The Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur (IIT Kharagpur), one of the premier engineering and technology institutes in the country, has unveiled a sweeping set of reforms for its undergraduate (UG) programmes. These reforms, slated to take effect from the 2024-25 academic year, are aimed at aligning the institute's curricula with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which envisions a comprehensive overhaul of India's education system.

In a landmark move, IIT Kharagpur has announced that from the upcoming academic year, admissions to all UG programmes will be solely for five-year BTech and BS (Bachelor of Science) degree programmes. This shift marks a departure from the institute's previous practice of offering four-year BTech programmes. The rationale behind this change is to provide students with greater flexibility and a wider range of academic pathways.

One of the key highlights of the reforms is the introduction of five-year dual degree programmes. After completing the second or third year of their initial BTech or BS programme, students will have the opportunity to opt for a dual degree programme. This innovative approach seeks to create multidisciplinary learning experiences that transcend traditional boundaries.

The dual degree programmes will be offered in two formats: within the student's parent department or through interdisciplinary dual degree programmes (IDDP) offered by various schools and centres of the institute. This opens up a plethora of exciting possibilities for students, such as pursuing a BS (Hons) in Economics coupled with an MTech in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, or a BTech (Hons) in Civil Engineering complemented by an MTech in Financial Engineering.

According to an IIT Kharagpur statement, these changes are designed to empower students to make informed choices about their academic trajectories after spending a few semesters at the institute. This approach stands in contrast to the previous system, where students had to decide on their majors before joining the institute, often based on limited exposure to various disciplines.

In a move aimed at reducing stress and promoting overall well-being, IIT Kharagpur has abolished the option for branch changes at the end of the first year for students admitted through JEE Advanced, the premier engineering entrance examination. The institute acknowledges that the pursuit of branch changes has been a source of significant stress for many students, with only a small fraction (less than 10 per cent) successfully changing their branches each year. The remaining 90 per cent of students often experience depression, mental health issues, and poor academic performance in subsequent semesters as a result of this pressure.

To address this concern, IIT Kharagpur has introduced two innovative programmes: the "Double Major" and the "Minor Specialisation" programmes. The Double Major programme will allow UG students to simultaneously earn a second major alongside their primary BTech (Hons) or BS (Hons) degree in the department they initially enrolled in. Several departments will offer the Double Major option, enabling students to diversify their academic pursuits after their first year.

For example, a student pursuing a BTech (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering could opt for a Double Major in Economics, or a student studying BS (Hons) in Physics could choose a Double Major in Electronics and Electrical Communications Engineering or Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. This flexibility empowers students to tailor their educational experiences to their evolving interests and career aspirations.

In addition to the Double Major programme, IIT Kharagpur will offer students the opportunity to earn a "Minor" or a "Micro-Specialisation" in various disciplines of their interest. This move recognises the importance of interdisciplinary learning and equipping students with a broader range of knowledge and skills.

Acknowledging the rapid advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) and their immense potential for the nation, IIT Kharagpur has made a significant decision. The institute will mandate that all students take at least one elective course in AI/ML, in addition to other elective offerings in areas such as linguistics, happiness and well-being, Indian knowledge systems, and performing arts. This requirement reflects the institute's commitment to fostering a well-rounded education that combines cutting-edge technological expertise with a deep appreciation for diverse fields of study.

In a bid to enhance global exposure and foster cross-institutional collaboration, IIT Kharagpur will introduce the Semester Away Programme (SAP) for its undergraduate students starting from the 2024-25 academic year. Under this programme, UG students will have the opportunity to spend one semester at another reputed national or international institute, industry, or research laboratory, earning full credits equivalent to the semester credits at IIT Kharagpur.

Furthermore, students can combine their mandatory 8-week summer internship with the semester-long SAP programme, essentially allowing them to spend nearly 8 months immersed in a different academic or professional environment anywhere in the world. This initiative aims to broaden students' horizons, expose them to diverse perspectives, and equip them with the skills and experiences necessary to thrive in an increasingly interconnected global landscape.

The reforms announced by IIT Kharagpur represent a bold and forward-thinking approach to undergraduate education. By embracing the principles of the NEP 2020, the institute is taking significant strides towards fostering a more holistic, flexible, and student-centric learning environment.

The introduction of five-year dual degree programmes, coupled with the Double Major and Minor Specialisation options, empowers students to chart their own academic journeys and explore interdisciplinary synergies. This approach recognises the importance of cross-pollination between different fields of study and equips students with the versatility and adaptability required to navigate an ever-changing professional landscape.

The emphasis on AI/ML education underscores IIT Kharagpur's commitment to preparing its students for the technological advancements shaping the future. By mandating exposure to this cutting-edge field, the institute aims to produce graduates who are not only technically proficient but also poised to contribute to the nation's development in this crucial domain.

The Semester Away Programme represents a transformative opportunity for students to broaden their perspectives and gain invaluable global exposure. By immersing themselves in diverse academic and professional environments, students will cultivate essential skills such as cross-cultural communication, adaptability, and critical thinking – attributes that are highly valued in today's interconnected world.

Overall, the reforms announced by IIT Kharagpur signify a paradigm shift in engineering and technological education in India. By aligning its curricula with the NEP 2020 and embracing interdisciplinary learning, global exposure, and student-centric approaches, the institute is setting a benchmark for other educational institutions to follow. These changes have the potential to reshape the landscape of higher education in the country, nurturing a generation of well-rounded, innovative, and globally-minded professionals who are equipped to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

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