Published: 10th June 2023
Relevance of PG in context of changing times & NEP: UGC Chief, VCs, professionals opine
Experts and officials explain the changing relevance of postgraduate programmes and the future of the master’s degree programme, as we know it
With major changes being introduced to the education system under the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, especially in higher education, the way people perceive and understand master’s degree programmes is also evolving.
Under the newly introduced four-year undergraduate course (FYUP) with flexible entry and exit options, there has been a focus on more holistic and skill-based learning at the undergraduate level. However, the new implementations bring up a few questions — How would it change the relevance of postgraduate programmes? What is the future of the conventional (3+2) college education system?
The National Credit Framework encompasses credits from the level of certificate, diploma to PhD. It defines the credit levels of higher education from 4.5 to 8 credit points.
PG courses to become less ‘rigid’
However, experts say that the new implementations will not undermine the relevance of postgraduate courses, but make it less ‘rigid’ in nature.
Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, Chairman, University Grants Commission (UGC) emphasised that the FYUP has been introduced to promote flexibility and create alternative pathways for higher education and shall not replace the need for specialised, advanced and professional postgraduate degrees.
He explained that the new system will not only give flexibility to the students, but to the Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) offering the programmes as well.
“The two-year master’s programme may have the second year devoted to research. There also could be one-year master's for those completing a four-year UG programme. There may be an integrated five-year bachelor’s and master’s programme that already exists. All these combinations of postgraduate degrees will be valuable to students undertaking research along with boosting employment opportunities for them,” Kumar explained.
Future of conventional (3+2) PG programmes
Educationists have contrasting views when it comes to the future of 3+2 higher education system. While few opine that the FYUP would not have any major effect on the same, others believe that the relevance of two-year postgraduate programmes might get affected in the long run
Prof BJ Rao, Vice-Chancellor, University of Hyderabad (UoH), said, “Self-standing two-year master’s programme will become less relevant with time because the four-year undergraduate programme will take over. If you do well in the FYUP, as it involves several internships, training and a fair amount of flexibility in learning, the UG programme will be good in quality that a student can move to PhD programmes or professions directly.”
On the other hand, others have an opinion that postgraduate programmes will still continue to have their own relevance and number of takers, even after the new system has been implemented.
Prof Lingaraja Gandhi, Vice-Chancellor, Bangalore City University, explained “It will not affect the postgraduate studies in any manner. It will continue in the form of one-year as well as two-year master’s programmes. It is only that the wall between undergraduate and postgraduate courses has been broken with the new system.”
When to opt for postgraduate programmes?
UGC Chairman Jagadesh Kumar explained why postgraduate courses have their own appeal and importance.
“The purpose of seeking postgraduation is not limited to merely getting another degree in higher education. It expands the opportunities available to students. Expertise gained through PG makes learners stand out in the competitive job market. PG courses bring together like-minded individuals and experts in the field, which further helps establish good networks and connections in the chosen field,” the UGC Chairman said.
But when should one opt for PG programmes and what should be considered beforehand? Experts say that a student can go for postgraduate programmes when they seek deeper knowledge of the specific subject matter.
“When one wants to go for deeper knowledge, especially research and academia, they can still choose to go for master’s programmes. Students can take up the four-year programme and make the choice at the end of two years or three years as well,” explains Prof Lingaraja Gandhi.
Educationists added that the new system has given an option to the students — whether or not they want to pursue postgraduation irrespective of the job opportunities.
“There are always those who want to understand concepts in deeper detail even when it does not offer any industry benefits. There will always be these outliers and the system has to have space for outliers at all times. We cannot put everyone in one box and that is why postgraduate courses will have their own takers,” added Prof BJ Rao.
PG relevance might differ between industries
Though the meaning of postgraduate programmes is going to evolve with new changes being introduced by the UGC, the demand for postgraduate professionals might differ from industry to industry.
“Industries that are involved in research and development such as healthcare, medicines, pharmaceuticals, engineering, science and technology highly value candidates with postgraduation. Not only these, but even academia and teaching require a deeper understanding of subjects which one can develop during postgraduation studies,” explained the UGC chairman.
He said that the demand for postgraduates can vary based on market trends, technological advancements and evolving industry needs.
“It is advisable for learners to research and align their postgraduate studies with the sectors and job roles that they aspire to pursue better career opportunities,” Kumar added.
Can skills be compared to a degree?
Even before the introduction of FYUP and NEP 2020, there has been a decrease in takers for postgraduate programmes, especially in professional courses like engineering. Students in these streams often opt for short-term ‘upskilling’ certificate courses to get higher packages.
But can skills be considered over a postgraduate degree? Experts say that with the changing industry requirements, recruiters have been considering skills and experience over a degree.
“Ultimately, a recruiter looks for skills and people who can deliver. If they see that a person who has pursued these short-term courses and has acquired skills, they might prefer it over a degree. In this way, there will be a significant change in outlook, in fact, it is already happening,” opined Prof BJ Rao, VC, University of Hyderabad.
“In classroom learning, we are not learning, unlearning or relearning fast enough. The rest of the world is moving at a much faster pace so there is a serious mismatch. In the future, any programme will only sell if it gives hands-on training and skills through internships and projects. Eventually, only the programmes that make students job ready will fly whether it is for professional or non-professional courses,” Prof Rao added.
On the other hand, there has been a special focus on skills under the NEP 2020, say experts. In the FYUPs, students are exposed to much more than domain knowledge which will make them industry-ready.
“Under the four-year undergraduate programmes, skill-enhancement, ability-enhancement and open elective courses are weaved into the curriculum which goes beyond the knowledge of the subject domain and also focuses on attitude, skills, values and so on. So, with graduation, they are empowered enough to go with a profession. They are taught skills relevant to the field in addition to general topics,” explained Prof Lingaraja Gandhi.
Transitioning to the new system
The whole concept of four-year undergraduate programmes with multiple entry and exit options, academic credit bank and several other features is a fairly new concept. Many institutions have already started offering four-year UG programmes from the academic year 2023-24, while many are planning to implement the same in the coming academic years.
However, the transition to a new education system can be challenging.
In order to increase acceptance and awareness about the new system, the UGC is trying to foster collaborations between stakeholders, including educators, policymakers, parents, students and industry representatives.
“We aim to engage in meaningful collaborations with international education systems to learn from global best practices. We do undertake a series of public awareness and engagement programmes with HEIs which we hope to open a lot of acceptance. Therefore, active participation from all the stakeholders is crucial to UGC’s quest to provide accessible, equitable and qualitative higher education,” UGC Chairman Jagadesh Kumar said.
What do the young professionals say?
Working professionals, who opted out of the postgraduation race and chose to pursue a career right after their undergraduate degree, also say that it is becoming increasingly common among students to not take up PG courses right after their bachelor’s degree.
“Skillset definitely matters more than degrees when it comes to industries. With the right skills, you can showcase your capabilities in interviews. Many people choose to go for postgraduate programmes after one or two years of industry experience. But in the end, it all comes down to individual interest,” said Aditya Mundada, a software engineer currently working in Bengaluru.
These young professionals said that industry requirements have evolved over time, especially in fields like technology, marketing, communication and so on where soft skills are being given higher preference by the recruiters.
“In marketing, people see how good you are at communicating and handling situations rather than a degree. Experience also plays a major role and it guarantees higher positions and higher pay in the field. You should go for a postgraduate degree after getting at least a few years of experience as you would better understand what are you looking to gain from that degree,” said Rakshita Kumar, a growth marketer.