DU’S 4-year degree course: Reforms at reckless speed

(This piece has been  published by the Times of India in its Delhi City section on 14 April, 2013. We are reproducing it here, given the importance of the issue involved. It is  somewhat disappointing that it is being treated as a local , internal issue by the media. What we read there are uninformed reports and stories which do not give us the real picture of the academic scene of  DU. 

Please read and react. We are looking for solidarities of all kinds, Apoorvanand)

The unnecessary and yet frantic haste with which Delhi University is introducing a new Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) brings to mind the advice that autorickshaws often offer on their bumpers: Jaldi mat kar, der ho jayegi (Don’t hurry, or you will be late!). Given the longstanding need for reforms in Indian higher education, the FYUP could be worth examining as a possible option. It could also pilot test the XIIth Five Year Plan strategy for “re-crafting undergraduate education” through FYUPs. But the reckless speed of implementation at DU threatens to wreck all positive potential and derail the national reforms process. At stake here is the future of every college-aspiring Indian, not just the quarter million who will apply to DU this June.

The proposed FYUP replaces all existing undergraduate courses at DU. In place of the three-year bachelor’s degree with ‘BA/BSc Honours’ and ‘BA/BSc Programme’ streams, the FYUP offers multiple degrees within a single stream – Associate Baccalaureate (2 years), Baccalaureate (3 years), and Baccalaureate with Honours (4 years). The FYUP requires students to study six types of courses – Foundation (11), Discipline1 (20), Discipline2 (6), Application (5), “Integrating Mind, Body and Heart” (2) and Cultural Activities (6), making for 50 courses over eight semesters. Clearly, the FYUP seeks to be very different from existing programmes.

How long would it take to conceptualize, design and implement an FYUP of this kind? There are academic, procedural and logistical dimensions to be considered, but there is also the overall significance of the exercise, which demands that extra care and diligence be exercised to avoid costly mistakes. The DU FYUP will directly affect nearly half-a-million students (2011-12 enrolment was 4.3 lakh – 1.4 lakh regular and 2.9 lakh non-formal) and around 9,000 teachers in roughly 50 departments and 80 colleges. Thirty individual courses have to be created for each discipline or sub-discipline, plus 20 common courses. Before preparation of syllabi and after, prescribed procedures mandate vetting, debate and revisions at different levels. One does not need to be an expert to recognize that this is a long and arduous process – as it should be if it impacts so many, and especially if it is to be a model for the nation. But DU wants to go from start to finish in 10 months!

Starting with the academic dimension, the first official letter asking departments to initiate the syllabus-making process was issued on March 5, 2013. It required that teachers frame the four-year syllabus, design 30 different courses and fulfill 10 complex conditions – all by March 20, i.e., in two weeks! Though relaxed later by one month, this deadline remains unfeasible and will seriously compromise curriculum quality, making a mockery of its core objective of enriching undergraduate education.

On the procedural dimension, the DU administration claims that discussions on the FYUP were begun in September 2012, and a specially appointed 61-member “Task Force” entrusted with designing the FYUP framework. But this, while welcome as supplement, cannot supplant statutory procedures for consultations with department and faculty committees of courses and college staff councils – none of these bodies was consulted. The FYUP was approved at an extraordinary meeting of the academic council called with three days’ notice on December 24, 2012. Statutory procedures are more than mere matters of protocol because they enable debate in forums less vulnerable to manipulation by the powerful.

Regarding logistics, it is well known that the enhancement of DU infrastructure promised during the ‘OBC expansion’ is yet to materialize, especially classroom space. The predictable pressures of semesterisation have severely damaged the examination branch and brought it to the brink of collapse. Around 3000 UGC-sanctioned teaching posts have remained vacant for three years. On this already overstretched infrastructure, the FYUP will inevitably impose an additional burden of nearly 33%! The real problem here is not the presence of a formidable challenge but the absence of a responsible response. Detailed plans are needed to anticipate and avert logistical problems; they must be publicised to allay the apprehensions of teachers, students and parents.

The above arguments would justify deferral of the DU FYUP even if the programme structure itself were assumed to be perfect. But in spite of this, theremarkable fact is that not a single DU college or department has refused to implement the FYUP. Even teachers painfully aware of its shortcomings are reluctantly participating in the collective effort to put a skeletal syllabus in place because they know that if they don’t, the DU administration is likely to make things even worse for students. Surface acquiescence conceals a pervasive sense of disenfranchisement and despair, heightened by the knowledge that the FYUP’s present avatar is far from perfect.

The most puzzling aspect of the FYUP is that a major reform has been initiated without the backing of a national policy statement or white paper explaining its rationale. (The brief mention in the XIIth Plan needs much elaboration and clarification.) Three years has long been the national norm for (non-professional) undergraduate education, and adding a year raises costs by at least 33%, in terms of both money and thousands of person-years. The good reasons why the nation must bear this additional cost must be spelt out and publicly debated. The key question – ‘Why are four years better than three?’ – cannot be answered by simply listing the virtues of the FYUP, as though the three-year version had none; we need a clear argument for preferring the FYUP despite its higher price. Proposed rationales must address the central challenge before Indian higher education today – how to improve quality while accommodating the extreme student diversity created by unequal schooling? This is also the key issue for the DU FYUP, which proposes to integrate the BA/BSc Honours and Programme streams and bring all students under the same syllabi and examinations. Unfortunately, the proposed structure offers nothing to help address this unavoidable and already acute problem.

If the FYUP is to be the future of Indian higher education, it surely needs to be treated with more care, not just by DU, but by policy makers at the UGC, MHRD, Planning Commission and even the Union Cabinet. At the very least, college-aspirant young voters are owed answers to two simple questions: What is gained by the hurried implementation of the FYUP at DU? What will be lost if its implementation is deferred by one year to allow the necessary homework to be completed?

Shahid Amin, Apoorvanand, Aditya Bhattacharjea, P K Datta, Satish Deshpande, Krishna Kumar, Udaya Kumar and Shobhit Mahajan (The authors are Delhi University teachers of history, Hindi, economics, political science, sociology, education, English and physics, respectively.)

2 thoughts on “DU’S 4-year degree course: Reforms at reckless speed”

  1. Is this a ‘last throw of the dice’ kind of article? I am particularly worried about the logic and tenor of the second question. How can we accept a system with built-in exit points and extra financial burden even if we plan it out for many years. What is the homework that one can complete in this instance?Also, the “remarkable fact” is factually wrong (IGIPESS has one rejecting FYUP and many other College resolutions rejecting it are there in DUTA, though the leadership hasn’t done anything on FYUP).
    The reason for lack of resolutions from departments and colleges rejecting FYUP is also reflected in the coming together of these scholars from various DU Departments collectively in the public sphere – we don’t get to hear about their dissent in the respective department meetings or statutory forum/committees they have attended. Most of the authors have earlier questioned the imposition of SS (semester system) and articulated dissent on SS & FYUP but the media machine has marginalised/suppressed it whenever that happened. the authors correctly point out a pervasive sense of disenfranchisement and despair among the teachers that imo stems primarily from the invisibilisation of concrete struggle – by the trade union collective and the individual teacher with regard to the neoliberal agenda in education.

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