Education minister MM Pallam Raju said on Friday that he would not “interfere” with Delhi University’s decision to shift to a controversial 4-year undergraduate programme this July, but a nudge from the Prime Minister may force a compromise to the crisis at India’s largest varsity.
Raju, the minister for human resource development (HRD), said he and his team had “grilled” DU Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh thrice on his proposal to move from the traditional 3-year undergraduate structure to the new programme that sections of the university faculty have slammed. The HRD ministry concluded that the university had followed procedures laid down in the DU statutes for the programme that critics argue is being introduced in a rush, without adequate debate.
“People are apprehensive about change, they always are,” Raju said. “We must address their concerns. But if the university is convinced it is ready to launch the new programme, we will not interfere.”
But despite his public support for the programme, Raju may be forced to ask Vice Chancellor Singh to put the programme on hold, top government sources have told HT, because of a rare intervention from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, once an economics teacher at DU himself.
Singh met 40 MPs critical of the 4-year programme on Thursday, and within hours had his office call Raju to communicate his concerns. Though the PM did not direct Raju, the HRD minister was told to address the concerns raised by teachers and the MPs “with utmost seriousness.”
In government parlance, that means Raju cannot just hear out criticism and move on without addressing the concerns. It also means that unless the DU VC can build consensus – possibly by offering a compromise solution – he may have to put the 4-year undergraduate programme on hold.
“After the PM’s intervention, it has become very difficult for the HRD ministry to back the DU programme unless key concerns of the teachers are addressed,” an official aware of the intra-government discussions on the proposal said, requesting anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Under the new 4-year programme, all students will have to pursue a series of “foundation courses” cutting across disciplines to expose them to multiple areas of learning. Critics have questioned the rationale of a multi-disciplinary approach at university when India’s schooling system forces students to choose between science, commerce and the humanities in high school.
The university’s plan to allow students to exit after completing two years, with a diploma, and after three years with a basic bachelors degree, has triggered concerns that the programme may be trying to marry concepts of vocational education, traditional undergraduate studies and a research-focused approach into one course, though the VC has called these concerns a “misunderstanding.”