What all Undergraduate Programs an Institute may offer

Summary at the end

This article is meant for engineering colleges who have become universities and therefore have freedom to decide their own programs, curriculum, graduation requirements, etc.

Typically, most such colleges have an undergraduate program which is called BE or BTech, a master's program which is called ME or MTech, and in many cases, a PhD program as well. These programs are offered in several different disciplines. In most cases, the admission is given to a specific program, and the student cannot change that program after admission.

If we look at the student who is seeking admission to an under-graduate program, there is utter confusion. Most students don't have enough information on what one will study during the program, and what type of career one can expect after getting a degree. Even when they know these things, they have different aspirations after the degree. Unfortunately, our academic system is far too rigid to provide any meaningful flexibility to the diverse set of students that we cater to. In this article we will explore how we could provide that flexibility at least in autonomous institutions. (Affiliated colleges have no academic freedom anyway.)

So, first we will look at the undergraduate programs. When I have more time, I will write about graduate programs. (Look for this site in May.)

As we said above, the students are confused about the discipline that they like, and often chose disciplines under peer pressure, and the students have different career goals. The flexibility in educational system must cater to both these issues.

The first one is conceptually easier to handle, though there are practical difficulties. A simple solution will be to admit students to a generic undergraduate program, and do not ask him/her to chose a discipline till one is comfortable in making that choice. Each program should have well defined graduation requirement. Students may initially want to do just the common part of the curriculum, and then do a few program specific courses in some programs to judge their interest. They may want to talk to faculty members, other students, company representatives, etc., to chose their program.

The problem in this solution is the following. What happens if a very large fraction of the students want to do a specific program. Would the institute have enough resources to handle a very large student body in one discipline, while the faculty in other disciplines have very little work to do.

There are, of course, solutions to mitigate some risks. The preference of students is not likely to change drastically within a short period of time. Once we know the short term and medium term trends, we could adjust faculty hiring to hire more faculty in popular areas, and less faculty in other areas. Beyond a point, we could hire temporary or visiting faculty members to handle unusually larger student strength.

Also, I have often experienced that this choice can be impacted by way of motivational lectures in various disciplines. If someone gives a lecture to the student body, and explains them the joy of learning a particular dicipline and the associated career choices, students are often willing to consider alternative disciplines.

Further, the choice could be altered through financial incentives and disincentives. If a very large number of students want to study in a particular program, they may be charged a "congestion" fee (similar to what private airlines charge these days). This additional money raised may be used to bring in more temporary faculty at a higher cost, and still maintain the quality of the program.

And, finally, if the skew is still too strong, then we could put a limit on how many students can there be in a single discipline. But that limit should be large enough that most students performing reasonably well get their choice of discpline.

The second issue is that of career choices. How do we tailor our programs to cater to students who have different dreams for their careers.

There are two extreme views on this. A typical US university will give a very broad based education, preparing the basics, and assuming that the more in-depth knowledge will be gained either by way of a second degree, or simply soaked in while working. On the other hand, a typical Indian mindset is that we should teach anything and everything that is there to teach, so that the student after graduation is fit to get into any type of career and be effectively useful from the first day. So, while a 35 course requirement for graduation is common in US, in India, we scoff at anything less than 45 courses, and in many instances, it could be even 55 courses.

The problem is that neither model seems to be satisfactory. The US model does not prepare one effectively for high-end jobs (and more and more jobs are requiring higher level of knowledge). It essentially requires the students to do a Master's degree in most such cases. The Indian model does not leave any time with the student to explore anything, do research, etc. The students are not interested in what is being taught. They always are overloaded and stressed. And in many cases they do not see the value of what is being taught, or how the education is likely to help them in the long run. So, while they may pass 55 courses, they have not understood the subject matter, and the industry needs to train them anyway.

In this article, we are proposing a new model, which will cater to diverse demands of the students. By the way, all educational institutions try to cater to some differences in students by way of electives - both professional electives as well as out-of-discipline electives. But that is not enough.

If we consider the student body and career choices, we find that we can broadly divide them into four different types.

One, those who are really excited about the discipline, and want to get into research (and may be academics). They will want to do at least an MTech degree, and may even pursue a PhD degree.

Two, those who are excited about the discipline, but they would not want to do research. They want to build a career in this profession, and would, therefore, like to have a reasonable depth. These students would want that the undergraduate program should teach them a lot of professional courses, and they may want to go for a master's degree as well.

Three, those who are interested in the discipline, but would not want to build a long-term career in this area. Sooner or later, they will get out of this profession, though they believe that having knowledge of this profession would help them in whatever career choices they make. For example, they might want to become a manager, or civil servant, or entrepreneur, or do a job in new unrelated areas like financial analytics. These students would want a more broad-based under-graduate progrm.

Four, those who realize after joining the program that it is really not for them, but by the time this realization has set in, it is a bit too late. There is no discipline in the college that they are interested in, or perhaps they do not have the adequate background to compete and do well in the college. They have already spent more than one year in the program, and they would not want to seek admission to another college and lose a minimum of two years. They would prefer to just get any academic degree, which allows them to get admission to another program elsewhere, or try general purpose jobs for which a generic undergraduate degree is the minimum requirement.

For these four types of students, we propose four different programs:

  1. A 5-year Integrated MTech program. Should be called a BTech-MTech dual-degree program so that the student can get both the degrees. Getting two degrees is important, since just having an MTech degree can be confusing to some HR persons, particularly in the government setup.
  2. A BTech (Hons.) program. This program would have a sharper focus on the professional training than the regular BTech proposed below. As part of the training, the program will also have a substantial project in the final year.
  3. A BTech program. This program is meant to give exposure to the discipline, and a graduate is prepared to join a professional career, or an MTech program, if there is a change of mind at a later stage. However, the focus is on a broad-based education.
  4. A 3-year BSc program.
It is expected that the most common degree shall be BTech (Hons.). If the students had a choice of discipline after admission, then most students would have chosen disciplines that they are reasonably excited about, and would want to build a career in that discipline.

However, the endeavor of the college should be to have the BTech-MTech dual degree as the most prestigious academic program. Fewer students will do this since it should be restricted to only good students with an interest in research. The student would publish a substantial thesis, and after graduation, may want to work in either a research lab, or seek admission to PhD program.

The BTech program will have less professional content, and will have additional focus on humanities, management, communication skills, and other such courses. There is no reason for these students to do a BTech project either. Please note that we are not arguing that humanities, management, and soft-skills courses are not needed for other programs, but just that there will be some more of them in this program.

The BSc program should have complete flexibility to do whatever courses the student is interested in. It is really an exit option for students who made an error of judgement in joining the program to begin with. Now, we are trying to help them by having a really broadbased program, with options to pick up as many skills as possible.

The graduation requirements will differ for all these programs. The BTech program shall require a completion of 160 credits. (A typical 40-lecture course being a 4-credit course. Five such courses per semester for 8 semesters are needed.) The BTech (Hons.) program shall require a couple of extra courses, or about 168 credits. Compared to the regular BTech, we replace three electives in humanities, management, etc., by three professional electives, and in addition we should require a 8-credit final year project. So about 20 extra credits in the discipline.

The BTech-MTech dual degree program shall require a completion of about 210 credits. Compared to the BTech (Hons.) program, there will be no BTech project, and some professional electives must be of graduate standing. The additional credits shall be got by doing a couple of more graduate professional courses, and a substantial thesis.

The BSc program shall require a completion of about 120 credits (equivalent to a three-year degree requirements). There should be utmost flexibility in chosing courses, and the student should be counseled to suggest what courses may be useful in whatever career options that student is exploring.

The grade requirements for graduating with different degrees will also be different. BSc requirement could be just passing the minimum number of credits. Assuming an IITK style of grading (A-10 points, B-8 points, C-6 points, D-4 points, and F is fail with 2 points), getting a CPI (of GPA) of 4.0 would be considered enough.

The BTech requirement should be to pass with a higher CPI/GPA. I suggest 5.0, which represents a minimum of half D-grades and half C-grades. The BTech (Hons.) requirement may be a bit higher, and I suggest it to be 5.5. The world over, an honours degree is considered a higher degree, and should therefore have a higher requirement. But more importantly, this is to discourage weaker students from doing the final year Project. The faculty time is at a premium in most academic institutions, and supervising very weak students in their projects is a huge waste of that precious resource. The BTech-MTech dual degree requirement should be 6.5. Again, the argument is similar. Only academically strong students should be doing thesis work. Otherwise it may end up wasting a lot of faculty time.

Multi-Disciplinary Programs

In addition to the programs in single discipline that we have mentioned above, programs should also be designed to cater to students who want to work in inter-disciplinary areas, or just have interest in more than one discipline.

Depending on the level of interest and the amount of time that the student is willing to invest in, we could have two programs: Minor programs, and Double degree programs.

In the minor programs, the student completes all the BTech requirements of one discipline, which is called his major discipline, and in addition completes a smaller set of courses from another discipline. Note that some of the minor requirements could have been done by chosing approproate courses as electives. Typically, it is expected that doing a minor would be possible by careful selection of electives, and at most 2-3 additional courses. For example, if the minor requirement is 6 courses, 3-4 of those courses may have been done as electives in the regular BTech or BTech (Hons.) program anyway, and only 2-3 extra courses will need to be done. Minor program can be done in conjunction with any of the BTech programs (including BTech-MTech dual degree).

In the Double degree programs, the student is expected to complete the requirements of two undergraduate degrees. For example, one may do a BTech in Computer Science and another BTech in Electronics. In one of the two programs, the student may complete requirements of a BTech (Hons.) degree. Some of the requirements of the second degree may be either overlapping, and therefore no need to repeat them, or they may be done as elective courses. It should be possible for a student to get double BTech degree within 5 years.

Part-time Programs

There are hardly any part-time undergraduate programs in the country. I am aware of only one such program at Anna University. But I believe that these are great programs. There are two categories of students who could be targetted for this.

A student who is pursuing a full-time undergraduate program, but because of some immediate financial, medical, or other personal reason, would want to do only 2-3 courses in a semester. In many cases, the student may want to take up a job, and keep doing some courses, and eventually complete the degree. This group is straight-forward, and not much needs to be done, except perhaps have some administrative conveniences like permitting him to pay pro-rate tuition, or having some course offerings in the evening.

The other target group is those people who have an undergraduate degree in another discipline, are working in nearby companies, and would like to bring a change in their careers. This group is difficult to handle. It would have to involve designing the program for each person individually by looking at what all components of the program have already been completed as part of the first degree. Perhaps only the professional content is needed to be taught to such students.


Finally, here is the summary of my article. The following undergraduate degree programs should be introduced by educational institutions:

In addition, the admission should be to the undergraduate program. At the time of admission, the student should not chose the program, nor should the student chose the discipline.

You can send me email at: sanghi[AT]gmail.com