Why Delhi University’s Four Year Undergraduate Programme Should Not be Implemented with Irresponsible Haste

A Note Prepared at the Request of the Department of Higher Education, MHRD, Govt of India


Universities are meant to educate, that is, to teach students how to identify, understand and evaluate multiple points of view. Therefore, dissent, debate and argument are the core concerns of a University – they cannot be regarded as irrelevant irritations or acts of sedition. Debate cannot continue indefinitely, and must be responsible. But what constitutes responsible and well-considered criticism is inevitably a matter of judgement – it cannot be decided through assertion and counter-assertion. It is also inevitable that motives will be called into question. This is once again a matter of judgement, based on available evidence on who is speaking (what is their wider credibility beyond the immediate dispute?) and why (what do they stand to gain or lose by what they are saying?), and an overall sense of what is at stake in the issue. We invite such judgements.

Facts which are NOT disputed:

1. The proposed FYUP is the biggest, most far reaching change of curriculum in the recent (i.e., last 30-40 years) history of DU – it will replace every existing undergraduate course of study in every college and every discipline (professional courses & some other low-enrolment courses may be exceptions).

2. The first time that the FYUP was placed before any statutory body of the University was at the Academic Council meeting of Monday, 24 December, 2012. This meeting – to discuss the biggest curricular reform in several decades – was an Extraordinary meeting, called at 3 days’ notice, which was issued on Friday, 21 December, 2012 and delivered over the weekend, giving Departments no time to consider the proposal and formulate an informed response.

3. The structure of the FYUP presented to the Academic Council on 24 December had not been sent to the Committees of Courses at the Faculties or Departments, or to the Staff Councils of Colleges.

4. The Academic Council meeting of 24 December approved the FYUP with 6 dissents, including a written submission by the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, specifically requesting that the University take more time to think through this major change, and that a detailed White Paper on the FYUP be prepared and made public to enable the University community to respond to it.

5. The Executive Council meeting at which the AC approval of the FYUP was presented was held on Wednesday, 26 December, 2012, i.e. the next working day after the AC meeting of 24 December.

6. The first official communication to all Heads of Department asking them to initiate the process of syllabus formation and designing of courses for the FYUP (strictly according the structure already decided) was issued on 5 March, 2013. This letter asked that the entire exercise be completed by 20 March, 2013. The deadline was later informally extended by one month to 20th April, 2013.

7. In the past, curricular changes of any significance have usually involved open discussions by teachers of the relevant discipline at both college and university level. Proposals for changes to old courses or addition of new courses have then been presented to statutory Committees of Courses at the Department and Faculty levels. These bodies have given time for members to respond to the proposed changes, and after due discussion at meetings they have sometimes rejected the changes in the form proposed, and returned them to Departments for reconsideration and re-presentation after modifications.

8. The procedures being followed currently depart from past practice in terms of the time limit for course-making, the openness of the process, and the space and time given to statutory bodies to exercise their oversight functions.

Claims that ARE disputed:

1. The FYUP has been arrived at after adequate public discussion and debate.

a) There is no evidence of any formal public discussion of any kind on the FYUP prior to September 2012.

b) The “Academic Congress” at which the FYUP is claimed to have been discussed makes no mention of it whatsoever in its official programme. There was no session and no individual presentation devoted to the FYUP as such. The Academic Congress was not open to the public, or even to all members of the University. Admission was strictly by invitation – passes were issued outside the venue to a pre-decided list of invitees; only pass holders were granted entry. Several teachers of the University who tried to attend the event were denied the opportunity to attend the Academic Congress.

c) The 61-member “Task Force” – which is the only body that has deliberated on the FYUP and decided its entire structure – was created through selective appointment. In other words, its members were selected as individuals by the VC and his team, without reference to any general principle like “all Deans of Faculty”, “all Heads of Department”, “all Principals of Colleges” etc. Significant numbers of eminent teachers at both college and university level of proven pedagogic competence as well as commitment to issues of curriculum design, were never consulted in any way.

d) Even today there is no publicly available document detailing the rationale of the FYUP (why are 4 years better than 3?); justifying its framework (the types of courses proposed and their relative weight, the exit points, the mode of evaluation etc.); or explaining the logistical plans (procedures for admission, meeting infrastructure needs, adequacy of staffing etc.) made for its implementation. All we have are ad hoc pronouncements, with corrections and clarifications being issued piecemeal as difficulties are discovered, and even these we learn of through the media.

2. The structure of the proposed FYUP is sound and in keeping with global best practice.

a) The structure of the FYUP is fundamentally flawed because its objectives are too many and too divergent to be achieved by a single curriculum. From the students’ perspective, the FYUP clubs disparate groups with very different needs and capabilities into a single homogenous mass and subjects them to the same curricular requirements, but offers them different exit points. In effect, it assumes that different phases/stages of the same curriculum can sustain vastly different pedagogical orientations. The four year course is thus a vocational course for the first two years; an applications-based disciplinary specialisation in the third year; and a research-oriented specialisation in the fourth year. These are impossible demands to make of a single curriculum. It would be more honest to offer at least two different degree courses, each with a coherent and achievable set of objectives.

b) The proposed FYUP does not match any major pattern of undergraduate education, let alone best practices. For example, both the American pattern based on the two-year community college and the four-year liberal education university or college, and the U.K. pattern of polytechnics and degree-colleges involve separate institutions with distinct curricula. While movement from the former to the latter may be permitted, it is conditional and happens at the discretion of the longer-duration institution. In the case of the DU FYUP, it would be as though the community college student and the four-year degree student were taking the same courses in the same classroom.

c) Until now, undergraduate students at DU have been differentiated in two ways – in terms of the type of instruction (regular vs. non-formal, the latter consisting of evening class courses and distance education courses) and type of degree (the Honours and BA/BSc Programme streams). Roughly one-third of all undergraduates are in regular courses while two-thirds are in non-formal courses; and Honours students are one quarter of all undergraduates, while three-quarters are in the BA/BSc Programme. (See table below).

Classification of DU Undergraduates

(by type of degree and type of instruction)
















Based on 2011-12 enrolment data, excluding technical/professional courses (law, medicine etc.). Figures are percentage shares rounded to nearest integer.

The main feature driving the huge enrolment in the non-formal courses has been the much-advertised fact that they follow exactly the same curriculum as the regular courses within each of the Honours/Programme streams of DU. By subjecting all undergraduates to the same curriculum, the FYUP effectively proposes to impose a structure oriented to 19% of the students in the Regular-Honours category on the remaining 81%. Since much of the FYUP content (20 courses in the major discipline, 6 courses in the minor discipline, etc.) and pedagogical innovations (emphasis on class presentations, hands-on applications courses, etc.) have not been part of the Programme stream, and their applicability to the non-formal formats is doubtful, this raises important issues that need to be explicitly addressed. Are the non-formal formats going to be delinked from the regular formats? How will the interests of either the Honours-stream minority or the Programme-stream majority be served by a single curriculum?

d) While the only written document on the rationale behind the FYUP (the overview “The Rationale for the Proposed Undergraduate Program” presented at the AC meeting of 24 December 2012) repeatedly mentions “flexibility”, the FYUP structure offers no flexibility. Heads of Department were told to keep optionals to a minimum in Discipline 1 (there was actually no provision for any in the structure; this concession was also made after insistence), and to have none in Discipline 2 courses. This means a full set of six and only six courses can be opted for as Discipline 2. This is less choice than is available under the current BA/BSc Programme course. Similarly, if only two limited options are offered in Discipline 1, this will also be less than what is currently available in most Honours disciplines. Besides, all 11 Foundation courses are mandatory. It is thus difficult to see where flexibility comes in, other than in the “exit” option after two years.

3. Departures from past practice are not significant, and do not violate statutory norms.

a) The most significant departure from past practice is in the procedures being followed by most departments in designing courses. Courses and sometimes even entire syllabi are being made by a few individuals in secret, without intimation of meetings and with no provision for vetting or seeking responses. Secrecy is being maintained even after courses have been made, and they are being sent to the Committee of Courses at the Faculty level without being revealed to teachers of the same discipline at the college or department levels. The claim that such flagrant violations of established practices are not significant is simply untenable.

b) The time table fixed for the making of courses – even after the one month extension – is still too short because it coincides with the period of maximum teaching and internal evaluation activity in colleges and departments, namely March-April. There are also the end semester examination papers to be set, moderated and translated (in the case of undergraduate degrees), much of which used to be done by the Examination Branch but has since been thrust on to departments.

c) The oversight function of the Committees of Courses will effectively be nullified by the timeline that the administration is insisting upon. This is not a change in one or two courses, something that can expect to be passed in a single CoC meeting. This is an entirely new programme, with 30 courses in each discipline. How are members of CoCs going to study these syllabi in any meaningful sense if they are expected to pass them in the same meeting in which they are proposed? This is all the more true if syllabi are being kept secret until presentation at the CoC.

d) There are a host of statutory issues on which there is utter silence. Introducing a new programme of study offering a new degree with a different course duration involves complex legal issues implicating the UGC, the Act of Parliament that established DU, and other certifying bodies. For example, the two-year teacher certification course being proposed as part of the FYUP does not have NCTE approval. The FYUP effectively converts every course into an Honours type course; in the past, permission to offer Honours courses was conditional upon the college concerned being able to meet the required norms, which were the subject of review and inspection. Is this process going to be bypassed? How will the staffing patterns be adjusted for the differences in workload across disciplines that the transition will entail? This list does not even include the many financial issues that will arise, beginning with the UGC having to bear the extra costs that the fourth year will involve, and going on to the costs that students and their families will have to bear.

4. Adequate preparations have been made to meet logistical & infrastructural needs.

a) It is well known that the enhancement of infrastructure promised during the ‘OBC expansion’ is yet to materialize, especially classroom space and library/laboratory additions. The predictable pressures of semesterisation have severely damaged the examination branch and brought it to the brink of collapse; its in-house functions have been thrust on to departments without warning. More than 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 University has not made public any credible, systematic plan to deal with these and related infrastructural issues.

b) Despite some adhoc media announcements, there appears to be no clear roadmap for handling admissions under the FYUP. In the past, admission to the undergraduate programme at DU has depended on three factors – school leaving examination marks, and the applicant’s choice of college and discipline. The BA/BSc Programme accounted for 76% of all undergraduate enrolment; even if we ignore the non-formal formats, the Programme stream students account for 42% of all regular-format undergraduates. All these students will now be forced to apply to one or the other disciplines, thus significantly raising enrolment in the larger disciplines like Political Science, Physics, History or Hindi. How will the ‘cut-offs’ (the minimum percentages in the school leaving exams that will be required to gain admission to specific disciplines) be affected by this large addition to the candidate pool for the honours-like structure of the FYUP? How will the distribution of students across colleges and disciplines be reconciled with existing capacities and staffing patterns? Questions like this need to be addressed well in advance of the admissions process, with clear and well-publicised instructions to candidates. None of this is in place, and school principals and guidance counsellors are desperately seeking non-existent information and clarifications, while prospective applicants and their parents are left with no option but to downgrade DU in their priority lists.

5. DU is a happy and well-run institution, except for a few “misguided colleagues”.

Among all the claims listed above, this one is unique in the sense that it is both the least credible and the hardest to refute. If all that we have said is true, why were there only 6 dissenters in an Academic Council with more than 100 members? Why are Deans and Heads of Department actively enforcing everything that we claim is harmful or wrong?

We know that we cannot answer these questions to the satisfaction of our opponents. We also admit that we cannot explain why the DU authorities are adamant on implementing the FYUP in a self-defeating manner and with an impossible timetable, when there is everything to gain and nothing to lose by hastening slowly. But we do believe that we have shown that this is in fact what is happening. We invite those who disagree to show us how and why we are wrong.

Shahid Amin (History), Apoorvanand (Hindi), Aditya Bhattacharjea(Economics),

P.K. Datta(Political Science), Satish Deshpande (Sociology), Krishna Kumar(Education),

Udaya Kumar (English) and Shobhit Mahajan(Physics)

6 thoughts on “Why Delhi University’s Four Year Undergraduate Programme Should Not be Implemented with Irresponsible Haste”

  1. Well argued post by the Professors. Some update from the colleges: The colleges are being forced to comply with the Four Year course deadline with notices from the University administration. For instance teachers in college departments have been asked to submit department workload, when everyone was busy winding up semester classes.

    The workload preparation has been a poor attempt at guided imagination (with Mind Body integration courses on offer, this surely seems to be the future of the University). So workload was prepared without information on the full content of courses that are on offer, nor the specialisation required in teaching each. Teachers in the sanctioned posts infact have been informed that if their work falls short they could teach ‘Integrating Mind Body and Heart’, which is taught in the first two years as a non credit programme of 2 periods. After being robbed off course time from teaching their Discipline, for which they have spent years studying and researching, it will indeed be a sad dis-integration of their ‘Body’ from their ‘Heart’ and ‘Mind’.

    The four year course as suggested, instead of making every course into a possible Honours one actually makes every course into a Programme course. The students take a Major and Minor, much like the two Disciplines of the current B.A. Programme, along with language courses. Difference being addition of one year and content dilution.Students can expect to be short changed: If a student exits after 2 years, they would have studied only two Minor paper. If they leave after 3 years after getting a glorious ‘ Baccalaureate’, they still would have studied only four Minor papers, which means they would be learning even less than what students learn after 3 years of B.A.Programme.

    The flexibility big-sell is a bigger eye wash. Colleges will offer only Disciplines that already exist and with resources that they already have. As colleges are sure to face uncertainty of student numbers in each course (in the absence of adequate faculty and infrastructure) students will have to declare at the time of admission the Disciplines that they will study. So students will not get any time to explore disciplines with a rigour before deciding. Worse they would be studying Foundation Courses which are random and taught with neither Discipline or potential interdisciplinarity in mind. Moreover once they take a particular ‘Discipline’ they will have to take all papers within it and not shift around. So it is going to be as rigid as what is being dispensed off.

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