TN government goes full steam ahead with common syllabus plan; academicians ask: Why this hurry?

Teachers feel the government fears that reputed colleges may adopt the NEP, and the common syllabus plan is to thwart any such move.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Jul 23, 2023 | 9:00 AMUpdatedJul 23, 2023 | 9:00 AM

The higher education department should postpone the implementation of the 'common syllabus' for a year and it should be implemented systematically, say academicians. (Creative Commons)

The Tamil Nadu government is going ahead with its plan to implement a common syllabus for all universities and colleges in the state, much to the chagrin of the academia.

Condemning the move, several university teachers’ associations pointed out that the government, despite opposing the National Education Policy (NEP), is planning a similar one with its move to bring uniformity in the state’s higher education sector.

In March, the Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education (TANSCHE) sent a circular on the common curriculum to all universities. It stated that the autonomous universities could decide 25 percent of their syllabus, and 75 percent of the curriculum would be uniform throughout Tamil Nadu.

The TANSCHE has revamped the syllabus and prepared a new syllabus for 90 courses offered by various state universities. The move, the government said, was aimed at equipping students to meet industry needs.

Higher Education Minister K Ponmudy has categorically stated that the uniform syllabus would be implemented in the current academic year itself. He was talking to reporters after a meeting with vice-chancellors in Chennai on Friday, 21 July.

The minister further said that the syllabus for Tamil and English languages would be the same.

“The common syllabus will not affect the independent functioning of universities or boards. It will ensure equal education for all students,” he explained.

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Coming soon: Series of protests

Madurai Kamaraj, Manonmaniam Sundaranar, Mother Teresa, and Alagappa University Teachers’ Association (MUTA) president AT Senthamarai Kannan said TANSCHE’s new syllabus was not on a par with the existing pattern.

He further stated the government’s move would strip the universities of their freedom to decide the syllabus.

“TANSCHE told our representatives on 12 July that it is the ‘Model Syllabus’ and the boards of studies of universities concerned can decide their syllabus pattern.

“But contrary to the assurance, the higher education minister has announced that it is mandatory to follow the uniform syllabus. This is unacceptable,” he said.

A Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the University Teachers’ Association has called for a series of protests.

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Explained: Common syllabus

As part of the revised syllabus, all undergraduate and postgraduate students would pursue two additional elective courses — skill enhancement and ability enhancement — to increase their employability.

The boards of studies of each university would adopt the revised syllabus. The state government would train college teachers to teach these courses.

According to A Ramasamy, the TANSCHE vice-chairperson, the syllabus was finalised with an eye on the current and future needs of employers in various sectors, and is based on the Naan Mudhalvan scheme of the Tamil Nadu government. The scheme is a skill development initiative.

“For example, students opting for BA History will study Keeladi (a Sangham-era settlement) excavations. Students opting for BSc Mathematics will study computer-related courses such as Computational Mathematics, Data Analysis, and App Development as electives. Those opting for BA Tamil will have to choose Archeology, Inscription Reading, or Journalism,” he said.

Apart from electives, all students must undergo an internship after their fourth semester, and produce a project, with a viva voce, in the fifth.

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Autonomous status hit

A principal of a Catholic Church-run, self-financing, autonomous college said the new syllabus pattern lacked clarity.

“We have autonomous status, which means we have the right to decide the syllabus and we have been doing it for the past several decades. But now, the state is interfering in our autonomy through a common syllabus. We have reservations about the move,” he told South First on condition of anonymity.

He stated that the government had not called them for talks before or after drafting and implementing the uniform syllabus.

“Only university authorities, aided and self-financing college representatives have talked with the government. There is confusion over implementing the common syllabus,” the principal said.

He confirmed receiving the government communication on the syllabus.

“TANSCHE says we can make changes to 25 percent of the syllabus. But in reality, TANSCHE will decide that 25 percent. Technically, the department is implementing 100 percent uniformity in the syllabus,” he said.

Stating that self-finance colleges affiliated with universities and autonomous colleges used to change the syllabus every three years based on industry requirements, he questioned the role of the Senate and the Board of Studies in deciding the syllabus.

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Arguments in support

Professor A Prakash, teaching at an aided college in a tier-two city, said the new syllabus would cater to the requirements of industry, besides boosting the employability of the students.

“Colleges in small towns and rural areas will benefit from the common syllabus. For example, in the BSc Visual Communication course, an upmarket college in Chennai will have all facilities, including a hi-tech lab and studios. The same syllabus will be taught in an aided, rural college,” he told the South First.

“The common syllabus will benefit the rural colleges but will affect the reputed colleges which have built a ‘specialist’ image in certain courses,” he added.

He felt that the NEP prompted the DMK government to introduce the common syllabus.

“The state fears that the big and reputed colleges might adopt the NEP and that is the reason for the government hurrying to bring all colleges under the TANSCHE syllabus,” Prof Prakash said.

“Once the colleges adopt the new syllabus, it would not be easy to shift to the NEP. This explains self-financing and autonomous colleges’ reservations about the TANSCHE syllabus,” he opined.

Why this hurry?

Prof (Retd) C Pichandi, former general secretary of the University Teachers’ Association, welcomed the government’s move but expressed worry over the haste in its implementation.

He said the state has five types of higher education institutions and syllabi: The universities, universities’ constituency colleges, aided colleges, self-financing colleges affiliated with universities, and self-financing colleges with autonomous status.

The representatives of all these five types of higher education institutions were not consulted before drafting the common syllabus, and the committees were not properly constituted for many subjects, he told South First.

Pichandi recalled a uniform syllabus has been a long-pending demand of university teachers. Efforts were made in the past, even during the AIADMK regime, to implement a centralised syllabus. However, it did not materialise.

“But now, when it is being implemented, the Higher Education Department should have formed an expert committee for every subject, comprising academicians, subject experts from various institutions, and industrial experts,” he opined.

“The task should have been allotted to the universities, not TANSCHE. Everything has been done in a hurry and there is no need for experimenting with higher education. There should be some quality parameters and 75 percent of core components should remain the same. The remaining 25 percent should have been left for the universities,” Pichandi said.

Further, the retired professor said that the higher education department should postpone the implementation of the common syllabus for a year. It should be implemented systematically, in consultation with all stakeholders.

“Then, the common syllabus will be lauded for years and be useful to the students. It will make the higher education in Tamil Nadu on a par with international standards,” he added.