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Conversion of Colleges into Centre of Excellence: Undergraduate English Honours Course in Kerala

Himanshu Tripathi

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Honours Undergraduate Course; Higher Education; Quality

PUBLISHED DATE September 03, 2018
PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2018. This article is published with open access at

Various measures have been recommended by different committees to improve the access, equity and quality status of higher education in Kerala. One of the major recommendations was initiated in the form of a pilot study with the commencement of honours course in English, Economics, Maths and Commerce subject at undergraduate level. This comparative study is an attempt to study the effectiveness of undergraduate English honours course, which commenced at Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram in 2012. Comparison has been made between the learning outcomes of final year students from BA English (general) and BA English (honours) courses. The sample was tested on similar topics/sub-subjects taught in their course through an achievement test, oral test, extempore, tutorial observation and script play. An open discussion was also conducted with students and teachers to know their insight about the course. Findings of the study show positive impact of the honours course on the achievement of the learner. But, both the groups were found to be at the same platform in communication skill. Lastly, recommendations are made to bring improvement in the newly introduced English honours course to improve its quality in terms of learning outcomes.


University Education Commission headed by Dr. Sarvapalli Radha Krishnan in 1948 emphasized upon improving the quality of higher education by improving teaching standards, training of teachers and research. Twelfth, five year plan in India continued the similar motive in improving the quality of education and strongly linked to the quality of physical space, textual materials, classroom processes, academic support to the teachers, assessment procedures and community involvement (XIIth five year plan, 2011). We can take ‘quality in higher education’ in a way of describing, how well the learning opportunities so available help students in achieving their award. It is about making sure that appropriate and effective teaching, support, assessment and learning opportunities are provided to them. This can be measured by satisfaction of students, their academic performance and employability.

Kerala is maintaining literacy rate above 90 percent level and world class social indicators. But it is a big surprise that the state is still topping the unemployment index in the country. The state has somewhere lost its track in the transition phase from school education to higher education. Despite the implementation of ‘Kerala Model’, wide inequalities exist in the terms of opportunities for professional education because of location, socio-economic status and the community groups (Salim, 2004). In the study he tried to analyze the level of participation in higher education by various socio-economic groups and identified the entry barriers to higher education. In order to remove the entry barriers and inequality in opportunities, he proposed to adopt a discriminatory approach, based on differences in locality, socio-economic background and community. Access and equity in access to higher education alone could not fulfill the outcome. Quality in education is also an important aspect of today’s market conditions. Adequate facilities, availability of regular teachers and the quality of teaching are key factors in the provision of quality higher education. However, the problems faced by colleges in Kerala are underpinned by the broader regulatory environment and by an unwieldy system. The problems in the current regulatory environment are linked to the external socio-economic and political factors, which shape the nature of stakes that political parties or religious or caste associations have in the management or functioning of higher education (Kodoth, 2010). Thus, there is a need of reforms and challenge to fashion an education system, which can provide access, ensure equity and maintain excellence. There is a need of such reforms in higher education that it matches the highest standards in the world and makes Kerala graduates competitive (Sreenivasan, 2012). Post-independence, India has made a tremendous effort in increasing the number of higher educational institutes and enrollment in them. But, there is no link of quantity and quality in any area, quantity never assures quality. The Perspective Plan 2030 of Kerala, also known as Vision 2030 (Government of Kerala, 2014) has underscored the importance of education in the development of the Kerala economy. Kerala can learn from its own experiences in school education. It is important to learn from other states/countries, but not to necessarily follow them in increasing the number of educational institutes. Kerala tends to blindly follow the same approach as others followed (Tilak, 2015). In an innovative move, Government of Kerala constituted the Kerala State Higher Education Council in 2007. The council has three bodies to render advice to the state government, co-ordinate the roles of government and universities and to evolve new concepts and programmes in higher education. One commission report tried to redefine the role of newly constituted KSHEC. It states that it is imperative to strengthen the reciprocal relationship between the council and other higher education institutions in the state for the fulfillment of certain common objectives and share certain common facilities. At the same time, adequate provisions have to be made in the KSHEC Act for the effective implementation of University Grants Commission/ Rashtriya Ucha Siksha Abhiyan schemes in the state. In the report some specific recommendations have been made for the revision of the KSHEC Act in order to improve higher education condition (Gurukkal, 2017). So, researches and opinions reveal the tattered condition of Kerala higher education. Various committees have been set up by the state government in order to bring improvement in its condition. In 2012, a committee headed by Prof. J.A.K. Tareen recommended measures to improve the ‘access, equity and quality’ of higher education. The Committee proposed that it is in the interest of the State to adopt changes in tune with the national thinking as this would not only facilitate easy recognition by UGC but also entitles institutions to substantial central funding during XIIth Plan. One of the major recommendations is:

Kerala State Planning Board had recommended to introduce the Degree Honours Programme in four Government colleges on Dec 12, 2012

  • Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram- B.A. Honours in English
  • Maharajas College, Ernakulum- B.A. Honours in Economics
  • Victoria College, Palakkad- B.Com Honours
  • Brennen College, Thalassery- B.Sc. Honours in Mathematics

These are among the top government colleges currently enjoying repute in Kerala. Colleges were chosen for the Honours pilot project, envisaged by the State Planning Board, considering their potential for excellence, from the academic year 2013-14 onwards. This is a case study to know the effectiveness of undergraduate English honours course with respect to the performance of students and employable opportunity for them in future. Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram was selected for conversion into Centre of Excellence during XIIth plan, with a view to enhance the quality of the degree course and potential for employment. This is a prestigious institution that has to its credit a history of more than 100 years of excellence in the field of women education and is a pioneering institution in the field of higher education. The Government College was started as the Sircar Girl’s School, in 1864 by the Royal family of Travancore. In 1920, it was elevated to the status of a first grade college and was renamed as H.H.The Maharaja’s College for Women. Today, the College has 22 teaching departments that conduct 16 U.G. courses and 17 P.G. courses. Nine of the departments are identified as research centers by the University of Kerala. The Department of English is running BA English (general) Course and BA (honours) in English Literature and Language with intake of 30 in each. It is a three year semester course and centralized merit is prepared by the University of Kerala based on the marks obtained in higher secondary school. English subject scores attained in higher secondary school are also given due weightage while preparing the merit.

Page(s) 145-151
ISSN Print : 2320-7655, Online : 2320-8805

This paper is a study of undergraduate honours course started as a pilot project by the Kerala Government in order to improve quality in higher education. The paper investigated the effectiveness of the course by performing a comparative study between students of English general course and honours course. It is found that students of the honours course are better performers than the general course students. In the achievement test conducted, they performed better by 10 percent than English general course students. It is a big surprise that students from both the groups were found to be almost at the same platform of communication skill performance. Though students from honours course performed better than general course students in this skill, but the difference is not significant. Students from both the groups were struggling after sometime in expressing themselves fully in English language. During script play, students from both the groups were using Malayalam language after some time. Students from honours Course were always taking initiative on any topic of discussion without any fear of failure. Their selfconcept, self-esteem and aspiration levels were found to be high enough to push them for initiation. Students are admitted in the course based on marks scored at 10+2 level. The basis of admission never reflects the interest of student in the specialized course which has exhaustive syllabus to study. Admission should be based on an entrance test, which should include even an attitude and aptitude test to know their interest in English Language in order to make the course more effective. It is better to find out the talent at the terminal level during admission. Rigorous effort was made in syllabus preparation for the discussed course, but it is too exhaustive and the duration of the course is limited. The time period for the course should be extended to four years and course should be converted into an integrated programme. This will have two benefits, first too exhaustive course can be completed in sufficient time and there is no need to start MA English honours course. This will solve the problem of those who could not make their way in Masters. Literatures of Asia outside the India are neglected. Syllabus should have at least some content about literatures of our neighboring countries also. Being a new course, it is difficult to have ease in accessibility of the books in the market as well as in the college library. Purchase rules should be made flexible enough to purchase necessary study material. Moreover, the requirement that faculty is placing an order with the seller offering the biggest discount must be scrapped till the books are readily available in the market.

More classrooms are needed to run the course smoothly and enrollment is continuously increasing in every session. The examination paper should have objective along with subjective questions. The only drama paper (BAHE163) is a practical paper but it includes only 20 percent for practical assessment. The paper needs to be restructured and more emphasis should be given upon practical part. Unstructured and dissimilar approach of evaluation system provides advantage to students of general course to score more marks in comparison to students of English honours course. This helps them to secure their seat in higher courses where selection is based on marks scored at UG level. To avoid this situation honours students should either be given some weightage in PG admission or have a few MA seats reserved for them in few colleges. These factors will definitely help in achieving the desired level of terminal behavior on the part of the learner. Honours course has made a positive impact on the achievement of the learner and it is clearly visible as more than ten honours students qualified in the entrance examination for pursuing Masters at various Central Universities. But, it will take another two years to bring desired changes in the terminal behavior of students and in achieving the instructional objectives.

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