having cleared the foundation after plus two. “Economics is not only an interesting subject, but when combined with CA, it opens up a lot of opportunities in the industry,” says Chawla. “And yes, I also wanted to keep my options open and have a plan B to fall back on. It is a hectic schedule, but I will be able to build both career flexibility and expanded scope thanks to my dual qualifications.”

Dual degrees seem to be the in thing for youngsters today, with thousands of students seeking to hit two birds with one stone. A dual or joint degree offers many distinct academic, professional, cost and time benefits, making it possible for students to diversify or specialise depending upon their desire. In other words, you could build a career in either field or you could use your interdisciplinary knowledge and insight to create a niche career path for yourself.

Growing Demand

Understanding the growing demand and need for specialised higher education options, many colleges are offering integrated, joint and dual degree programmes in many fields. IITs for example, offer dual degrees in computer science and engineering as also M.Tech — PhD dual degrees.

BITS, Pilani, Goa, and Hyderabad Campuses offer dual degree options wherein students can complete their B.E along with their M.Sc (Hons). Under this scheme, students doing M.Sc (Hons) will get an assured B.E degree allotted to them at the end of the first year, based on their CGPA.

“The M.Sc is not just a valuable addition to my qualifications, but is of great help when applying for jobs abroad,” opines Suresh Vishwanathan, a student at BITS. “It also exposes us to research opportunities which we may otherwise never consider pursuing.”

Pursuing two degrees at the same time does not automatically imply that students have to manage double course load. Most joint degree programmes offered by colleges are structured to enable students to focus and balance between the two degrees, and in most cases the student is not expected to shoulder much more than the normal full-time course.

The cost advantage

The cost of studying abroad, as well the demand and importance given to foreign degrees in the Indian market has prompted many Indian institutions to enter into partnerships with established foreign universities and technical colleges allowing students to earn dual degrees both from India and abroad through integrated, well structured professional courses.

The South Asia International Institute, Hyderabad for example has launched dual degrees courses in India offering five-year integrated programmes, Bachelor's in Technology (B.Tech) and Master's in Technology (M.Tech) It also offers dual degrees in B.Tech and MBA in three fields namely computer science and engineering, telecommunication and engineering and electronics engineering.

Blekinge Institute of Technology has entered into a partnership with Andhra University, JNTU-Hyderabad and JNTU-Kakinada and is offering two-year M.Tech/M.Sc program in software engineering, signal processing and telecommunication. Under this programme, the first semester will be taught at the respective Indian University and the remaining three will be imparted at Blekinge Institute. Successful students can earn an M.Tech degree from the Indian University along with an M.Sc from Blekinge Institute. The cost of the program is very nominal compared to the usual costs of studying abroad, as BIT has exempted the tuition fee under the annual exchange programme.

Accelerated learning

Professor Rajaram who teaches at BITs contends, “Pursuing two degrees simultaneously not only saves money and makes you competitive, it also helps you optimise your time and course load at grad school. Very often, you may be able to get mutual credit for courses that overlap both programmes.

As a result, the workload can be considerably reduced while ensuring accelerated learning.”

Dual degree programs are well structured and typically offer much more than traditional programmes. They are also a great way to explore new avenues without taking too much of a risk especially for people who are looking to change specialisations.

Potential challenges

Taking up dual degrees comes with its own share of challenges. Every course will have its own difficult subjects, and students taking up dual degrees will have to tackle difficult subjects in both courses.

Also, since the timeframe for dual degrees is accelerated, students will be left with less time to pick up slack when compared to regular degrees.

It is no cakewalk, and students need to find a way to sustain the will and motivation to continue when the going gets tough.

Dual degrees may not be for everyone, and require a lot of planning, co-ordination and of course hard work, to pull it off. But if you are up to the challenge, they can help you diversify and open up new career opportunities.

As Lahiri, a dual degree student concludes, “It is no doubt a challenge to devote adequate time and meet the academic requirements of both degrees in an accelerated timeframe, but I see my dual degree as an investment that will be of great support to me in the years to come.”

Bindu Sridhar