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Dinesh Goyal|Jul 28, 2021
NEW DELHI: Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Technological University (DBATU) in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, was one of the first universities to introduce the new major and minor degree programme in undergraduate BTech courses proposed by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
The programme allows students to opt for a minor degree offered by a different engineering department while pursuing a major BTech degree in one department.
In February 2020, the technical education regulator AICTE announced that universities can offer minor specializations in “emerging areas”. AICTE’s proposal included emerging fields such as artificial intelligence and cyber security. DBATU, an autonomous institution set up by the state, introduced it in August 2020.
Instead of recruiting additional faculty for conventional classes, DBATU opted to provide the minor credits through the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), a joint e-learning initiative of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru.
However, the courses will only be made available to “academically strong” students, selected on the basis of their grades.
In addition to this, although the teachers agree that the courses are targeted to improve employability, the dependence on online learning and the unequal access to it has raised concerns about the success of the initiative.
The major-minor degree at DBATU allows students to opt for a minor degree during their fourth semester. So, a student of BTech in mechanical engineering can opt for a minor degree, say, in computer engineering, by completing the required credits from the fourth semester onwards.
“Every department offers minor degrees. Students can opt for minor degrees from the fourth or fifth semester. Whatever the degree, in the certificate it will be written BTech in the main subject with minor in the opted subject,” said Sanjay L Nalbalwar, dean of academics and head of department of electronics and telecommunication at DBATU.
Students can also opt for additional credits in their major subject to get a B.Tech honours degree in that subject. The minor system is expected to boost employability. “Minors are very good courses which are required for getting jobs. If a student is from mechanical engineering, his minor in computer engineering can help them get a job. They will be getting additional skills,” said Nalbalwar. Since the first batch to join this or the honours programme is yet to graduate, the assumption on employability has not been tested. However, Nalbalwar believes it will give the students an edge over others.
“If there is a student with BTech in civil engineering and another has BTech with honours in civil engineering, the second one will definitely be preferred because he has knowledge in additional subjects,” he explained.
Universities are free to develop their own syllabus for any minor or honours degree, the AICTE says in its handbook, although the regulator has framed a model curriculum to guide that effort and standardise quality.
AICTE also says that institutions cannot increase their intake for regular courses while introducing major and minor degrees. Institutions are “permitted within the approved intake without hampering the generic course”, it says.
“Basically, the condition is that the college can offer a minor degree only in the department they have. Our college doesn’t have chemical engineering so, I cannot not offer that as a minor for my students,” said Ulhas Shiurkar, director of Deogiri Institute of Engineering and Management Studies, affiliated to DBATU.
Shiurkar said that since the major and minor degree is a new initiative, it may be subject to changes. “It will be a dynamic list, based on how it goes. Every year we will make changes. This is the first time we are introducing it. Depending on what we learn from the experience, we can change the list,” said Shiurkar.
However, the major-minor degree option will not be available for all students. DBATU requires students to have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 7.5 in the second year to be allowed to opt for a minor degree. Teachers said that this decision was taken to ensure a minimum academic quality.
“There has to be some standard. The minor degree course will be additional to course subjects and the student has to complete his own course. For that he has to be academically strong. If the student is unable to finish the credits on time they won’t get the degree,” said Nalbalwar.
Officials said that as the course was introduced for the first time, the university is yet to gauge whether additional teachers are required for offering the major-minor degree. They also said that the university is encouraging students to opt for online courses such as through the NPTEL.
“We have to see, first of all. We’ll see what kind of teaching is happening. Even if teachers are not there, we can use resources such as online platforms,” said Nalbalwar.
“Additional faculty is needed, of course, but in many cases we ask these students to do the minor credits online. If the students are going to go do these courses from these online platforms, we don’t have the faculty problem,” he added.
Officials also said that since many of the minor credits are already being taught by the departments as part of its BTech teaching, students can access them if their schedules are adjusted accordingly.
“Many times these courses are already being offered in the department. So, if a computer engineering course is running, the student can join there. If that particular course is not there, he can join an online platform,” said Nalbalwar.
Officials said that the university also accepts credits from platforms other than NPTEL, such as the private Coursera and similar platforms. University officials also said that the students can rely on the department teachers for doubt-clearance, a task that has become more complicated due to COVID-19.
But accessing credits from internation- al platforms will not be possible for all students.
“There are lots of courses on offer on NPTEL and they also conduct examinations regularly. However, on some international platforms, the fee is very high while NPTEL only charges about Rs 1,000 regardless of what the courses are,” said Shiurkar.
The course is not the only barrier to a minor degree online. Many students do not have access to laptops or equivalent devices, as the colleges discovered when all lessons moved online due to COVID-19.
“Majority of the students in my institute don’t have laptops or desktops. Only the computer science students have them and that too not all of them, maybe 80%. We are helpless with regard to that, they are using mobile [phones] for their studies,” said Shiurkar.
“I am talking about my college – other colleges might be better or worse. Everyone was forced to shift to the online mode. Before COVID-19, we never thought of online teaching,” he added.
Plus, relying on online courses for the minor component during the pandemic complicated the academic processes and schedules for Deogiri Institute of Engineering and Management Studies
“This COVID-19 has created ambiguity. NPTEL has postponed exams for their courses. Now, we don’t know when that will be conducted. For the regular degree, the university is taking the exams online. However, for the minor degree we now have to wait for NPTEL notification,” said Shiurkar.
Officials also said that the sudden shift online has also affected the teaching- learning process.
“Another problem is that teachers think online teaching is just about sharing PowerPoint presentations. Teacher-student interaction is almost finished. Students also have limited bandwidth so we ask them to switch off cameras,” said Shiurkar.
The university is conducting theory exams online. It also had to shift practical exams online due to the second wave of the pandemic.
“The exams are conducted as demonstrations of the tools. Because we are forced online, the students do not know how to use the equipment. They are just logging in. They are thinking recorded classes are available so why bother,” said Shiurkar.
Officials believe that the additional complications brought on by the pandemic will make it hard to make a prediction about the major-minor degree.
“It is difficult to have strong comments about this [success of major-minor degree]. The students might give up the minor degrees next semester. We don’t know,” said Shiurkar.
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