University Grants Commission (UGC), the higher education regulator and grants making body, which is itself under brand transformation and waiting to be named as Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) on January 28 released the draft for National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF). The purpose of draft is to invite and collect public feedback and suggestions by February 13. Thereafter, most likely before the onset of academic year 2022-23, ie, July this year, NHEQF could well be notified.
Home to world’s 3rd largest higher education system in the world with 1,043 universities, 42,343 colleges and some 11,779 stand alone institutions, NHEQF is likely to push India’s higher education to a new high level. “The purpose is to bring up/elevate all HEIs to a common level of benchmarking to ensure that all institutions are providing quality education. The framework is intended to allow for flexibility and innovation in (i) programme design and syllabi development, (ii) teaching-learning process, (iii) assessment of students’ learning levels, and (iv) periodic programme review within a broad framework of agreed expected programme/course learning outcomes and academic standard,” says the draft.
In layman terms, NHEQF will integrate skilling with general education and it will have synergy and continuity with NSQF (National Skills Qualification Frameworks). NHEQF will make it possible for Multiple Entry and Exit Scheme in Academic Programmes Offered in Higher Education.
Under the already approved Credit Based Semester System (CBSS), degree or diploma or certificate is prescribed in terms of number of credits to be completed by the students and now NHEQF will further strengthen and universalize it. Typically a certificate will be awarded after completing 1 year (2 semesters) of study in the chosen discipline or field, including vocational and professional areas; a diploma after 2 years (4 semesters) of study; a Bachelor’s degree after a 3-year (6 semesters) programme of study; o a Bachelor’s degree with honours after a 4-year (eight semesters) programme of study; a Bachelor’s degree ‘with research’ after a 4-year (eight semesters) program me of study if the student completes a rigorous research project in her/his the major area(s) of study as specified by the HEI.
As a consequence of this master’s program will also undergo a change. A 2-year Master’s programme with the second year devoted entirely to research for those who have completed the 3-year Bachelor’s programme will have an alternative by way of a 1-year Master’s programme for students who have completed a 4-year Bachelor’s degree (Honours/Research) programme with research. Then there is also an integrated 5-year Bachelor’s/M aster’s programme. Undertaking a Ph.D. programme shall require either a Master’s degree or a 4-year Bachelor’s degree with research.
Qualification type refers to the broad discipline-free nomenclature such as a Certificate, Diploma, Bachelor’s degree, Master’s Degree, and Doctoral Degree used in the NHEQF to describe each category or level of NHEQF qualification. Discipline Specific Core courses (DSCs), Discipline Specific Electives (DSEs) and Generic Electives (GEs) is the multidisciplinary approach by which a student will have to complete specified credits in each for moving on the ladder from one level to another.
Prior to UGC’s NHEQF draft, Delhi University (DU) on January 21 also revealed a similar draft called Undergraduate Curriculum Framework-2022 (UGCF-2022). It also invited feedback/suggestions by January 30. DU’s tryst with FYUP will be interesting to watch as the process is on from August 2021 and university authorities are determined to roll out NHEQF from this academic year. “This Institution of Eminence (IoE) has left no stones unturned in its quest for excellence in higher education in the last century, and UGCF-2022 is destined to take this rich tradition ahead in the new millennium on the historic occasion of the Centenary Celebrations of the university,” said the draft.
While the DU academic council expectedly will further deliberate on the draft and also take into account suggestions received from various quarter’s, the dissent and criticism of what it is called as the ‘skilling overdose’ and dilution of academic standards has already set in. Teacher organizations and others have started looking at minute and operational details. All have the potential to snowball into a controversy in coming weeks.
Democratic Teachers’ Front (DTF) has reacted to UGC released NHEQF in the following manner:
“Due to the orientation of the structure towards a 4-year research degree, the lower certifications – the Undergraduate Certificate and Undergraduate Diploma – will be mere paper degrees with no market value in terms of employability. Further, students who graduate with a 3-year degree run the risk of being treated as drop-outs who lacked the ability to complete the full programme.
Specifically, the NHEQF stipulates credits required for various certifications as follows: 40 credits earned in first two semesters lead to an Undergraduate Certificate, 80 credits earned in 2 years lead to an Undergraduate Diploma, a Bachelor’s Degree can be obtained in three years with 120 credits, and BTech and Bachelor (Hons/Research) degrees require 160 credits over 4 years. These credits are a significant reduction from the current 3-year requirement of 148 credits, as propagated under the 2015 Choice-Based Credit System (2015), and represent a dilution of the academic content. In effect, a student spends another year to gain a half semester’s worth of knowledge!
It must be pointed out that the additional 4th year requires a greater investment from the Government. It is not feasible without an increase in faculty and staff members, as well as more advanced laboratory and library facilities. There is no indication that the Government plans this additional investment, yet without it the 4th year can only be implemented via online learning, and will be destined for rejection by the market. Publicly funded universities will find it especially hard to cater to the needs of a diverse student population in these circumstances. The informalisation of education which is being carried out in parallel through the ABC and SWAYAM Regulations will lead to institutionalisation of small-term teaching jobs and thus to job loss on a large scale.”