The National Education Policy 2020 highlighted the importance of offering multidisciplinary courses in higher education. Thus, to implement the NEP, universities can design, develop and introduce multidisciplinary courses. In addition, the NEP offered technical courses in regional languages to develop creativity and encourage innovation, especially among rural youth.
Currently, a few publicly funded technical institutions have started offering engineering courses at university level in regional languages.
Additionally, a few edtech companies have partnered with public/private universities to customize and offer multidisciplinary programs for online degrees. However, UGC has announced that students can take dual degree programs, particularly in the arts and social sciences, to equip themselves with industry-ready skills while graduating.
Many autonomous institutions offer specialized higher education programs, including engineering and management. But these stand-alone institutions can only offer degrees and PG diploma/certificate programs.
These institutions may not be able to offer multidisciplinary programs; they are not authorized to offer degree courses.
A new trend
During this time, a few stand-alone institutions became private universities independently, and a few through mergers and acquisitions with established private universities. A new trend of corporate establishment of private universities has emerged over the past decade. All these institutions can offer multidisciplinary courses, double degrees and diplomas online.
Also, cash-rich private universities can collaborate with foreign universities and offer dual degree programs. This may lead to the emergence of more private universities. Autonomous institutions, both public and private, will struggle because they lack university status and cannot offer multi-disciplinary and dual-degree courses.
Public universities, though beset by severe faculty shortages, funding constraints, and infrastructure problems, play an important role in providing unique degree programs. Dual degree and four-year UG programs will put an additional strain on their resources and could dilute the quality of education.
At the same time, there is a huge opportunity for private universities to create innovative dual degree, four-year UG and online degree programs; these might come at a steep price, however. Thus, pursuing higher education could become more expensive, as in the West. It can also lead students to fall into the debt trap.
Many public universities in the country are known for their post-graduation programs. A student who completes a dual degree program and four years of undergraduate study may not be interested in pursuing a postgraduate program.
Also, according to the new UGC guidelines, after four years of sub-degree, a student can pursue a doctoral program. This can further reduce student interest in pursuing PG programs. To overcome this challenge, public universities must seek to adopt Western educational practices and offer courses such as one-year MS and MS research programs.
Both public and private universities should seek to provide industry-ready human capital. The government should provide funding, faculty and infrastructure to public universities.
Otherwise, higher education will become unaffordable for the average person. Middle-class students may fall into the debt trap of dual degree programs. In the case of online degree programs, edtech companies, in collaboration with private universities, can implement pricing strategies and access restrictions to educational content on e-commerce and OTT platforms.
Finally, students pursuing higher education must choose a degree course that interests them and offers them a job.
The author is Assistant Professor, Head of Program – PGDMBIF, Institute of Public Enterprise, Hyderabad
July 20, 2022