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Don’t kill Delhi University

Delhi University is deeply troubled. Its direct stakeholders and a broad spectrum of intellectuals across the country oppose vicechancellor Dinesh Singh’s attempt to force-march the university into a four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP). The opposition is based on neither innate inertia nor ideology. Rather, the objection is to the hasty, ill-thought-out and undemocratic nature of the reform.

It could undermine the future of generations of Delhi’s students. The government and the ruling party run the risk of alienating a lot of people, playing passive bystander. If academic autonomy holds your hand, pray, why continue with a ministry for higher education, if the ministry cannot prevent harm to one of your finest universities?


How rigorous is the thinking that has gone into the changeover? The VC’s response to one simple question is telling. DU takes in some 55,000 students a year and so its capacity at present is three times as much. If a fourth year is to be added, the capacity must be expanded to four times the first-year intake (a little less, allowing for some dropouts). The colleges are already packed to the gills and any scope for physical augmentation has been exhausted, with the expansion carried out to accommodate an OBC quota. How, then, will the university come up with the added seats needed to accommodate a fourth batch of students?

We will face that problem three years from now, and will work out a solution by then, says the VC. Does this promise of jugaad tomorrow signal any seriousness about such a radical change to the BA programme?

FYUP is sold to policymakers on inter-disciplinarity, skills and superior academics. You don’t expect the VC of a central university to talk like aroadside vendor peddling the latest trinket from a Shenzhen sweatshop. But all these claims are bunkum.

Bereft of Choice

There is not one iota of additional choice, as compared to what DU offers today. There is no scope for a student to join the BA programme, sample a range of different subjects and then choose one in which to major, after one or two years, while also choosing a couple of minors. In FYUP, a student chooses her major right when she joins, and the two minors in the second year. This much choice astudent already has in DU.

FYUP’s critics are wrong when they say it tries to ape US universities. It has no such ambition. It is more straitjacketed than the present three-year degree, forget Harvard.

The so-called inter-disciplinarity is confined to 11 so-called foundation courses (FCs), all of them compulsory. The VC waxes eloquent about them. These are inane, dumbeddown time-wasters for the bright students with high marks who manage to get into DU. Whoever thought up these courses has no clue about the National Curriculum Framework, of what children learn before they leave Class X and choose their specialised streams.

The FC on information technology proves the point. It offers students basic awareness of hardware and software, teaches them to prepare documents, make presentations, surf the internet, understand storage devices, social networking, e-ticketing, e-payment, etc. The project work ranges from using Bluetooth and visiting the website of a bank to connecting a projector to a computer.

Lower Academic Content

This might sound like complex stuff to 50+ stiffs. For the digital natives who enter college now, or, for that matter, salesmen at the smartphone counter of an electronics store, this is like being taught to breathe.

But similar detritus of the everyday mundane would take up fully a quarter of the four years a student spends for an Honours degree. She would spend half her time studying her major, 15% of the time on minors, 9% on application courses (ACs).

In a three-year course, one-third the time would be spent on FCs, 42% on the main subject and 12% each on minors and ACs. Those who leave after two years with a diploma would be condemned to waste more than half their time on FCs, spend onethird the time on a main subject and 8% each of their academic time on minors and ACs.

Someone emerging with a four-year major in history would have spent less time learning history than in the current three-year programme, assuming the scheduled tutorials do take place. Many departments are scared of lost teaching hours and are trying to make up by increasing the intake in their disciplines, at the expense of other disciplines, leading to bad blood and lost morale.

In FYUP, a non-English BA student does no English at all, except as one FC in one semester. The FYUP as proposed is an improvement on the existing course, only if you assume students never went to school or that tutorials never take place at present. Otherwise, the proposed reform would do immense harm to Indian academe, students and both their scholastic achievements and employability.

Canteens, however, would do brisk business as students spend their FC time doing complex things like 3G, Wi-Fi and data streaming.

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