24 May 2022 19:05:01 IST

The big benefits of dual degrees for students

The University Grants Commission’s (UGC) recent guidelines have allowed students to opt for two degrees simultaneously. The students can also take up parallel degrees and diplomas if the eligibility conditions are met. The courses could be undertaken in any mode including physical mode, open distance learning mode, online mode or a hybrid mode. The courses could also be undertaken from different universities including from approved foreign universities.

The policy is directionally a right step toward encouraging multi-disciplinarity and flexibility in higher education as envisaged in National Education Policy 2020. It will also provide a fillip to online, open, and distance education.

Advantages galore

A dual degree education brings in several advantages. It provides more career options than a single degree would have provided. It could also provide the students with a broader base of competencies than a single course and therefore prepare them better for taking on jobs or for starting up on their own.

Further, many of the innovations happen within the boundaries of individual disciplines and dual degree education is, therefore, likely to facilitate research and innovation. It is hoped that universities will implement this policy at speed and scale for the policy to achieve its intended goals.

The policy carries several implications when it comes to students’ readiness for jobs. The starting point of this discourse is to understand why many educated youths are unable to meet employers’ expectations or requirements. Is it because they have only one degree with the knowledge they have acquired covering limited areas/ subjects/ disciplines?

If this is the case, the dual-degree policy is the solution. But if the reason for several of the youth not finding jobs has to do with the need for proficiency in the application of knowledge or the need for complementary soft skills, then we might have to look for solutions elsewhere.

This policy is likely to also have an impact on the time available to the students for undertaking extra-curricular activities, group work, hobbies as well as for participation in college and university events, clubs, and community work.

All these activities, though not a core part of the academic curriculum, play a major part in the students’ all-around development and in helping the students acquire skills in planning, organising, teamwork, communication, leadership, problem-solving, and creativity.

Incidentally, these are the skills several employers find lacking in job aspirants and not so much width of knowledge that could come from more than one degree. Importantly, the NEP 2020 also advocates mainstreaming of co-curricular and extra-curricular education.

Holistic approach

Secondly, dual degrees may result in time constraints and may compromise the quality of learning. Therefore, we might create a situation where students know less about more areas than before i.e., they exchange depth in a few areas for the breadth of knowledge and skills, particularly as the focus on internships, projects and other co-curricular areas may decrease.

Thirdly, students would need to evaluate and identify situations where two undergraduate degrees may be better than one. For example, engineering graduates may consider undertaking BCom or BA or BBA courses in parallel. Similarly, students studying BCom may like to undertake BA or BBA in parallel. In terms of subjects, it may be possible to study together economics and finance, economics and geography, commerce and finance, social work, and psychology.

It may also allow students to undertake a vocational course alongside an academic course. Therefore, if the courses are chosen in a manner so as to be complementary and value accreting, dual degrees will be useful to the students and to other stakeholders. On the other hand, if the courses are chosen without proper thought or with large overlaps or just to increase degree count, it may leave the students, the other stakeholders and the ecosystem worse off in several ways.

We will also need to see how employers perceive students who have undertaken two courses simultaneously versus those who have undertaken them sequentially or those who have only undertaken one course. It may take some time before a few dual-degree batches have graduated when we are able to evaluate the impact of this policy initiative comprehensively. Of course, a lot would depend on implementation.

An alternative to the dual degree structure, which may also help achieve similar goals related to flexibility and multi-disciplinarity could be to widen the scope of multi-disciplinary electives and credit courses within the degree programmes themselves. This is an established practice across several international universities and may be an option to be considered going forward.

(The writer is Partner, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India LLP.)