The three science academies of the country have issued a position paper entitled Restructuring Post-School Science Teaching Programmes (pdf, 770 kB). The most far-reaching, and definitely the most important among its recommendations is the creation of a four-year BS program in the sciences. In fact, the paper follows up on the discussion meeting in May 2008 on this very topic.
But there are several other recommendations as well, which explicitly take into account the need for diverse and flexible undergraduate programs in science. Thus, the paper recommends retaining the current 3-year BSc + 2-year MSc model, but suggests that "these courses ... be restructured to provide integrated learning, rather than making the students specialise too early." It also has two other new and noteworthy recommendations which will provide interesting options for 3-year BSc graduates: (a) a 2-year professional degree (BTech) option, and (b) vocational courses in such job-oriented fields such as bio-medical lab techniques and computer applications.
The BTech option is a rehash of a program that IISc used to run up until the late sixties! [Interestingly, this program was converted into a 3-year BE degree program, which was replaced with a 4-yaer 'integrated' ME program, which died in 2000!]
I guess the target audience of this position paper is the UGC. But can UGC take a decision as important as the creation of a 4-year BS program (which, presumably, will be taught, at least in the beginning, in IISERs and Central universities) just in the sciences? Wouldn't it want to extend this program to humanities and social sciences?
Let me end this post with an excerpt that highlights the limitations of the current system, and articulates the need for a new regime:
The rigid bifurcation insisted upon at the first non-professional science degree course (B.Sc.), is severely limiting the competence of our country’s science graduates in the current global scenario of interdisciplinarity. An extreme of this compartmentalized education is the introduction of specialized courses like those in biotechnology, genetics, bioinformatics, nanotechnology etc., at B.Sc. level. In most of these programmes, the students hardly learn the basic science part and thus remain incompetent for basic as well as technological applications.
It is clear that the contemporary cutting edge questions in life sciences cannot be solved without knowing the concepts, tools and techniques employed by professional physicists and chemists and without developing adequate computational and mathematical skills. It becomes extremely difficult to demarcate specific subject boundaries in many emerging areas of science and technology, like those in smart materials, nanomaterials, micro (molecular) electronics, biotechnologies, biosensors, etc,. More broadly, it is difficult to distinguish between electronics and physics, materials science and chemistry, and between biology and biomaterials. Without understanding the basics of one field, it is no longer possible to exploit the possibilities offered by another. One of the major reasons for the relative poor innovative R&D activity in the country indeed is the lack of in-depth interdisciplinary teaching and the required level of flexibility in moving from one discipline to another.
Thanks to my colleague Prof. Ranganathan for alerting me about the position paper.