Why higher education institutions should adopt a Flexible Academic Programme

A Flexible Academic Programme is inclusive and progressive and empowers students to make informed decisions

March 11, 2023 12:58 pm | Updated 03:35 pm IST

A flexible system that allows students to freely enroll and exit courses and transfer majors will reduce dropouts and increase enrollment.

A flexible system that allows students to freely enroll and exit courses and transfer majors will reduce dropouts and increase enrollment. | Photo Credit: Freepik

It is estimated that in India about 25% of students drop out in the first year of college. Many forego college to find jobs in order to support their families. Some of these students still aspire for a college education, which conflicts with their economic reality. India has also seen a significant increase in the number of colleges during the past two decades. Many are self-financed and compete fiercely for new students, thereby prioritising course enrollment over student quality, which causes substantial student attrition.

This is one of the aspects that the National Education Policy (NEP 2020) hopes to address through the implementation of Flexible Academic Programmes (FAP) to usher in inclusive and progressive education that meets students’ demand for flexibility and empowers them to make informed decisions. It aims to boost enrollment by bringing in flexibility and acknowledging that imposing a fixed programme structure on young people without first attempting to understand their requirements will fail.

Exploring interests

There is a consensus among education experts that students should have greater flexibility to explore their interests within the curriculum. Hence, the focus has shifted to developing new curricula and employing innovative strategies that cater to making students employment-ready. In an effort to make India a top destination for overseas students, closer ties with industry are a necessity.

Many students drop out either due to poor academic performance, possibilities of employment or family concerns. Alternative measures are needed to help them leave the course without dropping out. Can a B.Tech. student, who struggles after one year, switch to a three-year programme? Considering the high attrition rates in recent years, the IIT Council has decided to offer academically weak students a departure option instead of expulsion to give them leeway.

For example, IIIT-Allahbad has proposed a unique post-secondary to the Ph.D. FAP on campus. If students meet credit requirements, they can earn a semi-skilled certification after the first year, a skilled certification after the second, a diploma after the third, a Bachelor’s degree after the fourth, a PG diploma after the fifth, a Master’s after the sixth, a Master’s with research certificate after the seventh, and a doctorate after the eighth. Interested students need to take only one exam to enter this programme. Students can also change universities each semester or quit the programme and return later to finish it in regular or working professional mode.

Interestingly, BITS-Pilani has announced that students and faculty can take a year off to establish start-ups. Faculty can receive compensation or equity from the start-ups and the institute will provide subsidised accommodation for budding entrepreneurs. The institute will also incentivise students to participate in innovative business models with additional credits for participation in these initiatives and even up to 2% grace marks if they win state-level competitions with these ideas.

Exits and transfers

Programme design constraints can stifle creativity and slow India’s knowledge economy. Thus, a flexible system that allows students to freely enrol and exit courses and transfer majors to prepare for different careers will reduce dropouts and increase enrollment. India’s low Gross Enrollment Ratio can be improved by integrating vocational education with higher education and offering multiple exit options.

Flexible entry and exit options allow students to create their own degree plans and give them more freedom to choose majors and minors and combine courses to prepare for their careers. Students can study between jobs and assess their skills.

The FAP in India is still at a nascent stage. More institutions should welcome this move and devise their own strategies to help our youth gain the education they want.

The writer is the Chief Business Officer of Shiksha.com and Naukri FastForward

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