Add-on Programs in India: An Overview
By Dr. Vijaya Khandavilli , former Country Coordinator for Advising Services, US Educational Foundation in India.
Indian university graduates looking to stand out in an increasingly competitive and globalized job market have turned to vocationally and professionally oriented add-on programs in recent years to give them an edge over their peers with a conventional undergraduate degree only.
The add-on programs are a result of moves made by the University Grants Commission (UGC), India’s university regulator, through the 1990s to vocationalize and professionalize undergraduate education during the eighth and ninth five-year plan periods (1992-97 and 1997-2002). Many professional and vocational institutions were established during this period, while existing universities and their constituent colleges introduced vocationally oriented courses and curricula. In the 10th five-year plan, the regulator introduced a new initiative, and funding, that would allow colleges to supplement their degree offerings with value-added, job-oriented certificate, diploma, and advanced diploma programs. This article will take a look at these programs to assess their value, and to gauge whether their increasing popularity is warranted.
The UGC envisaged that the employability prospects of tertiary graduates would increase if they possessed additional skills to those attained through their core field of study. Therefore the regulator introduced what are known as add-on programs, which, as the name suggests, allow students to supplement degree programs with shorter, practical and industry-focused certificate and diploma programs.
The need for such a refocus is evident when one considers statements made by Arun Nigavekar, former Chairman of the University Grants Commission during whose tenure add-on programs were introduced. In 2004, Education World1 quoted Nigavekar as stating “out of the 9.28 million students in higher education, only 17 percent are pursuing professional streams while the remaining 83 percent are in conventional higher education streams, [such as] B.Sc, B.Com and BA degree programs. We want to make education more meaningful for these students. Dual qualifications will enable students to get conventional plus vocational education simultaneously, as well as generate more funds for institutions.”
With this vision, the UGC recast the vocationalization programme at the undergraduate level under a modified scheme of its Career Orientation Program2 during the Tenth Plan Period. The new programs, as envisioned by the UGC, would be a flexible system of certificate/diploma/advanced diploma programs, which would run in parallel with conventional undergraduate and graduate degrees. The new initiative was also backed by the knowledge that “administrative” government jobs would decline in the future and more jobs would be available in the private sector due to economic liberalization.
UGC Framework and Guidelines
According to the framework suggested by the UGC, colleges can start a certificate, diploma, or advanced diploma program of 30, 60, or 90 credits respectively. At least 10 of the total credits should be completed outside the classroom in some kind of fieldwork or internship training. Each credit, irrespective of program level, requires a 15-hour workload.
Colleges have the autonomy to choose which add-on programs to offer; however, they must be done with approval from, and in consultation with the affiliating university following UGC guidelines. The university is responsible for framing the syllabus for the add-on programs. Colleges may also seek help from industry/service organizations and non-governmental organizations as well as individuals in the development of the programs, their design, course content, instruction, and implementation methodology. The syllabus should clearly indicate the distribution of time allotted for lectures, practicum, fieldwork, project work, and internship training. It should also clearly state the pre-requisites and the credit values of each component.
Program courses can be taught by college faculty, guest faculty from other institutions and allied organizations, in addition to experts in the field. Once the university approves the college proposal, the college can issue the joint certificate with the name of both the parent university and the teaching college.
Support from the Government
In addition to the central government’s support in the form of UGC grants, state governments have provided significant backing for the add-on courses, as the following initiatives from representative state governments reveal.
State Minister for Higher Education3 in Karnataka announced on October 18, 2008 the introduction of add-on courses in 35 state colleges, under a public-private partnership with local industries, which are providing faculty training and student internships.
In Punjab,4 the State Ministry of Education offered its support to add-on initiatives in February 2008 by asking the State Finance Department to allocate funds from a program aimed at supporting skill development centers. The department called on university leaders in the state to start job-oriented add-on courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Specifically, the ministry was seeking to promote short-term vocational courses in the field of veterinary and animal sciences and health sciences targeted at rural students.
The Himachal Pradesh Education Department has backed the introduction of UGC-sponsored add-on courses in almost all affiliated public colleges in science and commerce streams as a value addition to the existing degree courses to enhance the employability of graduates.
Replying to a debate in the State Assembly5 on demand for add-on courses in Tamil Nadu, State Higher Education Minister K. Ponmudy said that job-oriented add-on courses would be introduced in government arts and science colleges.
The Department of Education of Chandigarh has introduced add-on courses in journalism, video reporting and video editing in government colleges, in addition to career-oriented courses in tourism and travel management, bio-informatics and environmental auditing.
In a unique experiment in Andhra Pradesh (AP) the Commissionerate of Collegiate Education, in collaboration with industry, has established Jawahar Knowledge Centers (JKC)6 in reputed engineering colleges in the state. According to a 2006 comment made by Andhra Pradesh Minister for Education, Rajyalakshmi Nedurumalli, “JKC is a unique human resources promotion initiative of our [AP] government. It is the first such program that any state government has launched in the country. Our task is to ensure that Andhra Pradesh has the largest and talented rural human resource pool for the IT/ITES industry in the country.” In September of this year, the AP chief minister informed media outlets7 that several add-on courses of 300 hours in duration will be introduced in several degree colleges in the state.
Other states such as Kerala, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh have also introduced add-on courses.
As evidenced from the examples above, universities and colleges across India are offering a wide range of add-on courses. A majority of them are offered to undergraduate students in academic streams (B.A., B.Sc., and B.Com) as a means of boosting the relevance of their credentials to the job market, but some courses are also offered to students in more professionally oriented streams (B.E./B.Tech/M.B.A). Graduate-level students also have the opportunity to take advanced diploma add-on courses.
The courses can loosely be categorized into three main groups: academic enrichment, skill development, and vocational/career orientation. The areas of study cover a broad range of fields, from aviation to disaster management to women’s studies. Colleges have the flexibility to suggest new courses as the needs of the job market dictate, and as advice from industry is taken into account. The duration of courses also is quite variable from one month to one year for each of the three levels. Instruction hours also vary from 15 hours to 450 hours for each level, very few sticking to the UGC directive of 450 hours for each level.
Generally, the courses are offered in the afternoon and evening hours when regular college teaching is over. Admission to these courses differs from program to program and from college to college. Some courses are open to all, not only for students within the institution but to external students as well, while others are quite selective. Depending on the demand, colleges exercise a cap on the number of admits.
Although most add-on courses target three-year degree students in arts, science, and commerce, there are also a few add-on programs for the benefit of engineering and management students. These courses typically focus on development skills in areas such as business ethics and social responsibility, leadership and project management, and communication. Programs that are largely hands-on and internship based are also offered in concert with industry
Add-on Plusses and Minuses: Comments and Criticisms
Although a majority in Indian academia agrees that traditional education has to be supplemented with skill-based education to enhance the employability of graduates, acceptance of add-on courses has not been unanimous. Some feel that with the introduction of add-on courses, attention to core subjects gets diluted while the content of add-on courses is of marginal utility, varying depths, and questionable quality. Others believe the primary function of colleges and universities is to provide in-depth knowledge of the core academic subjects and training of the mind rather than preparing students for employment. These academics feel that due to the rising costs of on-the-job training, corporations are passing the burden to academic institutions.
Implementation of add-on courses at affiliated colleges is also a cause for concern. In 2007, Panjab University (PU) had to postpone its annual examinations for add-on courses8 as the process of affiliation had not been completed in some colleges. PU has now set up a separate cell for add-on courses to address such problems.
The University of Delhi (DU) and its affiliated colleges have faced other complaints such as too many add-on courses without the necessary infrastructure and faculty; inconsistent fee structures for the same course at different colleges; and insufficient information on the duration, fee structure, course curriculum and faculty. Yet others have complained that colleges advertised many more add-on programs than they actually ended up offering, thereby misleading students9. DU set up a committee to investigate such complaints and the committee’s recommendations presented to the Academic Council10 were passed for implementation.
With regard to the committee’s objection to the high course fees, “we invite specialists and professionals in the field to take classes and pay them according to University rules,” said Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Principal of Ramjas College in a phone conversation with the author. “A cap should be put on colleges charging amounts ranging between Rs 15,000 and Rs 30,000. We only charge Rs 2,000 per course,” Prasad added. He, however, regrets that he had to cut down the number of courses offered in his college from 26 to 9 courses, because of a cap enforced by the university based on the committee’s recommendations.
Another criticism is that some colleges outsource some of the add-on courses to private institutions. Colleges provide students and rent out the classrooms and infrastructure and the private institution runs the actual course. Students view this purely as a revenue-generating exercise lacking accountability and credibility. Prasad agrees with this criticism and feels that outsourcing should be stopped.
Students and Course Coordinators Speak Out
According to Pooja Chaitly11, Training and Placement Coordinator at Khalsa College for Women, “there is a huge demand for add-on courses. Not only are these courses based on market demand, they also increase the job absorption rate significantly.” Dr Madanjit Kaur Sahota, Principal at Master Tara Singh Memorial College for Women agrees: “Students are now more aware of job avenues available and therefore we should also focus on courses that can meet the demand of the growing number of jobs that the big corporate houses and business sectors have to offer.”
Dr. (Ms.) N. Lata, Coordinator of the add-on course in Bioinformatics & Computational Biology at Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University, is very satisfied with the overall progress but recommends conversion of her course to a longer duration at the advanced diploma level. She feels it is difficult to cover an emerging field like bioinformatics in a certificate course (in an email communication with the author).
“I am not much aware about the variety of the add-on courses and therefore am curious to know what all options are available while simultaneously pursuing my graduation,” said a student in Punjab seeking admission to a bachelor-of-arts program. As for Neha, who is looking to pursue a bachelor-of-commerce degree, the add-on courses are an opportunity to learn something extra and make use of it during her job search. “I want to apply for an add-on course in bank management. This will help me when I apply for a job in the banking sector,” she said.
Ms. G. Mary Hema Prabha12, in a Sept. 29, 2008 letter to the editor of the Hindu newspaper, states that the list of add-on courses offered by JKCs in AP does not include the most common trades within reach of rural poor students. She suggests courses like tailoring, cell phone servicing, TV mechanism and electrical operations.
Add-on Arithmetic for Evaluators and Admissions Personnel
Indian students with a three-year undergraduate degree have typically had to complete at least one year of graduate studies to be eligible for admission to graduate schools in the United States. Add-on programs could, therefore, greatly improve the admissibility of such students to U.S. graduate schools, or so it might seem.
Evaluators and admissions personnel have to dig deep before they can grant or determine equivalence. Key issues to investigate are: who is issuing the diploma / certificate; what is the duration of the program; how many hours are devoted to the course; what are the prerequisites, who teaches the course; and most importantly what is the curriculum content, and is it in line or allied to the student’s main course of study and the student’s future study plans?
For example, if a student pursuing a B.Sc (Zoology) completes an add-on advanced diploma in Introduction to Biotechnology & Bioinformatics and is applying to a master’s program in Biology with specialization in genetic engineering, the add-on course is a good fit and could be considered for equivalence. But if the same student has done a year-long diploma course in medical lab techniques, then the add-on course may have little significance.
The UGC-directed introduction of add-on courses is a step in the right direction and could dispel widespread disillusionment with theory-intensive college education in India. But the success of the initiative depends on the type of institutional leadership and how innovatively and transparently the programs are implemented. Half-hearted measures will greatly damage the already crumbling status of higher education in India. However, well thought-out and well-taught programs represent a great opportunity to set right what ails conventional undergraduate education in India.1 Thakore, Dilip. “New Stimulus for College Education.” Education World. June 2004.
Available from www.indiatogether.org/2004/jun/edu-newcoll.htm
3 India Education Diary. “Karnatka govt to start add-on courses in 35 new colleges.” October 18, 2008.
Available from: www.indiaeducationdiary.in/Shownews.asp?newsid=893
4 Press Trust of India. “Badal calls upon VCs to add on job oriented courses.” February 15, 2008.
Available from: www.indopia.in/India-usa-uk-news/latest-news/78201/Politics/6/20/6
5 The Hindu. “State to get 10 new universities.” May 7, 2008. Available from www.collegesintamilnadu.com/Education_News/20080507.asp
6 Iype, George. “How Andhra Pradesh is helping graduates get jobs.” Rediff News. September 12, 2006.
Available from: www.rediff.com/cms/print.jsp?docpath=//money/2006/sep/12spec.htm
7 Reach Out Hyderabad. “AP to recruit 5,350 lecturers and other teaching faculty for the Junior, degree and University colleges.” September 2008.
Available from: www.reachouthyderabad.com/citynews1/colleges.htm
8 Sandhu, Khushboo. “University postpones exam for add-on courses.” Chandigarh Newsline. May 15, 2007.
Available from: http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=236567
11 Express India. “Colleges go with the flow, offer more professional courses.” June 25, 2008.
Available from: www.expressindia.com/latest-news/Colleges-go-with-the-flow-offer-more
12 Prabha, Mary. “Short term courses.” The Hindu. September 29, 2008. Available from: www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl?file=2008092953190300.htm&date=2008/09/29/