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Meddle virus spreads to IISc

New Delhi, Aug. 6: The Centre today told Parliament that the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, has been asked to discontinue its four-year undergraduate BS programme but the institute said it had not received any such orders.

HRD minister Smriti Irani, in a written response to a question in the Lok Sabha, said the University Grants Commission has reported that several universities, including the IISc, that are conducting four-year programmes have been asked to discontinue them and follow UGC notification on degrees.

Although IISc faculty said they had not received such a directive from the UGC, the reply in the House has triggered expressions of outrage in the science community.

“We have not received any notification from the UGC asking us to discontinue this course,” said Chandan Dasgupta, professor of physics and dean of undergraduate studies at the IISc.

Dasgupta said the IISc had received two letters from the UGC, one seeking details of the four-year BS programme, and the second asking the institute to explain why it is a four-year course.

The IISc accepts about 120 students each year into its four-year programme that accepted its first batch in 2011. The course, Dasgupta told The Telegraph, is uniquely structured and exposes students to sciences, engineering, humanities and a research project during the fourth year.

“If the UGC has done this — it is most unfortunate,” said Subhash Lakhotia, a professor of zoology at the Banaras Hindu University, who was among a panel from India’s three science academies that had nearly five years ago recommended that universities should shift to a four-year BS programme.

A senior faculty member at the IISc said a decision to discontinue what has emerged as a prestigious course would be a “great tragedy”. “Academic institutions should be allowed to design their own course structures — politicians should not decide this. We need to show some spine on academic autonomy.”

The IISc was among the first educational institutions in the country to implement what science academies had prescribed — a four-year BS programme with flexibility in the subject options available to students.

“The UGC has been sleeping on the academies’ proposal,” Deepak Pental, a plant biologist and former vice-chancellor at the Delhi University, said. “The UGC should have tried to push this four-year course in many more universities.”

The four-year course, senior faculty have contended, would have helped introduce equivalence between BS programmes in the sciences such as physics, biology, or mathematics with the four-year programmes in engineering.

“If professional courses in engineering take four years, why not science courses? This will bring science students somewhat on a par with engineering graduates in terms of the numbers of years of studies,” Pental said.

Students can apply for the BS programme at the IISc if they score certain minimum sets of marks in the Indian Institute of Technology joint entrance exam, a national science fellowship programme called Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana and the All India pre-medical entrance test.

Lakhotia said: “I certainly hope that the academic community raises a clear voice against such political decisions taken without any consultation with academic institutions.”

In June this year, the UGC, instructed by the HRD ministry, had directed Delhi University discontinue its four-year undergraduate programme and go back to the earlier three-year system.

The ministry said that the four-year programme in general streams of arts, science and commerce had violated the National Policy on Education, 1986. The ministry says the NPE provides for 10+2+3 system for students pursuing general stream of education.