Reform seems to be the buzzword in the educational sphere and it is in conformity with the University Grants Commission’s suggestion that Calcutta University has decided to go ahead with the Choice-Based Credit System with effect from the next academic session. Calcutta University wants this system to be followed because it allows students “seamless mobility” across higher educational institutions and the transfer of credit earned by them. This will be a new pattern of teaching, learning and evaluation in the semester mode to overcome certain fundamental anomalies in the traditional system. It would be important to examine whether this is a step forward to match international standards.

Critics have for a long time been apprehensive of the CBCS, which proposes to let students choose their courses from across disciplines and to pursue a part of a course in another institution. They argue that the system will rob them of their freedom to design their own syllabus. They also have reservations about allowing students to pick courses from different disciplines, arguing that if too many students choose one subject, there might be a dearth of teachers. With the new system scheduled to be operational from July this year, the debate has intensified. A section of the academic fraternity has rejected the proposed reforms as an infringement on the autonomy of universities.

Describing it as a “cafeteria approach”, the UGC had asked all Central universities to implement CBCS immediately which presupposes a fairly uniform level of pedagogy and performance of students. An inter-disciplinary approach is certainly a fashionable campus pursuit. Come July, a student will be entitled to study a humanities subject in the Honours level and opt for Chemistry/ Physics as one of the subsidiaries. Though the proposal sounds exciting on the face of it, it is feared that students will run the risk of being shortchanged or even bewildered.

CBCS, thus, offers students a wide choice in career planning and is highly flexible in terms of new methods and practices . It also offers considerable freedom and flexibility for the faculty to design courses and programmes to utilise human and physical resources to the maximum extent. The system allows the schools, departments and centres of the university to generate new interdisciplinary programmes by taking into consideration the expertise available in and around the university as a whole. For example, the department of English may offer PG course in American Studies by drawing courses from the departments of English, School of international Studies etc.

Likewise, PG degrees offered through integrated programmes of the university may be formulated by drawing courses from the departments of Physics, Ecology, Computer Science and any of the languages. Thus the new system is expected to fulfil the complex needs of the modern society which is in the process of transition from antiquity to a higher level of modernity, change and challenge . The system is expected to keep pace with the changing educational scenario and quench the thirst for knowledge of the meritorious students.

The philosophy of CBCS is to create a knowledgeable individual to understand his own discipline meaningfully from the perspective and insight of other interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary cultures. The interdisciplinary nature of the courses and the two-way interaction between the teachers and the students in teaching, learning and evaluation may bring about the desired changes, innovations and improvements in the realm of higher education. The students exchange programmes and transfer of credit facilities with a sizeable number of foreign universities through tie-ups may enhance the quality of higher education and also help realise the true concept of globalization of higher education.

The departmental Programme Advisory Committee may be constituted, with the inclusion of students’ representatives to monitor the functioning of the entire programme. The Academic Affairs Committee may also be formed to monitor the courses offered from the point of view of maintaining quality, excellence and relevance. The system is basically oriented towards the teacher and the taught; the students and teachers may be allowed to enjoy academic freedom of their own innovative courses.

The distinction between the hard and soft core and elective subjects may be made unique in certain features. The idea of encouraging students of one department to select any other course from various other departments as elective may not only widen the intellectual horizon of the students but constitute the integral part of the interdisciplinary culture. However, it ought to be ensured that the close interaction between the faculty and students, transparency in the evaluation system and redress of grievances are practised in reality. It is also desirable that each department offers a basic course to the students of other disciplines to obtain fundamental knowledge.

Students are to be allowed to plan their programmes and careers by choosing from a wide variety of courses in CBCS. The courses may be designed according to the needs of the learners and the employment market. But it would not be reasonable to expect the teenagers to choose their curriculum and career planning since their mindset would be in a wavering mode. It will be the responsibility of the faculty adviser to help a student plan the career of his or her choice according to the incumbent’s potentialities. Besides, there must be a full-fledged placement cell or employment guidance bureau in the campus to let the students rise to the occasion.

Given the teacher-learner oriented system, the interactive process is expected to cater to the needs of the students which may also provide intellectual and professional satisfaction to the teachers. Seminars and workshops may be organised to create awareness and understanding of the Choice-Based Credit System among students, parents and teachers. The role of teaching and non-teaching employees and other educational administrators are crucial for its success. A positive frame of mind is however the key to implement this system as an innovative part of the semester method of education.

However, some fundamental questions are yet to be answered. Does Calcutta University have the wherewithal in terms of faculty and infrastructure to implement such an ambitious agenda for undergraduate studies? Can the majority of students claim the proclivity to study so widely different subjects as Psychology and Chemistry in the true sense of the term? Even in a leading college, such students constitute a very minor segment. There is not much time left to take a call on the proposed change. July is the next month of the year.

The writer is former Associate Professor, Dept of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata