Two-degree UGC decision and social justice – The New Indian Express | SehndeWeb

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has now legitimized the pursuit of two parallel degree programs for undergraduate and postgraduate students. This decision is in line with the proposals of the 2020 National Education Policy.

But nowhere in the 66-page NEP 2020 document does it explicitly say that students should have the option of pursuing two degrees simultaneously. Rather, it highlights the need for higher education to be more flexible in order to develop students’ abilities to help them in an increasingly automated society.

We are now on the threshold of the fourth industrial revolution, postulates the NEP 2020. The exponential growth and application of technology has brought about changes in all spheres of life. This will have a considerable impact on the restructuring of the manufacturing and distribution sectors. Artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are fueling the changes already underway.

As a result, many jobs in the labor market and the skills associated with them can become exhausted over time. For example, it won’t take long for LPG to reach our kitchens through pipelines. In this case, workers in related sectors, including workers in the supply of gas cylinders, will have to migrate to other professions. These changes are applicable to all employment sectors.

Given the unpredictability of the pace at which these changes occur, the layoffs will hit the economy hard. To face this catastrophe, the workforce must have the capacity and the will to find its place in another related sector of employment. The only way to achieve this is through lifelong education and therefore the continuous renewal of professional skills.

Modern societies place the entire responsibility for managing such crises on the citizens themselves. Absolute freedom is the recourse given to the citizen to deal with such questions. The most important of these is to further liberalize end-user freedom in higher education. NEP 2020 has brought many student-friendly suggestions to the table, including the multiple-entry exit option and the academic credit bank system.

Another advancement that falls into this category is to allow UG and PG students to pursue two degrees in parallel. However, research students do not benefit from this privilege. It was once illegal to pursue two degrees together.

A judgment of the Calcutta High Court in 2010 is an example. The parallel double degree system is a great opportunity in a competitive world. At the same time, governments and higher education institutions must ensure that social justice is part of this new movement.

To help students regularly follow two degrees simultaneously, educational institutions must rearrange their working hours. If a person wishes to obtain two degrees from other departments of the same college, the working hours of the two departments should be set accordingly. If the student is trying to graduate from another college, time and distance matter.

Therefore, one is not sure of the feasibility of working towards two degrees at the same time. Another way is to do an online degree and another regularly. As part of this, UGC has listed some eligible universities to offer online degrees.

Many institutions are also in the queue. If universities start offering online degrees, there is a possibility of a huge influx of students. This would turn into a huge source of fund generation for them as many would want to learn while working.

If universities decide to charge higher fees for more demanding courses, degree prices will likely fluctuate like the costs of goods in the market. The UGC should also be a price regulation agency in the future.

And our traditional colleges may shrink to institutions where fewer students regularly attend classes. Moreover, the regular mode of education could become a luxury.
Although the number of students studying directly on campus is decreasing, there will be a huge jump in enrollment in higher education.

There is no doubt that with the implementation of the new system, all students will face pressure, direct and indirect, to enroll in two degrees. Perhaps students who haven’t can even become second-class citizens of the higher education system.

The biggest hurdle that economically and socially backward students will face in availing this opportunity is the availability of money. Expenses such as admission and examination fees can place a heavy financial burden on students and parents.

Although e-grants and other financial aid are offered by states to students from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, governments can conveniently place the financial responsibility for second-degree enrollment on the shoulders of students and of their parents.

Would governments be willing to provide financial aid for both degrees to deserving students? Will there be a reservation for students belonging to the deserving categories of the second degree? These issues require immediate attention to ensure that our higher education system is grounded in social justice.

Analysis of state budgets reveals that education departments in most states are already at the mercy of the finance department. With the implementation of the parallel double degree system, special attention should be paid by the government to economically and socially backward students to address any inequalities that may arise.

If registration for a second degree becomes the sole responsibility of the students, in principle all will also pursue a self-funded degree. Even those who are deserving and admitted to public institutions will become students of a self-funded degree program. Thus, universities and state-funded higher education institutions must also offer the second degree with a subsidized fee structure, for which they certainly need the support of the public treasury. Will it happen?

(The author is Professor, School of Education, Central University of Kerala and can be contacted at amruth@cukerala.ac.in)

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