India’s Controversial Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) – OpEd

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All the major higher education institutions across the world are implementing a system of credits. For instance, we have the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) in Europe’s universities, and the ‘National Qualifications Framework’ in Australia. Also there is the Pan-Canadian Protocol on the Transferability of University Credits and in UK, the Credit Accumulation and Transfer System (CATS) is in place. Even the systems operating in the US, Japan, etc, are based on a credit system.

India too has adopted the CBCS on recommendations of both the 11th five-year plan and the National Knowledge Commission to ensure quality in higher education. The Choice Based Credit System means there are options available to students (undergraduate, post graduate degrees, dipoma and certificate courses) to select from the prescribed courses like core, elective, soft skill or minor courses. As per UGC the students under this approach can take courses of their choice, learn at their own pace, can take additional courses and acquire more than the required credits.It is also said that such a system will facilitate student mobility across educational institutions within the nation and outside.

It may be noted that the National Knowledge Commission has called for the reform of existing universities to ensure frequent curricula revisions, introduction of course credit system, enhancing reliance on internal assessment, encouraging research, and reforming governance of institutions.

Thus, the University Grants Commission, India’s statutory body for higher education proposed a semester pattern in curriculum instead of yearly examinations and grades instead of numerical percentages in mark sheets with minimum 90 days of teaching for learner-teacher engagement. The ultimate goal is to bring reforms in higher education so that students develop thinking, as well as an analytical ability, and they are equipped with necessary skills ultimately making them suitable for an employment and to integrate values of our culture with education.

Under the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), students pursue three types of courses – Compulsory Foundation Courses (relating directly to the subject of study), Elective Courses (allowing for interdisciplinary studies) and Core subjects, where it is compulsory to pursue core subjects every semester and choose electives from a pool of subjects unrelated to their disciplines. This means a Science student can opt for any subject of Commerce or Arts discipline as an elective.

A study of varied subjects will give an exposure to students in various disciplines. The current framework suggests allotting 50% of the total credits to core subjects, 25% to applied core subjects, 20% to interdisciplinary subjects and 5% for foundation courses. The grading system is considered “better” and “desirable” because this will facilitate student mobility across institutions within the country and across other countries, and also enable potential employers to assess the performance of students. The grades will reduce student’s obsession with marks in examinations as in case of traditional higher education system that had a non-uniform performance assessment system putting all the pressure on the student at the end of the year.

Objectives of CBCS

The main objective of introducing CBCS by UGC is to reform the Indian higher education for enhanced learning opportunities that matches learner’s scholastic needs and aspirations. This system will enable inter-university transferability of learners to bring greater flexibility to complete the course and make standardization and comparability of educational programmes across the country. According to UGC guidelines, in the new system there is a shift in focus from teacher-centric to learner-centric education. Emphasis is on studying/learning and not on teaching, with the learner being at the centre stage of all academic transactions.

Elements of CBCS

The basic elements of CBCS includes assessments semester wise where each semester will have 15–18 weeks of academic work which is equal to 90 teaching days. This allows flexibility in creating the curriculum and assigning credits based on the course content and hours of teaching. Each course is assigned a certain credits. When the student passes that course, he/she earns the credits which are based on that course. If a student passes a single course in a semester, he/she does not have to repeat that course later. The students can earn credits according to their pace. One credit per semester is equal to one hour of teaching, which includes both lecture (L) or tutorial (T) or two hours of practical work/field work (P) per week. A study course can have only L component or only T or P component or combination of any two or all the three components. If for some reasons a student cannot cope with the study loads he/she has the freedom to study fewer courses and earn fewer credits and he/she can compensate this in the next semester. Thus, the continuous evaluation of the student not only by the teachers but also by the student’s themselves, with 10-point grading system ranging from O (Outstanding) to P (Pass), derived from the marks achieved in examinations.


The current higher education curriculum in India does not impart the necessary skills that would make the students employable adequately, there is a lack of interdisciplinary approach and very little scope for value based courses to be taught. The traditional method used teacher centric approach, the evaluation methods are largely based on memory recall processes which do not allow students to learn, think or analyse on their own thus, the system is not effective enough in meeting/empowering students to think on matters/issues independently whereas interdisciplinary approach enables integration of concepts, theories, techniques, and perspectives from two or more disciplines to advance fundamental understanding or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline.

While the CBCS is aimed at ushering in a multi-disciplinary approach to undergraduate curriculum, providing students a strong foundation across multiple subjects, enabling them to select courses from a wide range of disciplines to gain mastery of a subject of their choice. The guidelines open up opportunities for student mobility, allowing them to take credits earned in one institution to another institution to which they transfer. Thus, CBCS helps to establish uniformity and parity within and across institutions; between Indian higher educational institutions and international institutions, which follow a similar pattern.

Importance of adopting CBCS in India

Though India has a well-developed higher-education system yet, 70% of Indians lack education beyond primary schools and there is a dearth of 100 million people in working group who would have actively participated in the economy, the reasons for this seems to be increased income inequality, lack of skilled workforce and 25% lower economically-active population than required.

However, if India is able to address these issues, it could capitalize on opportunities in forces shaping labor markets globally as India’s strength will be its capacity to add more college-educated workers to the market. However the roadblock is the low retention rates in country’s secondary education system, in spite of nearly achieving the primary school enrolment. India would need to achieve universal secondary schooling by 2020 but to achieve this it would require doubling the current school construction rates, doubling teacher-hiring rates (to add 1.5 million teachers by 2020) and substantially improving quality of education. Thus, there is a serious  gap that is created in demand and supply of skilled workforce and qualifications of the Indian youth to address the persistent long-term unemployment.

According to the International Labor Organization, the unemployment rate in India has shown an increasing trend since 2011 when it was 3.5%. This rose to 3.6% in 2012 and climbed to 3.7% and then 3.8% in 2013 and 2014 respectively according to the Global Employment. Thus, to meet the challenge of developing employable university graduates the Indian government undertook steps to revamp higher education for bringing reforms both of academic and administrative nature and made Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) mandatory for all the 400 public universities at the undergraduate and postgraduate level beginning in the academic year 2015-2016.

Will CBCS Deliver?

The UGC has always initiated measures to bring efficiency and excellence in the Higher Education System of India but as far as CBCS is concerned it is too early to say if this system will be successful in the Indian Universities or not. The basic motive is to expand academic quality in all aspects, right from the curriculum to the learning-teaching process to examination and evaluation systems but the CBCS seems to narrow the role of education from encouraging the development of well-rounded individuals to training for marketable skilled workforce.

It is important to emphasize the difference between curricula and syllabi which seems to be ignored in CBCS. There are challenges such as drafting the entire new syllabus, defining the credit system, motivating and training staff for smoother implementation, encouraging students to stay involved throughout the term and improving attendance, and continuous evaluation. The academic boards in the universities will have to play an important role to overcome these challenges and help in preparing the new syllabus in a definite time.

Last Word

CBCS seems to increase the need for faculty and workload of teachers, as institutions are supposed to widen their offerings to provide more optional courses but unfortunately, there was no attention paid on reflecting upon the curricular or pedagogic issues involved. Thus, instead of targeting the core problem areas in the Indian education system, the CBCS is set to increase the already existing problems in the higher education. However, considering the diversity the implementation of the choice based credit system seems to be a good system in assessing the overall performance of a student in a universal way of a single grading system. What is needed is that the universities implement the CBCS following some rigorous elaborate steps such as review of curricular contents, subdividing into units and subunits as well as assigning numerical values and termed credits to bring more clarity to the faculty, students and examiners.

(Authors belong to M.S University of Baroda,Vadodara, Gujarat and Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi respectively. Mail at [email protected])

Dr. Swaleha Sindhi

Dr. Swaleha Sindhi currently teaches at the Department of Educational Administration, in The M.S. University of Baroda, Gujarat, India, she has a long Teaching and Administration experience in School Education and has received the Best Teacher Award in the year 2007 for Excellence in Teaching. Her doctorate is in the area of Quality Assurance Systems in Secondary Schools. Her current research follows two core themes: Quality Assurance in Education and Policies in Secondary Schools besides other areas like Comparative and International Education, Girls Education, Educational Management and Economics of Education. Dr.Sindhi has also been writing columns on education theme in newspapers and journals and has more than thirty two research articles to her credit. She is the Vice President of Indian Ocean Comparative Education Society (IOCES) and a Life Member of Comparative Education Society of India (CESI).

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