India’s statutory body for higher education, the Universities Grants Commission, last week initiated a shakeup in varsities across the country by proposing that they follow a semester pattern in curriculum instead of yearly examinations and adopt grades instead of numerical percentages in marksheets. In a letter to vice-chancellors, the commission asked all 400 universities to “quickly initiate action” to “expedite” the change that “will provide wider options to students” from the coming academic year.

Unintentional though, the commission’s vigorous promotion carried a strong current of irony. Last year, it had forced the University of Delhi to scrap its Four-Year Undergraduate Programme, which bore a marked resemblance to the change the UGC is now championing.

Here is a look at some of the commonalities between the two systems:

Credit-Based Course Structure
FYUP: In this system, courses were split into Foundation Courses (common to students across streams), Discipline Courses I (major courses related to the degree), and Discipline Courses II (minor or applied courses chosen by students).

UGC Guidelines: Here too, the courses will be divided into compulsory Foundation Courses (relating directly to the subject of study) and Elective Courses (allowing for interdisciplinary studies).

FYUP: A grading system was created in Delhi University with an in-built conversion mechanism.

UGC Guidelines: Grade points, ranging from O (Outstanding) to P (Pass), will be derived from the marks achieved in examinations.

Multiple Exit Points
FYUP: It allowed multiple exit points from the course, so a student could get a diploma after finishing two years of the programme, a bachelor’s degree after three years, or an honours degree after four years.

UGC Guidelines: As part of the National Skill Qualifications framework, all community colleges and those institutions providing Bachelors of Vocational Studies programmes need to provide multiple exit points to students pursuing vocational skill-based courses, such as retail management and business accounting. A student can get a certificate after six months of the programme, a diploma after a year, an advanced diploma after two years, and a B.Voc degree after three years.

Replay of old protests

While some are hailing the UGC’s proposal as a significant shift in higher education structure, many Delhi University teachers are not too enthused. The teachers had last year joined Delhi University’s students in protesting against the Four-Year Undergraduate Programme, calling it “ill conceived”. They feel the same way about UGC’s suggestions today.

“It is unfortunate that the UGC has not learned any lessons from Delhi University’s horrific experience with FYUP,” said Abha Dev Habib, a professor of physics at Miranda House College and a member of Delhi University’s executive council body. “The UGC guidelines are similar to the FYUP course structure in many ways and so now we are required to deal with them again.”

Habib said the UGC did not collect enough feedback from students or teachers before forming its guidelines to standardise education across states. “Different states teach differently,” Habib asserted. “Their grading patterns are separate, so a standard system can’t be imposed in a flash.”

Apart from the system’s hurried implementation, there are concerns among students about admissions based on grade points. They point out that the grades could be interpreted varyingly since the UGC has allowed varsities to “adopt and adapt” its guidelines as they deem fit.

“A university might choose to interpret a grade, say A+, differently for an applicant from a Tier-II university,” said Vishal Manve, a graduate from the University of Mumbai who is currently applying for postgraduate courses. “We would have no recourse since grades signify a range of marks instead of specific percentages, which make it clear if the applicant fits the eligibility criteria or not.”