Realizing the need to attract students to pursue science as a career and to improve the quality of the teaching and learning experience in a holistic way, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) conceived the Star College Scheme in 2007. The Department took an unconventional and bold step by providing support to all science departments—not just biology or biotechnology—in undergraduate colleges under this scheme. The scheme primarily lays emphasis on practical training in existing courses. It has resulted in blurring boundaries between science departments in colleges, leading to interaction amongst faculty across traditional disciplinary silos. This has come as a pleasant surprise. Emphasis on hands-on experience to undergraduate students and inter-disciplinary minor research projects have provided an opportunity for students to experience first-hand what they are taught in the classroom, helping them to better understand key scientific concepts.
Strengthening of laboratory and academic infrastructure and provision of multiple copies of routine equipment has provided the ecosystem required for practicals to be conducted by colleges—these could not be done earlier due to unavailability of equipment or costly consumables. Young students are getting much-needed exposure to lectures by eminent scientists, and visits to nearby research institutions are inspiring them to pursue postgraduate courses in science. All stakeholders, including students, faculty and laboratory staff, have witnessed this slow transformation and acknowledge the catalytic role played by DBT. This small investment has paid rich dividends by transforming the undergraduate science education landscape. Most of participating colleges have witnessed a gradual increase in the number of applications vis-à-vis number of seats for admission to undergraduate science courses, increase in cut off percentage at the time of admission to these courses, decrease in drop out rates, better performance in undergraduate examinations and enhanced enrollment in postgraduate courses. Undergraduate students in participating colleges have carried out several innovative experiments and minor research projects, many of an inter-disciplinary nature. I am tempted to quote Prof. Lakhotia, Chairman of the DBT expert committee on Star Colleges “If each college conducts one unique innovative research oriented experiment with an aim to elucidate what is unknown rather than to simply confirm known concepts, we will have a large pool of experiments in each discipline”.
A large number of resources such as laboratory manuals and standard operating procedures have been generated. Committees of subject specialists from colleges are examining these resources for refinement, which will be brought out as final DBT publications to be shared across participating colleges. Outreach activities conducted as part of the Star College program have benefitted teachers and students from neighbouring schools and colleges also. A strong mentoring and monitoring mechanism in the form of a mentoring committee, an in-house advisory committee, a DBT expert committee & a coordinators’ meeting have been put in place to learn from each other’s experience and mistakes. The programme has been received exceedingly well by students and teachers and would need to continuously innovate and evolve to sustain as well as improve.