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Rhetoric of common syllabus in universities may diminish possibility of achieving excellence
While vision, competence and commitment of institutional leadership, teachers, and staff plays critical role in improving the quality of education in HEIs, the rhetoric for having common syllabus will eventually diminish the possibility of certain HEIs achieving distinctions.

ByOnkar Singh

Updated on 12 Feb 2021, 4:16 am

(Representational Image: Shubam_Unsplash)

(Representational Image: Shubam_Unsplash)

 

For quite some time, higher education regulators in certain states in the country are sanguine about ameliorating higher education through the common syllabus in respective state universities. There exists a well-laid out process of accreditation for assessing the quality of education imparted by higher education institutions (HEIs) through the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and the need for accreditation is also being cogently pushed through for quality benchmarking. But the pace at which HEIs are getting accredited bespeaks lackadaisical approach and the concerns for the quality of education imparted by them are not unfounded.  Time and again, the discussions are abuzz for enforcing various measures for boosting the education quality and in turn enhancing the worthiness of educated ones graduating out, which is inevitable for exploiting the demographic dividend.

In general, the quality of education is termed as a function of faculty, curriculum, infrastructure, research activities, supporting staff, and facilitating administrative policies and practices.  Consequently, the curriculum appears a discerning component for qualitative improvement. The courses detailed in the curriculum have their syllabus prescribing the goals, objectives, coverage, and its correlation with other courses. The syllabus delineates the extent of knowledge sharing with the learners and any deficiency in it is bound to yield deficient knowledge of learners.  Therefore, the syllabus for every programme offered by HEIs should be of global standards.

Role of HEIs in syllabus making

Fortunately, the higher education of the country is imparted through Universities or deemed to be Universities which are autonomous. These institutions are amply empowered statutorily for devising the syllabus for the programmes offered by them.  Accordingly, the HEIs ought to discharge the paramount responsibility of deciding the programmes and their syllabus.

A perusal of the process of syllabus making evinces the role of specific groups called the Board of Studies or some other resembling body entrusted with this job. These groups have the participation of all teachers of the respective department(s) offering the programme along with outside experts and representative stakeholders. Notwithstanding slight variations in the composition of these specific groups for syllabus making, the cardinal principle of participation of the teachers from the department running the programme is essentially there. Thereupon, the bigger statutory bodies accord the approvals on it, however, these bodies are devoid of experts from all subjects and may have competence for only ostensible overviewing. Thence, the onus of the content and standard of syllabus depends principally on such teachers.  

In general, it is said that the HEIs do have a mechanism to take feedback from their alumni and employers about the quality of the programme in all aspects including the syllabus. If so, why the syllabus does not remain up to date despite all authority vested with the HEIs. Conspicuously, the downgrading of the syllabus of any programme in HEIs in India germinates from the inadequate rigour in the syllabus making process at the very first level which means that the teachers, external experts, alumni, employers, etc. do not perform the tasks holistically. If even after the comprehensive exercise behind the syllabus making, the standard of the syllabus is not met, the complacency in this task is to be viewed seriously. HEI leadership has to ensure the proper discharge of jobs assigned to respective groups in syllabus making so that the syllabus is framed as per the global requirements of the particular programme and not as per the whims and convenience of the concerned teachers.

Distinctiveness is opportunity

All HEIs by and large run similar programmes, but the worthiness of these programmes among the respective HEIs is hugely varying. However, due to identical programmes offered by a lot of HEIs, such programmes are blessed to purvey the distinctiveness from the forte of their faculty prowess. The aspiring students and employers view the programmes with similar degrees differently for different HEIs.  Thus, the differing public perception about the programmes and HEIs mean that the statutory empowerment of HEIs to have their curriculum and teaching-learning processes seems to have been exercised with different degree of thoroughness.  The stakeholders form an opinion about HEIs and their programmes based on the performance of the students passed out from them and the same depends upon various factors out of which syllabus is just one.

Undoubtedly, every HEI wishes to offer the best quality education for being distinctive from others to attract the best students to its campus. The syllabus of any programme happens to be its foundation stone as the content prescribed by it fixes the upper limit of knowledge transfer by the institution to students. Therefore, the HEIs should carry out the syllabus making process with utmost care so that the very first opportunity to nucleate distinctiveness in the programme(s) offered by it is harnessed effectively.

Usually, the syllabus for similar programmes is quite identical with a little bit of variations in them. In such a situation every HEI must focus on creating a curriculum that leads to the excellence of the whole programme with a focus on the specialties with them. It goes without saying that the other factors of teaching-learning processes are to be taken care of appropriately. Common syllabus regulation could be a trap for generalization of education and at the end, the HEIs may find it difficult to excel in some niche areas depending upon their focus. However, certain minimum standards as prescribed by the national education regulators should be adhered to for each programme by all HEIs and these be exhorted to  have their distinctive syllabus. A cue can be had from the Institutions of national importance where the uniqueness of syllabus for the programmes has created specific perceptions depending upon their thrust areas.

Common syllabus is not panacea 

The idea of a common syllabus in higher education appears to be mooted in few states for improving the quality of education in general across HEIs. The issue of inadequacy of the quality of education needs deeper evaluation. Though the syllabus lays the framework for carrying out the teaching-learning process, the quality is predominantly decided by the efficacy of teaching-learning processes for greater learning. The vision, competence and commitment of institutional leadership, teachers, and staff plays critical role in improving the quality of education in HEIs. The rhetoric for having common syllabus will eventually diminish the possibility of certain HEIs achieving distinctions.

Understandably, even by adopting the best of the syllabus for any programme in the world by an HEI, the state of education will not ameliorate unless those engaged in making learners learn do not carry out the teaching activities with full vigour, enthusiasm, and creativity. The role of institutional governance also affects the motivation and commitment of teachers and staff significantly. The insufficiency of academic merit and vision in an institutional leader can not enthuse the teaching human resource available with respective HEI. Thence, the qualitative improvement in education can take place largely through motivated, committed, creative and visionary leadership and teaching human resources of the HEI, however, the up-to-date syllabus is a prerequisite. The commonality of the syllabus shall make demean the role of teachers from particular HEI and reduce their academic participation. Having a uniform syllabus in different programmes offered by autonomous HEIs is not the panacea for improving the education quality.

Regulatory framework and HEIs together should get sensitized for enabling the institutions with merit centric leadership and competent teaching human resource along with encouraging and motivating ecosystem for ensuring learning in a happy and positive ambience. Cajoling the Universities and Deemed to be Universities for practicing autonomy in true spirit could ignite the quest for excellence and inter-HEI competitiveness. The accelerated pace of accreditation of HEIs shall compel them for holistic improvement on all accounts.

(The views expressed is the writer's own)

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Onkar Singh

Onkar Singh

Founder Vice-Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur, UP.

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