Rushed Reforms in Delhi University: Akshita Nagpal
Guest post by AKSHITA NAGPAL
It was only in 2012 that we got a subtle whiff of the broth brewing in the minds of the bosses of Delhi University. While this isn’t the first time that authorities have attracted opposition from everyone on the other side of the ideological fence, the repercussions of the present push for hasty implementation of the Four Year Undergraduate Programme(FYUP) might be much more damning. Refuting change is not what the displeased body of teachers and students mean to convey. The opposition is against the hasty implementation and lack of insight sharing on the workings of the new system. Keeping up with the absurd pace of implementation, procedural requisites as pivotal as UGC approval have been done away with!
Change can’t be injected like a shot of medicine, but has to be administered gradually, and in viable dosages if you mean to erect a healthier model. Anyone associated with DU would know how much precious time is lost due to strikes and protests. There was a spate of these in 2010, when the administration wanted to similarly inject semester system at the undergraduate level (which it eventually did). Though it is too soon to give any verdict, much less any polarised verdict, on the good and evils of the post-semester system quality of undergraduate education, some of its foibles have already exposed themselves. The swelled up scores are an amusing justification of the system by university authorities.
The university, in a hopeless bid to assuage allegations of being an authoritarian body held a 2 day Open House session to pretend to address the concerns of prospective students and their parents. But how impressively can a blatant façade function? Newspaper reports informed how the officials convening the session were suffering from selective hearing syndrome, owing to which they were able to comfortably dodge queries related to the viability of the FYUP and credence for a student putting in an extra year for graduation. Thus, the university seems to have failed to tide the opinions of the student community in favour of the hurried imposition of FYUP, who happen to be the direct beneficiaries or the ones to be saddled with encumbrance on account of any radical academic reforms. A recent General Body Meeting (GBM) of the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) held on May 12 concluded with the teaching fraternity projecting an immoveable opposition to the hasty changes. All this sets up the stage for the classic Creon-Antigone ideological clash; the establishment and the individual at loggerheads.
A clinical analysis of the situation at DU speaks of the glaring futility of such a system without addressing the multitude of issues languishing from neglect. If one were to navigate through DU’s website and access the Guide for Prospective Students under the FYUP link, a distastefully presented page will confront you with poor marketing strategies. The basic information about what will transpire in the classrooms in each of the four years is presented on ‘Pamphlets’ A and B, peppered with the bait of “ALL STUDENTS WILL BE PROVIDED WITH FREE LAPTOPS IN THE FIRST YEAR.”
The Preamble to the Foundation Courses strikes as rather farcical when it talks of the Foundation Courses being designed to equip students in relation to the ‘grand challenges facing India’. However, a cursory and objective glance through the Foundation Courses’ structure assures you that the intent is good, even though its application is rooted in fancy. One is allowed a peep into the vision of interactive, project-based learning. But how it is to be achieved in a university that is perpetually plagued by staff crunch is not comprehensible. An alarming 40% of faculty positions remain vacant, which shoots up to an intimidating 54% if calculated as per the class size method of calculation as advocated by the government. That means all this deficit is made up by ad-hoc staff, although not entirely. As someone who’s been schooled at DU, I have experienced long spells with no lectures for certain subjects. The ad-hoc faculty, again, isn’t too committed to teaching. Not that I am suggesting that the permanent faculty is too sound. The dismal quality and format of education imparted here forces students (even the ones who are most averse to the idea) to enroll for private tuitions, that galvanizes the growth of a parallel industry; specifically around DU’s North and South campuses. The financial burden of availing these is implicit. Had the college lectures served their purpose, the need for tuitions could have been obliterated.
Another feature of the FYUP that is being touted as an ingenious solution to embrace the concepts of flexibility and employability with undergraduate education is allowance of multiple exit points in the degree programme- at the end of 2nd, 3rd and 4th years- offering a diploma, degree, and honours degree, respectively. A faculty member from DU shared an interesting conception by equating it to the orthodox Hindu Varna system. The ones exiting at the end of two years might become the lowest rung(Shudras), those exiting at the end of three years becoming the reasonably respectable ones(Kshatriyas), and the ones who are privileged with the means to complete the four year system, squatting at the top of the hierarchical order(Brahmans). The possibility of such a discrimination being meted out in the job market is not bleak. There has also been a failure to justify the cost of an additional year to attain a graduation degree adorned with the ‘Honours’ tag; when students of other universities across India shall obtain the same in three years. The university has also failed to address the concerns of visually challenged students who will be required to study Maths and Science as part of the compulsory Foundation Courses; which is otherwise exempted for them at school level. (Visually impaired students are exempted from studying Maths and Science after Class VIII in some cases and after Class X in most cases due to the visual aspects of these subjects). So, for a person like the somebody I have known, who is visually challenged and whose father practices agriculture in a tiny farm around Varanasi, the university presents an additional unnecessary challenge of a flawed, extended and expensive graduation.
Had the university helmsmen (/women) borne a chink of wisdom, they would have known to emulate, rather than ape the American education system. As the June 5 date of commencement of applications to DU’s undergraduate programmes nears, the multiple red blobs encasing the word ‘New’ on DU website’s home page haunt menacingly as to the fate of the suicidal university that belongs to the land of Taxila.