By Saptaparno Ghosh:
A few metres from the Meghdoot Hostel, in North Campus, Delhi University, lies a building. It exemplifies the University’s professed world-class infrastructure. This building houses one of the least known institutes of the University – the Cluster Innovation Centre (CIC). Inaugurated on September 3, 2011, the institute aims to act as a catalyst and facilitator for driving innovation and learning. For achieving the outlined objective, it takes help of the University’s constituent colleges and their resources for academic training.
CIC offers B.Tech. (Information Technology & Mathematical Innovations), B.A. Honours (Humanities & Social Sciences) and MSc. (Mathematics Education). All of them have an entrance exam. The paper consists of multiple choice questions related to the subject for which one is applying. There is no personal interview for admission.
So, how does this work?
It needs to be understood that the institute is by no means similar to the School of Open Learning at the University of Delhi. CIC is a regular institute, but with a different approach.
Imagine a food court where a single card gets you access to a variety of stalls and all their delicacies. This analogy can be used to understand the functioning of CIC. A student studying humanities and social sciences gets to design his or her course. The student do their first and last semester at the centre. For the rest, they choose the subject, paper and the college where they wish to pursue them. You heard that right. You can study different papers in different colleges during different semesters! One has to select a specified number of papers from the ones available in college. This points to perhaps a remarkable achievement in terms of creating an inter-disciplinary approach. The emphasis is on innovation through an inter-disciplinary understanding, diverging from the ‘discipline-specific’ academia.
The emphasis at the CIC is on skill building and learning based on exposure. The students are also made to visit places related to the module being taught. Talking about exposure, the course structure at CIC also entails a semester group project for its students. The students have to select a topic, preferably from their discipline of study and prepare a synopsis for further approval from the faculty. If it’s not approved, they are allotted a topic by the faculty instead, which is necessarily from their discipline of study. In either scenario, a mentor is assigned, who is an expert in the particular field. The projects require the students to do a lot of groundwork for primary research with very little scope to rely on secondary data.
For this initiative to be successful, it requires a good infrastructure. And that is where the University might have done its job well. CIC has a start-up incubator, which promotes students to undertake rigorous innovation activities that benefits society directly or has a commercial value. In terms of infrastructure and resources, they have access to the University library, unlike other undergraduate students of the university enrolled in regular colleges, Yes, the Central Resource Library. While for many, working on computers with a proper internet connection at college continues to be a dream, the CIC has labs with Mac computers. Beat that! A fully equipped computer lab with iMacs and an internet connection accessible round the day.
However, there could be possible limitations to this approach of education. It has been observed that teachers keep changing at the CIC, perhaps pointing to the absence of a permanent and experienced faculty to manage the complex courses and its logistics. Also, managing the meta-college and subject approach has its set of logistical issues and requires massive planning to establish fluidity. There is also the concern of clashing dates during examinations and class schedules.
Despite these assessed limitations, it needs to be pointed out that students do well. Srivedant Kar, a sophomore pursuing B.A. Honours (Social Sciences & Humanities) told Campus Watch about his project on night shelters. It was presented at CUSE (Centre for Urban Science and Engineering) and IIT-Mumbai. Delhi government has also given it permission to run as a pilot programme.
“Yes, we have a fresher’s and a farewell too!” contends Srivedant.
CIC is like any other department of a college; they have a proper freshers’ party, farewells, departmental events and seminars. The best part is that they make friends everywhere they go. Attending other college’s fests and seminars is as easy as it may get. So, do they have friends in class? Yes, they do. The semester projects involve group activities which require them to meet regularly. “We have a funny story to discuss every time we meet: our experiences with the inefficient administration and so on,” tells Sruthi, a final year humanities student at CIC. There are instances when they have been seen as outsiders in the colleges they were attending classes in. But after being a little aware about their programme, things became better.
Students at CIC are a mixed bag. For most of the students, CIC wasn’t something pre-planned from high school. It was something new, which they found interesting and worth engaging with. And of course, people who enrolled are swayed by the infrastructure. Unconvinced of the other options available, they decided to explore the institute offering a wider scope of things to do. These are people who didn’t wish to adopt the discipline-specific approach to academics.
To understand the importance of the course and its objectives, attending the pre-admission open days shall be ideal. “We are doing what we want. It is about how we use it (the course). You need to be aware, active and into your course,” says Sruthi.