Two degrees, many advantages

Last Updated 05 May 2022, 06:57 IST

When we are at the crossroads of educational choices, often we are unsure of the path. We choose specific domains, often eliminating some other domains, even though they’re appealing.

The recent guideline from the University Grants Commission (UGC) allows students to pursue two full-time academic programmes in physical mode if the class timings do not overlap. It is also possible to have one full-time physical programme along with another hybrid or online programme — a choice for those who can walk an extra mile.

Clear rationale and cognitive reasons exist for diversified learning, including maximising time, enhancing job readiness and intellectual curiosity. No single skill can equip us for the future. We need a way to connect many fields, and diverse learning and doing raise the intellectual range of a student.

Wider ambit

Double degrees have been prevalent in many countries for a long time. They allow pursuing one knowledge-intensive and another skill-focused course for higher job readiness. They provide an option to study complementary subjects or diverse domains.

Students can learn two complementary subjects, for example, business law and accounting. Or they may learn two seemingly contrasting areas, like computer science and philosophy, or combine emerging areas such as wind energy and conservation technologies within the realm of sustainability sciences. In an ideal condition, the student can customise the degree if credit transfers are possible across the participating institutions.

Many industries already recognise experiential components like skill-based internships and online certifications as alternatives to traditional degrees. Well-designed double degrees are a chance to drive additional knowledge and skill backed by a degree credential.

No compulsion

But, the true value of the option to study two degrees simultaneously is realised in the concept of a career as a lifelong learning choice. It can cultivate deep generalists, whose knowledge is deeper than that of generalists and broader than that of specialists. In other words, it builds T-shaped competence and may open up a cluster of jobs with cross-learning opportunities instead of a single job role.

The first concern is: what if students find it difficult to put in the extra work? Well, not every student needs to opt for a double degree, nor is it a compulsion, but it is an opportunity for the serious and the curious.

The second concern is the likely deterioration in quality. If courses are engaging and have clear course outcomes, the quality will not be diluted. Well-designed courses empower students to experiment, research, reach out and make the most of their education experience. Rigour is a function of difficulty level and the extent of support the student gets to navigate learning. The course design, content, the role of faculty and student engagement determine the quality of any course. It is a matter of design.

Another criticism is that university degrees are getting increasingly decoupled from jobs, and more degrees will not help. however, two real factors behind credential delinking are the need to enhance employability and the relevance of current evaluation methods. Better course design, changing the assessment formats and a higher industry interface can address this.

Practical challenges, such as timetables and evaluation schedules, stem from the logistic and administrative convenience; not from academic, cognitive or learning-related reasons.

Institutional preparation

The dual degree option looks at learning orientations required for the future. Preparing in advance to offer such choices enables institutions to be unique in their offerings.

Institutions need to figure out answers to questions such as: what additional and alternative programmes may be offered? Do they align with the capability? How to weigh in on collaborations to augment academic capability? How does it fit into the career map and aspirational trajectories of target students? Or will it create a new segment to be addressed?

Universities need to optimise the course logistics, by flexing resources, introducing more schedules and shifts, stretching course portfolios, starting innovative hybrid courses and introducing new admission policies designed to ensure equity. Structural reorganisations, such as collaborating with other organisations to form clusters and move up on the multidisciplinary map can differentiate the universities.

One limiting factor is the misunderstanding of credit hours as seating time. As new delivery models emerge and disciplinary roles blend, credits can be redefined and students can obtain novel micro-credentials. In the first phase, concurrent enrolments will mostly happen in online programmes.

The double degree option is not an attempt in siloes. It is to facilitate diversified learning. It is inseparable from the country’s aspirations to create multidisciplinary institutions, multiple-entry and multiple-exit, academic bank of credit (ABC) and a host of other initiatives.

(The author is Deputy Secretary, University Grants Commission. Views are personal)

(Published 03 May 2022, 08:08 IST)

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