There are fewer takers for the BSc degree, but this is just the time to consider it
Counsellors say numbers are falling largely because of failures in communication. As AI, machine learning and big data fields open up, there’s plenty of opportunity for the Science grad.
The number of students signing for BSc degrees is dipping in Mumbai, thanks to a combination of the intense course work required, the lack of guidance on subjects and careers, and the growing number of professional courses offering lucrative career possibilities.
This year saw a tangible dip in cut-offs for the Science stream at the first-year junior college (FYJC) level, of up to 4 percentage points and a dip in applications for pure sciences from 71,330 to 57,859 — just between 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Science cut-offs have been dipping for a few years, says Vijay Joshi, state chief consultant with the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), the national scheme for the development of higher education. “Over the past decade, Commerce has become more popular, as have the humanities.” One reason behind the decline in interest in subjects like physics, chemistry, zoology and botany, he adds, is the lack of research-oriented career options in the country.
“After studying physics for three to five years, if you’re going to end up with a job in banking or entry-level management, then that might as well be what you study to begin with,” he says.
The shift away from the hard sciences is now happening earlier, at the school level, says Ashok Wadia, principal of Jai Hind College. “Certain boards like ICSE and IGCSE allow students to drop subjects like Maths after Class 8,” he says.
It doesn’t help that the Science stream demands exclusive focus. “You cannot take up a part-time job, or try and launch a start-up or even make time to work in a family concern. There is just no time,” says Hemlata Bagla, principal of KC College.
Bagla is hopeful, however, that science will make a comeback, with better guidance helping school students work towards careers in evolving fields like data analytics and artificial intelligence, which will need students with a science and maths background.
Already, the field is opening up, says Tripti Singh, education guidance counsellor at education consultancy The Red Pen. “It is a myth, for example, that someone with a BSc in physics can only apply the degree in research or academia. Already, a pure science graduate could find opportunities in finance, AI, industrial set-ups, almost anything that they are interested in career-wise. To get students interested in the pure sciences again, it is crucial that the right information be shared with parents and students.”
Educational guidance counselling will play a key role, and institutes will need to step up directly and indirectly towards this end. “Traditional colleges in India need to start organising tours of their campuses, lab facilities, host informative sessions by faculty members. In the world of social media, how often do we see leading colleges post articles, information and data on what it means to study a certain subject? We need more of that kind of guidance,” Singh says.
The Draft National Education Policy 2019 could help too. It recommends establishing a National Research Foundation, an autonomous body, to fund, mentor and build capacity for quality research in India. “According to this draft policy, scientists from universities and premiere institutes will oversee execution of the policy, instead of bureaucrats,” says Joshi of RUSA. “That alone would be a big step in the right direction.”