Grading Students A Step In Right Direction

By Ramesh Raja
In Education
February 5, 2015
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Grading StudentsWith more students migrating to various states outside their homes for higher education, it’s a tedious task to evaluate the academic quality of a migrating candidate as each university has its own manner of assessing students. Aplenty of grades, values and marks make objective comparison extremely complex and to get a comprehensive idea about the quality of a student almost next-to-impossible. In this regard, the University Grant Commission’s recent announcement to introduce a uniform grade and assessment system – the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) and Credit Framework for Skill Development (CFSD) – across universities in India from the coming academic year, comes as a welcome news, the need for which was deeply felt in recent times. The new move – aimed at benefitting lakhs of students and impacting over 400 universities across the country – will ensure seamless mobility of students across institutions and provide wider options for students to choose from. The development comes following a recent meeting between state education ministers and the Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani in New Delhi.

The ‘choice-based credit transfer’ system will enable students to opt for courses of their choice, learn at their own pace, undergo additional courses and  acquire more than the required credits and adopt an interdisciplinary approach to learning. This system, in all probability, will expose students to more options, even what is unrelated to their chosen subjects. Under CBCS, students will pursue three types of courses – Foundation, Elective and Core. Students must pursue Core subjects every semester, and can pick Electives from a pool of subjects unrelated to their disciplines. The Foundation courses may be of two kinds – Compulsory and Elective. Compulsory courses, mandatory for all disciplines, help students gain knowledge and they are intended to give a standard academic base to all students, whereas Elective courses are value based.

The robust element of the new design is possibly the Foundation courses, as these are likely to increase employability in certain disciplines while inducing  a multi-disciplinary perspective in others. For instance, graduates in liberal arts having a level of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skill does increase their chances of finding employment. As per CFSD, the credit-based grading system is in keeping with the international methods of assessment of performance. The semester system, along with the CFSD, makes shifting across varsities smooth.

According to reports, UGC Chairman Ved Prakash has sent a written communication to all vice-chancellors that says, “In order to expedite the entire process, you may consider setting up of a working group of senior faculty members of the  university which can develop atime-bound action plan for the
successful implementation of the schemes.” If the reports are to believe, there will be different letters associated to grades for different brackets of scores. For instance, 90.1 to 100 marks will be O, for Outstanding. 80.1 to 90 will be A+ for Excellent, 70.1 to 80 will be A for Very Good and so on and so forth. It may be noted that currently most universities follow the numerical system of marking except few institutes which assess students based on different methods of examination, like Medical Council of India (MCI) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The marks,  there, are converted into grades based on relative grading system.

Smriti-irani

HRD Minister Smriti Irani hopes to bring in a fundamental makeover of the higher education system

As per Prakash, the UGC has developed a broad template and formulated the guidelines to facilitate the implementation of the two systems. The regulatory body will also set up a facilitation cell to extend necessary assistance to the universities in their transition. A suggestion, in this regard, was also accepted at the state education ministers’ conference to set up a joint working group comprising central and state government nominees to iron out the serious issues in executing the CBCS.

While most universities have welcomed the initiative, some have deferred their decision on implementing it with immediate effect from the upcoming academic session owing to depressing reasons. Some vice  chancellors of state universities in Madhya Pradesh, reportedly, said they were not in a  position to adopt choice-based grading system because of staff crunch. On the other hand, there are some universities which already have enacted the new system. According to Ninge Gowda KN, Registrar (evaluation), Bangalore University, they have implemented both CBCS and CFSD from 2014 and will switch to grades from 2015.

The UGC’s unique move, in one leap, will bring in a fundamental makeover of the higher education system. The Indian university system, at the moment, happens to be amongst the stiffest in the world and allows no luxury of choice. The amalgamation of subjects at the university level is fixed, one cannot mix science with arts or commerce nor is it promising for students to change their stream half-way through a course. The choices for the students are limited and fixed. Although some private institutions have brought in new combinations and an innovative blend of subjects in recent years, it is yet nowhere near a freewheeling choice as in the western education system. For example, it is even disgusting to contemplate a diverse combination of say, Maths, Music and Economics. It is in such a limited system that the UGC now wants the choice to rest with the student. This can make the system flexible
and bring out the best in a student. Besides, innovative combinations have the potential to bring up falling standards and encourage students to do justice
to what they have selected.

Although it’s a step in right direction and win-win situation for the student and the university, regulation and standardisation of higher education should have preceded this decision which was taken during the 11th Plan. Varsities across the country follow diverse practices. Sincethe universities are governed by either Central or State Acts, there is absence of uniformity in admissions, examinations and course content. The same applies to teaching as well as research and is bound to hinder a uniform grading system. Some universities have been following their own grading system for long, while others use the conversion method.

Though it is hard to say right now, the execution of this novel idea might not be very seamless. As the UGC instructions are not compulsory on private
institutions and it cannot derecognise them for failure to implement the guidelines, where is the uniformity? The variable marking schemes, class sizes and fee structures pose a separate set of challenges. The Centre and states should have, by now, evolved a policy framework for students’ and teachers’ mobility by eliminating major irritants in the education system. Why not implement big ticket higher education reforms that will be structural and ensure
quality? Based on the American model, a choice-based credit system might facilitate students’ movement but rigid rules and a limited choice of subjects can be dampeners. Hence, there should be a regulation of higher education itself, before enacting a uniform grading system.

B-School Offers Special Concession to J&K, NE Students
Taking a leaf out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s special focus on the development of northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir, Fore School of Management, a New Delhi-based B-school, has announced special concession in tuition fee for the students of these two regions.

The special concession amounting to 10 per cent waiver in the tuition fee is extended to the students who join the program in academic year 2015-16 and are domiciled in J&K and the eight NE states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. The special privilege is over and above any other scholarship being given to the students.

Prof Jitendra K Das, Director, Fore School of Management (formerly Founder Dean of the Noida Campus of IIM Lucknow), said, “Although we, at Fore, have students from different states and regions of the country, the North-East and J&K are still under-represented perhaps, due to a variety of local socio-economic conditions. Fore endeavors to have students from each and every part of India to represent the rich tapestry of diversity within India.”

“Extra points are given to students from these regions seeking admission to our PGDM/PGDM-IB courses. The net effect, therefore, is that not only students from these regions get an advantage in the selection process but once having taken admission, they can also avail of the concession in tuition fee,” Das said.

“While not calling it CSR, we do feel that Fore needs to contribute in its own small and humble way, to the development of human capital in these regions and integrate them with the social and economic mainstream of India,” Das asserted.

It is worth noting that the central government has announced a slew of projects to develop the region, including expansion of rail, air, road, and digital connectivity. More than Rs 50,000 crores has been earmarked for the development in the region in addition to approximately Rs 28,000 crores for development of rail infrastructure. With such increased investment, there is going to be demand for managers who are not only professionally trained but also sensitive to the needs of the region. In this light, the decision of Fore School assumes significance.