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Choice Based Credit System needs systemic changes


Earlier this year, India’s central universities agreed to roll out the controversial Choice Based Credit System, or CBCS, from the start of the 2015 academic session in July. A few months down the line, universities are struggling to accommodate the structural changes that CBCS demands.

Academics feel that unless accommodating systems are put in place and the traditional teaching style of Indian universities shifts, CBCS will fail to provide real choice and flexibility to students.

According to guidelines issued by the University Grants Commission, or UGC, the highest regulatory authority for university education in India, CBCS puts the focus on the ‘learner’, thus giving students the flexibility to choose a mix of courses and encouraging interdisciplinary studies.

This is in contrast to the existing system, where disciplines are tightly divided into compartments, with no movement or interaction possible between two disciplines, especially at the undergraduate level.

Secondly, implementing CBCS means that all universities will follow a similar grading and assessment pattern, thus facilitating student mobility across institutions within and across countries as the global best follow this system. CBCS would also enable potential employers to assess the performance of students graduating from different institutions.

The change was welcomed by many as much needed reform in Indian higher education institutions. Notably, some of India’s leading institutions including the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore all follow the CBCS.

But there are many challenges.

Teacher shortage
Academics from Mumbai University, a state university that made CBCS compulsory in 2011, have warned that you cannot run a credit system on classroom teaching alone.

“You need project-based activities, case studies, tutorials, practical study, seminars, guest lectures etc. But this is not possible if you have an undergraduate class size of 100 students,” said Dr Lakshmy Ravishankar from the department of chemistry, VG Vaze College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Mumbai.

Big class sizes also mean that teachers do not know students individually.

Lack of flexibility and guidance
Under the new system, students can take an adequate number of credits to be eligible for a degree either in their own discipline or across disciplines. They may also take extra credits if they so desire. Yet, the UGC has stubbornly stuck to a maximum period of three years for completion of credits for undergraduate students.

The current CBCS framework suggests allotting 50% of the total credits to core subjects, 25% to applied core subjects, 20% to interdisciplinary subjects and 5% for foundation courses.

To implement the framework and enable students to genuinely experience inter-disciplinary study the UGC has to move away from a time-based model to a credit-based model.

Other than lack of time to pursue different interests, students have also found it difficult to get advice on choice of credits. Since undergraduate education and most postgraduate education in universities is strictly divided into compartments based on the discipline, teachers are finding it difficult to breach this barrier.

No clarity on student mobility
The CBCS aims to facilitate student mobility across institutions. Yet there is no clarity on how student movement will take place. Will students be allowed to transfer to colleges or departments affiliated to the same university or to different universities? Can they transfer to institutions outside their respective states? What about institutions that are not accredited in any way?

Lack of adequate infrastructure
CBCS encourages teaching through projects and case studies. However, as the study by Kelkar and Ravishankar found, a majority of colleges and departments in universities do not have adequate infrastructure to facilitate this, including smart boards, projectors, access to computers and Internet and storage space for projects.

Unless these enablers are put in place, a credit system designed to offer choice and flexibility to students may not succeed, especially in Indian universities struggling with challenges of huge teacher vacancies, inadequate infrastructure, crippling bureaucracy and enormous student numbers.


University World News