Integrated Degree Programs in India: Rationale, Objectives and Outcomes
By Dr. Vijaya Khandavilli, former Country Coordinator for Advising Services, US Educational Foundation in India.
In recent years, India has witnessed a surge in the number of integrated degree programs at the master’s and doctoral levels. For a country that has survived with a rigid, conventional approach to higher education for decades, such changing trends are significant and noticeable. Naturally, one wonders what triggered this change. This report maps the diversity of integrated programs in India and their rationale, objectives, and outcomes.
It is a well-worn cliché to say that the Indian education system presents glaring contradictions. On the one hand, India has the third largest education sector in the world, in terms of both student numbers and the overall number of institutions. There are more than 400 million Indians between the ages of six to 24; however, only 10.4 million Indians are enrolled in higher education, and approximately 2.4 million students graduate and join the workforce each year. On the other hand, Indian hi-tech companies hire and train thousands of college graduates from abroad every year. Why? Because they find the average Indian graduate, barring those from prestigious institutions, as not suitable for many of the skilled positions required by the new economy.
Many sectors of the economy face severe skill shortages, and at the same time there is an acute problem of graduate unemployment. Educationists as well as policymakers in India recognize this paradox of Indian education and they are eager to retain India’s demographic dividend as a boon and not a bane. After supporting access over quality for decades, these decision-makers are now making concerted efforts to make Indian education suitable for the new knowledge economy. The introduction of integrated programs has proven to be one such step.
There are a wide variety of integrated programs, most common being the five-year combined bachelor and master’s programs. The prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISC) offers an integrated doctoral program in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics to talented bachelor-of-science and engineering graduates.
The National Law School of India University offers a five-year combined Bachelor of Art (BA)/Bachelor of Laws (LL.B. (Hons.)) degree program. Most of the more recently established National Law Universities offer similar degree structures, while also offering new combined LL.B options such as Bachelor of Science (B.Sc)/LL.B. (Hons.); Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com)/LL.B. (Hons.); and Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A)/LL.B. (Hons.). Encouraged by the success of these programs, other states in India are also setting up new law universities. Some of the traditional universities, public and private, have also begun to offer the five-year combined law programs in addition to conventional three-year programs.
The newly established Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IISST) offers a five-year integrated master’s program in Applied Sciences (M.Sc) with special emphasis on space-related subjects.
The famed Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) offer five-year integrated Master of Science (M.Sc.) and Master of Arts (M.A.) programs, and more recently have been offering what are known as dual degree programs, which allow Master of Technology (M.Tech) students to graduate in five years by combining their Bachelor of Technology program, typically four years, with the M.Tech, which typically takes two years. Integrated M.Sc./Ph.D programs are also offered. In 2006, IIT-Madras announced a five-year integrated Master of Arts (MA-HSS) program from its department of Humanities and Social Sciences.
It is not only the prestigious and professional universities, as mentioned above, offering integrated degree programs, but also traditional universities, both public and private, in various disciplines. There are a few other unique programs, which will be discussed later in the article.
Rationale and objectives
While an institution may have its own rationale for delivering integrated programs, quality enhancement is the driving force behind the government’s belief in fast-track research degree programs. In its 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2012), the University Grants Commission identified “Relevance to Society,” as one of its priority concerns. Diversified and innovative programs are to be given special support as part of the UGC’s strategy. The plan recommends that university curricula should be reformed to provide both a foundation in basic skills and the promotion of advanced skills. This, the UGC feels, will facilitate employability by equipping students with the skills currently required to meet the economic, social and cultural needs of society. Integrated programs fit into this category.
According to Professor Sudhanshu Bhushan, Head of the Higher and Professional Education Department at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA),1 although there is no explicit governmental policy, the integrated programs at National Law Universities and the likes of the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISERs) enjoy tacit approval and support of the state and central governments. Bhushan observes that the 14 National Law Universities were established by state governments with a view to arresting the deteriorating standards of legal education and to make it relevant to present-day needs, while the five IISERs are being established to promote excellence in science education and research. Market forces are another key concern for Bhushan.
“Another important motive of the integrated system at the IISERs is to prevent the market and other attractive professions pulling away the talent from the university system after the first bachelor’s degree in science,” Bhushan stated in a recent e-mail.
Nishant Billa, a student currently enrolled in the integrated dual degree (DD) program at IIT- Kharagpur, says that t he primary reason for starting the DD programs at the IITs was to encourage student research. Quoting an IIT professor, he says ”the IITs felt that they weren’t getting good enough students through the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE), the entrance examination for admission to IIT M.Tech programs.” Prior to the introduction of the dual degree programs, an abysmally small number of IIT B.Tech graduates enrolled in M.Tech programs. If they chose to pursue their masters in engineering, they generally did so at foreign universities. In a bid to halt this trend, about one-third of the number of B.Tech seats at IITs were converted to dual degree seats; a move designed to increase IIT research output.
The rationale behind a five-year integrated M.A. in Humanities and Social Sciences (MA-HSS) at IIT- Madras seems to be more student-oriented. According to Prof. M.S. Ananth, Director, IIT-Madras, most technology graduates opt for managerial positions, although several distinguished alumni had switched to humanities and management-related areas.2 The MA-HSS is for such highly motivated students to enter the portals of the prestigious IIT and yet pursue studies in liberal arts and social sciences.
According to a recent e-mail from Prof. K.B. Powar, former Secretary General of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU), integrated programs allow students to have a more focused approach and complete the program in a shorter time. If properly implemented, Powar feels, these programs positively impact the quality of students. He adds that the integrated concept is being misused in B.Tech/M.B.A. programs as the four-year B.Tech component has no management-related education and the fifth year is nothing but an accelerated M.B.A. program.
Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani can be considered the trendsetter of integrated programs in India, introducing five-year integrated M.Sc. and M.A. programs in 1971. The primary reason behind these programs was to provide maximum flexibility and lateral mobility to enrolled students in order to help them choose their path and pace according to their aptitude and ability. According to Prof. G. Raghurama, Deputy Director of Academics at BITS Pilani, the main reason for this was India then followed two different school systems. While students in some states graduated from high school after 11 years of formal study, the others did so after 10+2 years. Based on the Kothari Commission on Education’s recommendations in 1966 to reexamine curricula, especially those with a science-engineering interface, BITS introduced a variety of four-year integrated first-degree programs. Raghurama adds that in India greater emphasis is given to engineering and medicine as a result of which students did not choose to pursue science education. The dual degree flexibility of BITS programs helped bring some of the high caliber students to science programs in addition to engineering.
Revenue generation may be another motivation behind the introduction of integrated programs. Inadequate levels of public funding allocated to higher education combined with rising enrollment rates have placed universities in India under considerable financial pressure. They hope to recover their costs at least partially from increased tuition fees. But this is possible only in the case of self-financing programs with good market potential such as integrated programs in law, business, biotechnology, information technology, software engineering and other professional and vocational disciplines.
Whatever the rationale of the integrated program, all of them will have one or more of the following distinct features:
- Fast Track: students enrolled in integrated programs can spend at least one year less than if the two programs were pursued separately. This is especially true in the case of five-year integrated B.Tech/M.Tech programs and integrated Ph.D programs. The exception to this is the five-year integrated M.Sc programs. Their duration is the same as if the B.Sc (3 years) and M.Sc (2 years) were pursued separately.
- Dual Degree: many integrated programs facilitate the award of two degrees either vertically as in the case of B.Sc/M.Sc or B.Tech/M.Tech programs, or laterally also as in the case of B.Tech/MBA combine. However, the dual degree option is not mandatory in all integrated programs.
- Semester Mode: integrated programs usually follow a semester system as it allows credit-based course curricula thereby enhancing choice and flexibility for students.
- Multidisciplinary: one of the main attractions of integrated programs is their multidisciplinary approach to learning. For example, students of integrated law programs can take courses in humanities, sciences, and social science. Similarly, integrated M.Sc programs at IITs provide a strong base of general education in mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering sciences, technical arts, and humanities and social sciences in addition to advanced education in professional courses and research projects in the chosen branch of specialization.
- Promotion of Research and Teaching: specially designed integrated programs at institutions like the IISERs, IISC, and IISST identify young, talented students committed to research and teaching, and train them to excel in their chosen professions. The research project is often an important component of the integrated programs at research-intensive universities such as the University of Hyderabad.
- Industry Linkages through Internships: integrated programs especially in fields such as biotechnology, information technology, microbiology, computer science, law and business make internships mandatory in their curricula. Law students at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad complete at least one internship each year; often they manage two in a year.
- Flexibility and Choice: modular curricula of the integrated programs facilitate wider choices for students ensuring cross-disciplinary education. Integrated programs also offer flexibility and allow lateral movement across disciplines.
- Skill Development through Vocational Education/Career Training: training programs such as the Practice Schools of BITS, Pilani and courtroom exercises at the law universities bring the reality of a professional environment into the educational process.
- Admission through Competitive Entrance Examinations: admission to integrated programs is much more stringent than for regular programs. In addition to high scores on competitive entrance examinations, previous academic achievements and performance at admission interviews are also considered.
Some Unique programs
- BITS, Pilani offers a unique combination of diverse and flexible integrated programs enjoying vertical and lateral integration. Some of the distinct features are:
- There is a wide variety of first degree programs like B.E. (Hons.), B.Pharm. (Hons.), M.Sc. (Hons.), and M.Sc. (Tech.). Irrespective of the level, bachelor or master, all are considered equivalent and can be completed in four years or eight semesters.
- Programs are based on a modular structure and their academic requirements are spelt out as the number of courses rather than the number of years
- The flexibility of the institute allows a student to do her/his program at a faster pace to finish it earlier than eight semesters or at a slower pace to finish it later than eight semesters.
- Students admitted to an integrated program in one group (M.Sc. (Hons.) Physics for example) can also aspire and work for a permitted second degree from the same or the other two groups (like B.E. (Hons.) Electrical & Electronics engg). The duration of dual degree programs is usually five years. Science-engineering dual degrees are more sought after.
- Assam University, Silchar offers a six-year integrated master’s degree in visual arts (M.V.A) and five-year programs in social work (M.S.W), computer science (M.Sc), and law, B.A. LL.B (Hons.). Candidates who have passed high school or equivalent examinations (10+2) in the relevant streams are eligible for admission to the five- and six-year integrated programs.
- The University of Hyderabad established a Special Centre for Integrated Studies in 2006-07 to offer five-year integrated master’s programs in science, humanities and social science subjects. The credit system offers the student an element of choice and the flexible system allows the admitted students to exercise their choice of courses either soon after admission or at the end of the first year, at the end of second year or even at the end of third year in certain programs. All students must complete a research project in the last year. Under the broad-based curriculum, subjects from sciences, humanities, and social sciences are offered in the first two years for all students after which they can specialize according to their choice. Every admitted student is eligible for financial assistance. Admission is through a common entrance test.
- Panjab University’s Institute of Fashion Technology & Vocational Development offers a f ive-year integrated B.Sc. & M.Sc. in Fashion & Lifestyle Technology. The program has strong vocational emphasis in the area of fashion and lifestyle. The first three years of the graduate program include a one-year foundation program and two years of core studies. Students undertake 6 weeks of industrial training before moving onto the master’s program. The two-year master’s program includes specialized project-based study of fashion and lifestyle and a mandatory six-month industry-training program.
- Shri Padampat Singhania University offers a five-year integrated international bachelor-master program in collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand in biotechnology; computer science; electronics & communication; and information technology.
Student voices and Alumni experiences
The swift growth of integrated programs would suggest their popularity with Indian students. Nishant Billa chose the dual degree program (B.Tech (Hons.) in Manufacturing Science and Engineering and M.Tech in Industrial Engineering and Management considering it the best deal for his profile. Billa feels that the shorter duration of the integrated programs is an advantage but comes with a price. Too much is taught in too little time, making the program demanding. It may not allow sufficient time to grasp the concepts completely, he feels. On the plus side, Billa hopes that the dual degree program would get him more placement opportunities than the regular B.Tech program.
Sumiti Yadava, B.A.LL.B. (Hons.), a recent graduate from NALSAR University, Hyderabad mentions the opportunity to do internships in all five years as the highlight of her program. She is thrilled that she could manage two internships each year exposing her to well-established professionals in the field. She is now enrolled in the new New York University School of Law, National University of Singapore dual degree program in Singapore. She is working toward an LL.M. in Law and Global Economy from NYU and an LL.M. from NUS.
Sachin Malhan, a 2002 graduate of the Bangalore-based National Law School of India University (NLSIU), said that his law-school experience was not merely an instruction in how to excel in the practice of the law, it was also a broader instruction in how to think and to communicate in a meaningful way. It enables one to venture into areas that were traditionally the domains of the business school and economics honors graduates. 3
C.K. Nandakumar, a 2001 NLSIU graduate, sums up his experience saying that the integrated program redefined legal education. Kumar cites distinct advantages as a) balanced approach to theoretical and practical aspects of law; b) “collaborative teaching” where more than one professor would offer their views on a topic and engage the class in discussion; and c) grounding in social sciences that gives a lawyer a holistic perspective to his role as a facilitator of problem solving.
Issues for evaluators and admissions personnel
Graduates of integrated programs from nationally recognized institutions are eligible for further study within India or abroad. Those from research-focused programs are more likely to consider higher education than those from employment-focused or vocation-oriented programs. The latter programs offer proactive and result-oriented placement services.
It should be noted that not all integrated programs award intermediate degrees. For example, students from integrated law programs can exit with a simple B.A. degree after completing three years but those in the dual degree programs at IITs cannot exit with a B.Tech degree or transfer to a traditional B.Tech degree program at the same institution. Limited flexibility, however, allows them to change their proposed field of specialization in the fourth year of the program.
Another issue is the difference in the duration of similar programs at different institutions. For example, the integrated M.Sc (Tech) and M.Sc (Hons.) programs at BITS, Pilani are four years in duration, whereas integrated master-of-science programs at traditional universities such as the University of Hyderabad and Gitam University are five years in duration. Integrated M.Tech programs at IITs also typically take five years to complete.
Transnational integrated programs such as the five-year Integrated International Bachelor-Master’s Program at Shri Padampat Singhania University (in collaboration with the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand) need to be recognized by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) as per the AICTE regulations of May 2005.
Lastly, what about students who apply to U.S graduate programs after studying for four years of a five-year integrated program? If a U.S. University is willing to consider the conventional three-year bachelor’s degree program plus one year of a two-year master’s program as equivalent to the four-year bachelor’s degree program in the United States, would the same apply to four years of a five-year integrated master’s program, especially if students are awarded an intermediate bachelor’s degree after three years? What if there is no intermediate degree?
Indian higher education is truly at a crossroads. The crisis is discernible; so is the potential for advancement into a knowledge economy. To compete successfully with other knowledge-based economies of the world, India recognizes the need to build a few elite institutions that support programs to train high caliber researchers; committed faculty and professionals; and highly skilled workforce. Integrated programs pursuing these three objectives hold great promise for India.