he brick walls of Delhi's North Campus colleges these days are covered with posters beseeching onlookers to help 'Save DU'. Ever since Dinesh Singh, Vice Chancellor, Delhi University announced that the implementation of the four year undergraduate programme (FYUP) would go as planned this year, teachers and students from a number of colleges have been campaigning against the move relentlessly, even taking their protest to Sonia Gandhi's doorstep this week. While the VC has pitched the FYUP as a giant step towards making DU comparable with other world class universities, many academics remain unconvinced.
The University is holding 'Open Days' almost every day in an attempt to help students understand the workings of the FYUP. We decided to visit one to see for ourselves what was causing the commotion.
The auditorium at the Conference Centre at North Campus, where an Open Day was being held, was packed with confused looking students, their heads buzzing with questions. Though JM Khurana, the Dean of Students' Welfare, went to great lengths to explain how the FYUP would work, he seemed completely unwilling to explain its benefits to understandably anxious students. "Don't ask questions about what was there before. What was there before is no longer here," he said in response to a question about the advantages of the FYUP over the three-year-programme.
Such comparisons, however, are only natural. In various print and television interviews over the past few weeks the VC has been trying to explain why he thinks the FYUP is an important development in the department of education. By offering multiple exit points and several Foundation and Applied courses, the VC hopes to make the graduates of the university eligible for different job prospects. "Do you know 30% students drop out every year? In two years, those who learn how to make spreadsheets, do a few application courses will get better jobs than what dropouts get. We've also changed the criterion for promotion . You don't need to get a minimum score in every paper but just in your aggregate. People will not fail easily," he said in an interview with a national daily.
Many teachers who were involved in the framing of the new programme also hail it as a necessary step in the evolution of Indian education. "I feel that the FYUP will particularly help those students who do not have an academic bent of mind find jobs sooner. Employment opportunities will increase as a result of the multiple certificates the university will now offer. Also, the quality of education will change for the better as a result of the interdisciplinary courses students will be able to access," said a DU professor who asked not to be named.
By hurriedly, and forcibly implementing the FYUP, it will become easier for foreign universities and corporations to become stakeholders in Indian educational institutions
Why then are other teachers and students wailing about this move portending the death of DU? And why is the administration so intolerant towards criticism? "Educational institutions are defined by how democratic they are. For as long as I can remember, teachers have constantly been asking for reforms in one department or another. It was always the administration that was reluctant to implement change. Now, this dramatic change has been ordered out of the blue and we have barely been informed! Why have teachers and students not been taken into confidence while designing the FYUP?" said Nandita Narain, Professor of Mathematics, St Stephens College.
"DU has completely changed in the last couple of years. Students' voices are silenced. There is a complete disregard for teachers too. Whenever a major change is implemented, teachers' opinions are never considered and are pushed out of discussions. We no longer have a stake or a voice in what's happening at the university," said Aditi K, a student at DU.
The first time the university formally spoke about the FYUP was in December 2012. Since then course committees have been formulated for each discipline, entrusted with the task of designing new syllabi. Teachers have been protesting against these new courses for not only are most of them dumbed down and arbitrarily structured, the course committees themselves have functioned in the most undemocratic manner, approving courses in secrecy without involving the faculty.
A protest at the Faculty of Arts against the new programme | Photo: Mahima Dayal
Take the English course for example. The programme now has courses listed under two heads, Discipline 1, and Discipline 2. After completing the foundational courses, students who seek to advance in the English programme, have to complete Discipline 1 courses, which have been structured 'Period-wise', beginning from the Old English Period to contemporary times. But the problem is, if a student wishes to leave after three years, she would have only studied till the 18th century, (which is in fact archaic English and difficult for first and second year students), and learn nothing about literature beyond that period. Some seminal and radical texts have also been dropped which include Amitav Ghosh's Shadow Lines, and Ramanujan's Speaking of Shiva. Aparna Balachandran, Assistant Professor of History, DU, said, "A restructuring process needs planning, discussions, assessment of feedbacks and pre-implementation ground surveys. That is how a democratic system functions and is also essential for the formulation of an effective and accessible system. My problem is the lack of planning, and hurried implementation through which such a big and crucial structural change has been sought, creating a complete academic nightmare."
Similarly, many believe that the new Foundation Courses are problematic. The Foundation courses comprise of 11 compulsory papers in Maths, English, Information Technology, Business, Entrepreneurship, and Management, Governance and Citizenship, Philosophy, Psychology, Communication and Life Skills. These courses are expected to provide an interdisciplinary education to students with an emphasis on employability. Gautam Bhan, in a recent article in EPW, studied these courses critically and argued that the Foundation courses are a mockery of what the markets want. "Students taking these courses will learn a set of facts that will be outdated nearly as soon as they leave the classroom. But more importantly, they will lack that deepest promise of a liberal education: the ability to seek and assess knowledge independently because they have been given the conceptual tools to do so," he wrote. The fact that these courses are supposed to be compulsory for all students — a decision that poses both academic and practical challenges in terms of shortage of proficient teaching staff and classrooms — also troubles many. "You're giving students a thaali with different kinds of food, but asking them to eat everything on it," said Narain.
Another essential feature of the FYUP is the multiple exit points it offers. Students will now have the option of leaving after two years with a diploma, after three years with a Bachelor's degree and after four years with a Bachelor's degree with honours. "There is nothing being done to understand and address the reasons why students actually drop out. Instead by introducing multiple exit points, the University is actually institutionalising drop-outs," said Prof. Hany Babu, Department of English.
The FYUP also does away with the erstwhile 'Pass' courses and B.A. Programme. "We are essentially banishing the difference between Honours and Pass courses, which in a way is like the caste system. Now, everyone has an even chance to earn an Honours degree," argued Dinesh Singh in an interview recently. But Babu disagrees with this assessment: "They've gotten rid of one kind of caste system but replaced it with a three tier caste system. Obviously, a student with a diploma cannot compete with one with an Honours degree," he added.
While on the surface most teachers and students we spoke to highlighted the essential flaws within the new system, in many ways they also seemed to be drawing attention to larger forces at play. One thing that becomes evident is the sense of urgency that is driving this implementation. It was not long ago that newspapers reported how the Central government, in the face of not being able to pass the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill in the Rajya Sabha, was looking for 'backdoor entries' for these universities. The FYUP has been projected as a manner of emulating the American undergraduate educational format, involving a system of choice of subjects, majors and minors, for students. The report of the National Knowledge Commission which comprised its recommendation made over a period of three years from 2007 to 2009 points towards a scenario where educational institutions should ultimately transform into self-generating institutes, entailing economic autonomy. By hurriedly, and forcibly implementing the FYUP, it will become easier for foreign universities and corporations to become stakeholders in Indian educational institutions, if in a scenario where the government finds an institution unworthy, or itself incapacitated, to fund.
Narain further said, "The agenda of most of these foreign universities is to have a level playing field, where they can compete with Indian universities as equals. So long as the government continues to subsidise education at DU, foreign universities have no way of making profits if and when they come. By implementing programmes like semesterisation and FYUP the university is remodelling itself in the image of the West and over the course of a few years underprivileged classes and castes will not be able to access high quality affordable education. We are increasingly moving towards an education system for, by and of the elite."