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  • Jyotsna Sidharth

Degree Dilemmas: How the NEP has changed the Ashokan Undergraduate Experience.

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

“As you go into your second year, we would also like to share with you some updates regarding your UG programme with reference to the latest NEP guidelines,” read an email from the Office of Academic Affairs (OAA), dated 24 August 2023. The OAA announced said updates in an online meeting on 29 August 2023, attended by several hundred students from the UG’25 (now UG’26) batch and newest intake of UG’27.

Following the announcement of the National Education Policy (NEP) in 2020, universities across the country had begun to consider the prospect of a 4-year undergraduate degree, similar to the structure offered in the west. Ashoka University was not an exception. Rather, “When Ashoka University was founded, it had intended to have a four-year undergraduate programme.” said Bikram Phookun, Professor of Physics and Dean of Academic Affairs. “However in 2014, when the university opened, the university-related situation in the country was in a state of flux. Delhi University, which had started a four-year undergraduate programme the previous year, had to change it back to a three-year programme. So Ashoka decided to start a three-year programme, with an additional year called the Ashoka Scholars Programme (ASP), which would effectively allow students to complete a four-year degree. The fourth year offered students the opportunity to do a thesis or to explore areas outside their major, or both.”

The Edict reached out to the OAA for clarifications regarding the new NEP, amidst the lack of certainty.

A controversial change prompting uproar from students, is the change in the credit cap per semester. The limit has been reduced from 26 credits (6 courses + 1 CC/ISM/TP) to 24 credits (5 courses + 1 2-credit courses + 1 CC/Internship) in semesters 2 to 8. Interestingly, this change is not NEP mandated.

The Academic Council - a university-level body comprising faculty members from various departments - took the final decision regarding reducing the maximum credits per semester, as mentioned by Harini Narayanan, Director of the OAA, in the online meeting held on 29 August 2023. The Council felt that overloading [courses] was not beneficial; with the degree spread over 4 years rather than 3, students could still complete their degree requirements in time for graduation. But, most universities do not have 9 mandatory FCs to complete in addition to the core degree requirements.

Despite the reassurance, students are unhappy with the reduction in the maximum credits per semester, the OAA and the Ministry of Academic Affairs (MAA) informed The Edict.

There is now an availability of more exit options in the Ashokan UG degree. The degree is spread across a 4-year window, but students can choose to leave after 1 year with a certificate and 2 with a diploma in addition to the previous 3 year and 4 year options. The Ashoka Scholars Programme (ASP) will no longer be offered, ASP’25 being the last batch to be awarded the Postgraduate diploma. The ASP terminology will become irrelevant with the 4YP and will hence cease to be used for the erstwhile UG’25.

Students will be awarded a BA/BSc (Hons) degree at the end of 3 or 4 years, as per their choice. The 3 year programme (3YP) and 4 year programme (4YP) carry different credit requirements though, with 114 credits for the 3YP and 150 for the 4YP, which are inclusive of Foundation Courses (FCs). Of the total credit requirements, 4 come from Co-curricular Courses (CC) and 2 from Internship credits.

Type A majors (English, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology and Sociology) which previously required a minimum of 48 credits, now require 52 for the 3YP and 72 for the 4YP. Type B majors (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Mathematics, Physics and all Interdisciplinary Majors) required 60 credits earlier, and now require 60 and 80 respectively for the 3YP and 4YP.

BA/BSc (Honours with Research) is open only to students opting for the 4YP. This degree requires 12 research credits, in addition to the credits for the major, , in the 7th and 8th semesters, which can be taken in various combinations across the two semesters (6-6,8-4,etc) as long as the minimum credits per semester is met and the maximum is not exceeded. The combination will be decided by the respective departments.

In addition to the minimum requirements for the chosen majors, students are required to do additional courses to meet the minimum requirements of the degree. These can be additional courses from the chosen major, courses that add to a minor or concentration or courses from any discipline that the student has an interest in. Minors and concentrations continue to be optional.

After the online meeting on 29 August 2023, Siddharth Shrimal (UG’25) voiced his discontent with the changes prompted by the NEP policy in an email addressed to the Vice Chancellor (VC), the DAA, the OAA and the MAA, which was circulated among all students. This quickly turned into an email thread, with other UG’25 students raising their contentions with the policy and the university’s implementation.

Students are primarily concerned they will be unable to pursue a minor alongside an interdisciplinary major in 3 years, take a second major equivalent in their 4th year or complete greater credit requirements. They have also taken issue with the delayed and insufficient information regarding the changes. Students even went on to speculate that these changes were made to push more students into taking summer semesters and staying on for the 4th year.

The concerns tie in with the bigger conversation regarding multi-disciplinary education at Ashoka. With the NEP intended to promote multi-disciplinarity, students at Ashoka were disappointed with the way it was implemented in the university, which prides itself on promoting holistic learning and the freedom to experiment with disciplines, which the new degree structure limits. The previous structure of the UG programme offered many of the same options that the 4YP offers currently. The major difference is, earlier the 3 year degree was the only one recognised by the Government, while now, both the 3YP and the 4YP are recognised.

The Ministry of Academic Affairs (MAA) was prompt to address the concerns of the displeased students, and responded with an FAQ sheet detailing structural changes. They also circulated a ‘Grievance Redressal form’ on 5 September 2023, and released a subsequent report.

The report, made by the MAA’s Policy Team, also accounts for some major grievances students wrote about to the Student Government and the MAA. The MAA is responsible for relaying students’ concerns to the OAA, who, according to Shreedaya Arvind, Minister for Academic Affairs, have “been very forthcoming about having conversations with the Ministry.”

“I am hoping to hear from a lot more students so that we can fine tune the policy and meet the objective of it as well as students’ objectives to ensure that nobody’s interests are lost in the process,” Shreedaya says.

The MAA report included a few demands: an option to take 26 credits in at least one semester of their 3rd year, to comfortably complete a minor in three years, without having to attend summer semesters or pay for an additional year; and reinstating the advanced major or the second major equivalent option.

As of 28 October 2023, there has been no status update from the OAA or the university administration regarding these demands.

Dean Bikram Phookun, in his statement to The Edict, said “ It took a couple of years for the government's guidelines on the four-year undergraduate programme to arrive at their final form.”

Regarding the NEP changes being introduced in the middle of the degree, Dean Phookun said, “Since Ashoka had always wanted a four-year programme, and since its BA/BSc + ASP was already effectively the equivalent of a four-year undergraduate programme, it decided to seek the government's permission to formally start a four-year undergraduate programme. This permission was granted in 2022 by the Government of Haryana. The class joining in 2022 was thus the first to be in the four-year programme.”

It is key to note, however, the Student Handbook, given to the UG’25 students at the time of admission, detailed the earlier structure. The one provided to the UG’27 (UG2023) students states the new NEP mandated structure.

The changes are expected to materialise slowly over the next few years. “The requirements for the four-year programme at Ashoka took some time to work out, since there were some changes in the guidelines issued by the University Grants Commission, the government body that deals with universities.”, Dean Phookun told the Edict.

In addition to that he added, “ The regulations at Ashoka for the classes joining in 2022 and 2023 were announced by Dean Bharat Ramaswami (Former Dean of Academics), and have been widely circulated.”

Since the credit requirements have increased, there could potentially be department level changes yet to be announced. But, “The various departments have been working on course trajectories etc that will allow students to complete their requirements in time.” Professor Phookun insists.

What remains is that the Undergraduate Batch of 2o25 (now 2026), the first batch since the pandemic to have a first-year on campus, is in for a few turbulent years of uncertainty and confusion regarding the degree they will graduate with.

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