CBCS: balancing knowledge, skills

Universities are vested with the responsibility of preserving the pursuit of knowledge as a cherished objective. However, they are under increasing stakeholder pressure to align higher education outcomes with the fast-emerging challenges of globalization and the knowledge economy. Given that the higher education system in developed countries is embedded in a robust social security system and implemented in an international context, it offers precious little if implemented in India as it is. Indian universities have to find locally relevant, stakeholder specific solutions. In this regard, the University Grants Commission has recommended a Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) as a national framework to design student-centric curricula to integrate employability in degrees.

Under CBCS, students are free to choose a desired subject combination for a chosen degree under a ‘cafeteria system’ of special baskets: core subjects; electives (skill-enhancers related to core subjects); generic elective (unrelated to the core subjects/electives, for exposure to cross-cutting issues of national/global significance); and foundation courses (languages, environment, ICT, value education, physical education, etc).

Universities in Karnataka have adopted CBCS only in its skeletal version, retaining the conventional, three-subject, knowledge-oriented packages which lack the defining features of CBCS -- academic flexibility and employable skills components. Its full latitude is not made available to students to make informed choices due to infrastructural inadequacies, skewed student-teacher ratio and administrative/academic inertia hindering a quick transformation.

The prevailing uncertain educational outcomes have driven over-polarization of student preferences towards professional courses, threatening BA and BSc degrees with extinction. Powerful ripple effects are also eroding the knowledge base and resourceful leadership in key areas of national development like social and biological sciences. For necessary course correction, the potential of CBCS needs to be explored to locate the elusive fulcrum on which knowledge and employable skills rest without conflict.

Among several initiatives to evolve a student-centric CBCS format, two from Karnataka are mentioned here for their clarity of purpose and organisation.

The Karnataka Knowledge Commission-Centre for Educational and Social Studies (CESS) format allows BA degree students to choose one of the three tracks at the entry level: social leadership; higher education; or, academic pursuits and employability and entrepreneurship. Practical, communication and ICT skills are recognized as key employability boosters.

Under the Karnataka State Higher Education Council (KSHEC)-Chidananda Gowda Committee format, students have to choose two core subjects of equal depth across disciplines and related subjects for employable skills. The option to exit with a diploma or advanced diploma after the first or second year is a noteworthy aspect.

The success of CBCS depends entirely on developing a novel core subject basket that promotes employability without compromising the knowledge component.

Viewed from these perspectives, a new CBCS version is proposed here with a core subject basket of three inter-disciplinary subjects, with an option to choose two from a discipline and one from across disciplines for high employment potential. Novel interdisciplinary subject combinations could then be generated such as Economics, Public Administration and Computer Applications/Management or Journalism, Social Work and a Language for a BA degree. Similarly, a BSc degree could be offered with Physics, Industrial Chemistry and Management. Other baskets for skills, generic elective and foundation course are aligned to the chosen core subjects in an enabling and complementary manner. Orienting the curricula to civil services examinations would further boost employment potential.

Distinctive features of this format are: opportunities for higher studies in all three core subjects, priming graduates for administrative/managerial posts in government /industry/corporate sector; and it filters “education for employment” type students at the graduation level, leaving the field open to academically-oriented students to pursue post-graduate and PhD degrees.

Elicit existing options

A few universities have framed interdisciplinary courses (Economics, Statistics and Marketing for BA degree in Bangalore University), but an overwhelming number of conventional intra-disciplinary subject combinations and lack of an awareness drive for students have masked their existence. To avoid these pitfalls, it is advisable to elicit the options of stakeholders, particularly the students, regarding subject combinations through thematic surveys. Interestingly, the Karnataka State Universities Act, 2000, provides for student representation in university Academic Councils, but is yet to be complied with.

Once a CBCS format is chosen for implementation, two fundamental issues need to be addressed by the institution: one, revisit laboratory infrastructure for skill-oriented subjects. Inadequacies are bound to severely affect the employability quotient; two, create a placement platform with industry participation to widen employment avenues.

Universities could help colleges by implementing the recommendation of KSHEC to establish an Employment Assurance Cell on campuses with the participation of industry chambers. The cell must accelerate placement activities in colleges by coordinating campus recruitment events and providing experts as resource persons to develop curricula for skill development. The government, as a regulatory stakeholder, may galvanize the exercise by nudging universities and autonomous colleges to carry forward the reform without further delay.

(The writer is former Registrar, Bangalore University)

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CBCS: balancing knowledge, skills

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