One of the most discussed topics in 2023 was the four-year degree courses outlined in the 'New Education Policy 2020'. We have seen society expressing enthusiasm, hope, concern, and scepticism in the transition from the traditional three-year undergraduate programmes to four-year courses. As we move into 2024, let's take a look at the various possibilities and challenges of implementing the four-year degree courses.
1) Broad Skill Development: With the availability of multiple cross-functional specializations, the four-year course creates opportunities for students to learn and analyze different subjects and specialities beyond limits and explore the skills required for this. It enables the younger generation to understand what suits them and make informed decisions about their career paths.
2) Holistic Learning: More comprehensive education, in addition to subject-specific knowledge, provides opportunities for meaningful personality development by developing skills such as soft skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork.
3) International Compatibility: All the leading countries in the world follow the four-year degree model. With the adoption of the four-year system, Indian degrees will be in line with international standards. This increases opportunities for global cooperation and employment opportunities.
4) Research Opportunities: It promotes an applied research culture suited for the industry. It provides a better foundation for students to engage in in-depth research activities and gives the hope that practical research-based methods will help in reducing the industry-academia gap.
5) Industrial Relevance: The four-year course enables the evolution of a more up-to-date curriculum in tune with the rapidly changing industries while prioritizing developing skills in tune with industry requirements. This ensures that graduates are better equipped to meet current industrial needs. The proposal to involve applied industry practitioners in curriculum syllabus development, skill training, and research supervision may have long-term beneficial effects if implemented.
6) Less Stress: Making the course four years instead of three years will reduce the stress on students, which provides a more balanced and stress-free learning experience.
7) Compulsory Mentoring Scheme in Four-year Degree: The mentoring scheme is intended to be a structured and focused intervention for the holistic development of a student. Here, an expert (the teacher who is the mentor) provides personal guidance, support, advice, etc., to the student. The mentoring scheme may play a major role in bridging the gap between faculty members and students with the former providing emotional and helpful support and guidance on future careers to students. They do so by creating a favorable formal/informal learning environment in the educational institution and thereby fostering a healthy relationship between them.
8) Student Learning Assessment: Student learning assessments of international standards that provide clear guidance to students after analyzing their performance and aptitude, included in the four-year undergraduate programmes, may produce quality results. This may help reduce the complaint that in some states, the students are given grades without assessing their performance. It will also boost the intrinsic motivation for students to learn.
1) Additional requirements for financial, human resource, and infrastructure development
The four-year degree courses have significant implications for students, particularly in terms of higher fees and increased cost of living. This may cause additional financial burden to students and their families, especially those from lower-income backgrounds. Similarly, expanding the duration of degree programmes by a year requires additional resources, including faculty and infrastructure. Hiring qualified faculty, maintaining up-to-date facilities, and finding the resources for the same may prove a big challenge to educational institutions. Already some of the universities and certain colleges under them, which have implemented the four-year degree courses, have started feeling the pinch.
2)Resistance to changes
Implementing the new system requires a significant shift in the institutional mindset and culture. As educational institutions shift from three-year to four-year degree courses, they may face various challenges like differences in political perspective, issues in communication between central agencies, universities, departments, and associated colleges, and resistance from the student-faculty-parents community. This may compromise the final output of the new model.
3) Uncertainty surrounding skill development and achievement
While the four-year degree programmes focus on increased academic knowledge, they may fall short in providing students with the required skill sets in line with the dynamic job market and making them industry-ready. Here, the formation and effective implementation of an academic curriculum that aligns with changing industry needs and fosters the development of hands-on skills to ensure the readiness of graduates to tackle real-world challenges may prove vital.
4) Shortcomings in manpower resources and departmental facilities
The shortcomings in manpower resources and departmental facilities to implement value-based, skill-based courses included in four-year degree programmes may affect educational institutions. Already, many teachers have expressed concern that giving more prominence to skills may lower the significance of research.
5) Lack of experience of teachers
Currently, the increased emphasis on theory-based research and the lack of experience of teachers imparting traditional subjects in industry consulting is likely to hinder the implementation of practical changes in education. It is, therefore, essential that teachers be given more training in practical research and vocational skills courses.
In short, there is no doubt that four-year undergraduate programmes will help our education system and students rise to international standards. However, its success depends on how the policy and plans are implemented. Currently, teachers scrambling to cover the syllabus within the stipulated hours often do not bring the desired results. The eco-system consisting of teachers, students, administrators, parents, and employers, hence, needs to be collectively open and willing to effectively use experiential learning, self-learning, internships, and projects in a time-consuming manner by shifting from the traditional teaching and learning methods. The experiences and responses of the universities and colleges that implemented the four-year undergraduate programmes in 2023 should certainly be taken into account when implementing the change from now on.
So, we will still have to wait to record a critical opinion about the success or impact of the four-year undergraduate programs. Hopefully, in 2024, our country will leap towards a major change in our education system through the implementation of four-year undergraduate programmes.