A university stands for humanism, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives ~ Jawaharlal Nehru

Institutions of higher education ought to be riveted to reading, writing and learning how to think and how to implement. They are meant to bring the universe to young minds facilitating the learners to pursue the disciplines of their choice with patience and perseverance. This is the reason why processes of reform in higher education have to proceed with substantial thoughtfulness.

True to this spirit, the National Education Policy of 1986 envisaged 10+2+3 criteria with the provision that universities should be allowed to plan their own systems and the debate should not be about whether the course is of four years or eight. What matters most of all is the course one wishes to study.

A major structural change in recent times was implemented by Delhi University in 2014 with its 4-year-undergraduate programme. There was a conflict of interest between the University Grants Commission and Delhi University over this programme, and the differences still persist. Bangalore University came out with a restructured programme. The difference related to the various exit points. An exit point for students after the second year was envisaged. This meant that if a candidate quits after two years, he/she will receive an advanced diploma certificate. A general degree certificate is guaranteed after three years, and after completion of four years there is an assured honours certificate.

The four-year undergraduate programme at Delhi University could complete only its first year when it was scrapped by the UGC, allowing the batch concerned to be absorbed into the conventional three-year course. The regulatory body also asked other universities and institutions, including IIM Bangalore and Symbiosis University, Pune, to scrap similar courses.

The Open Loop University system developed in 2014 by Stanford’s Designs School envisages a stretch of six years to be used by a student and whenever he wishes to. He can start college education whenever he feels he is ready, pull out after two years , work for a few years and then loop back into the campus. The idea is that the fresh phase of education would strengthen his potential.

For many learners , attending college for four consecutive years may not be the proper alternative. The dynamic economy, such as it exists in our country today, requires more flexibility and greater viability.The relevant skills are developing so fast that the traditional undergraduate curriculum can hardly catch up. Lifelong learning may be the futuristic goal for which tertiary education might serve as a platform.This could provide multiple opportunities to develop soft skills, not merely between the ages of 18 and 22, but whenever necessary.

The students can begin college education as and when they consider themselves ready and distribute the projected span of six years as deemed to be fit. It is at their convenience that they can loop out and loop in. The students who come back after looping out could use the time that remains with them during the span of six years to move further with new careers in their 30s.

One is reminded of the concept of lifelong learning which implies that learning is not confined to childhood or adolescence ,or to conventional educational institutions. The term achieved general currency in the 1970s ,and signifies the organisational and didactic structures and strategies,which may permit learning from infancy to adulthood. It is a vision of the learning society in which education is freely accessible to all, and relevant to the interests and cultural values of the learners.

This further relates to the much sought-after concept of learning society, which provides continuous learning opportunities to all sections of the people. It is an inclusive concept which encompasses all the ideas of continuous education and provides educational facilities for all. The idea of a learning society was first advanced by UNESCO in its famous 1972 report. It enables all agencies of a society to function as educational providers and all citizens to be engaged in learning, taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by the learning society.

So, in keeping with the aims and objectives of continuing education, the open loop university system will enable individuals to fill in the gaps in their intellectual development, professional and technical competence and to develop relevant skills and interest for work, leisure and self-employment, and to provide the same to those in professional and specialised fields. They will also get the opportunity to keep pace with the development of knowledge. Meaningful efforts towards self-development, if pursued by an individual in all aspects of his life, will be an essential ingredient of this system. It will represent organised endeavour through which men and women seek knowledge. It may even extend itself to vocational training , liberal education, scientific and technological knowledge, personal adjustment and intellectual appreciation of new trends and changes in society.

The concept may be particularly useful in a country like ours where a large number of people are unable to avail themselves of proper education due to their socio-economic situations. Opportunities may be provided through the open-loop university system so as to enable everyone to gain from the advancement of learning .They ought not to be deprived of facilities on account of their failure to go through the formal education system. It may prove to be beneficial to those who for some reason or the other may not be sufficiently educated but are keen to acquire knowledge for improving their prospects in life.

The importance of the system in a democratic country lies in the fact that it may provide every citizen with an opportunity for education of the type which he wishes to pursue and which he deserves for his personal enrichment, professional advancement and effective participation in socio-cultural , economic and political life.This may provide a holistic solution to many drawbacks of the current education system. Education that focuses more on skill acquisition than disciplinary topics may eventually change the focus from what the learners know to how they use the knowledge.

This will work in the same way as lifelong learning may do. It will enhance social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development as well as self-motivated sustainability and employability. It needs to be underlined that lifelong learners are motivated to learn because they want to.

(The writer is former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata)