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The University Grants Commission (UGC) has called for a centralised bank of academic course credits, known as ABC (Academic Bank of Credits), to regulate and control the academic credits taken by approximately 39 million students at 46,887 colleges, 1143 universities, and several standalone institutions in the country.

Notified as early as July 2021 by the UGC in the Gazette of India, the regulation entitled “UGC (Establishment and Operationalization of Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) Scheme in Higher Education) Regulations, 2021″ initially called for its implementation only among the NAAC accredited A grade institutions and institutions of eminence and national importance, but later on extended its scope to bring all Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) under its arm.

ABC is nothing but a centralised regulatory system that accounts for all academic credits taken by students in their higher studies. Easing mobility of and providing flexibility to the students in taking or transferring academic credits across the HEIs is the premise upon which the regulation has been built. It is claimed that the ABC is based on the principle of distributed and flexible teaching-learning that allows a student to learn as per her or his convenience, drop education mid-way and pick it up again as per their choice and convenience. Under this premise, the ABC will ensure the opening, closure, and validation of academic bank accounts, credit verification, credit accumulation, and credit transfer or redemption for students, which collectively, so far, has been the jurisdiction of an individual university.

It appears the ABC will enhance students’ choice. Students would be able to take courses of their choice that cut across the borders of subject domains and beyond, and that too, across the HEIs of their choice.

But the new system of course credits will only prove counterproductive since it trespasses into what is statutorily and morally the prerogative of the statutory academic bodies. The regulation permits the students to take as many as 70% of their courses from HEIs other than their own. Such an approach would undoubtedly disrupt the harmony of the university curriculum, which is critical for guiding students. The harmony of the curriculum means a synthesis of various ingredients including educational philosophy, pedagogies, educational objectives, subject matters of learning and socio cultural issues. These help in achieving learning outcomes.

A centralized system like the ABC would disable the curriculum and its framework from achieving its intended objectives. The ABC would lead to academic disarray.

A centralized system like the ABC would disable the curriculum and its framework from achieving its intended objectives. The ABC would lead to academic disarray. Though guided and approved by academic mentors and authorities, the choices would still only be discrete.

The ABC may give exposure to varied subjects but without providing objectivity, focus, reflection and all-round learning. Higher studies are not just simply about learning subjects and attaining skills necessary for employment. It is rather pedagogically tweaked learning development, social interaction, civic participation, political participation, health, and a constant quest for consciously realizing the truth.

In ABC, courses will be drawn from different sources and contexts to achieve different objectives. But multifarious discrete learning will no way be helpful. The manner in which the Union government has been handling this initiative of centralised credit banking makes us wonder if it has succumbed to  international pressures such as the one from WTO-GATTS (World Trade Organization—General Agreement on Trade in Services), which seeks progressive liberalisation of trade in education.

Since 2005, when India offered higher education to WTO-GATS, the reforms undertaken by successive governments have resulted in large scale privatisation of the education sector; liberal student fee fixation by the private educational players; corporatizing public higher education institutions to make them self-financing; a reduction of government investments in public education; negligible research investments and grants; and private dominance in policy making.

ABC is yet another milestone in the government‘s pursuance of WTO mandates in promoting privatization and commercialization of education. While students previously paid tuition fees either biannually or annually, the ABC system would require them to pay per course taken at other institutions. Both the state and union governments have so far refrained from regulating tuition fees in private HEIs. The continuation of this approach of fee per course will cumulatively increase the overall tuition fee. This will also help private players to grow as, using the flexibility involved and with a strong market muscle, they will reach out to the student mass to sell their courses better than the public institutions.

The ABC will ensure education is the property of the socially and educationally advantageous. Overall, only 47% of the population has internet connectivity. The ABC will empower the haves in the digital world even more. Online courses can only be accessed by the educationally and socially privileged, strengthening the learning divide.

Public institutions will now be forced to charge a fee per course, which will eventually make them self-financed. As it might happen, in due course of time, the ABC will approve private training and freelance institutions to offer services under its system, which will make education truly and fully trade as agreed by the government of India in the WTO-GATS agreement.

The market is already central to the education system in India. Educational services offered by foreign players will have more favourable access going forward with ABC.

The ABC will ensure education is the property of the socially and educationally advantageous. Overall, only 47% of the population has internet connectivity. The ABC will empower the haves in the digital world even more. Online courses can only be accessed by the educationally and socially privileged, strengthening the learning divide.

Student diversity will take a hit. Scientists, social scientists as well as economists have come to value the role of a diverse student body diversity in innovation. ABC is part of a package that works against inclusive education for reasons discussed above.

Reservations in education guaranteed in the Constitution for the socially and educationally backward communities will be nullified by the ABC. Will it be possible to ensure course wise reservation in institutions? Will a student belonging to a socially disadvantaged community be able to access IITs to register for a course under this scheme? What is the guarantee that the ABC will facilitate mobility of students of all social backgrounds across all HEIs?

Proponents of the ABC argue that similar systems that promote flexibility within and outside the student’s institutions are there in advanced countries. But those systems facilitate mutual recognition and sharing of course credits. They are mature systems in which the primary responsibility of such academic transactions is vested with the concerned institutions. The ABC however wants a centralised regulatory body disregarding regional and institutional best practices, requiring all HEIs and students to deposit and withdraw course credits from a single facility.

(The author is an educationist who served on the AK Rajan panel on NEET)

 


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