If it were not so near home, the farce unfolding over Delhi University’s Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) would be entirely funny. To have Madhu Kishwar accuse HRD minister Smriti Irani of being an agent of the Left, and to have the Left describe the UGC takeover of the university as a great victory is bad enough, without the added spectacle of a divided Congress unable to decide whether the FYUP is much-loved or much-hated. The fact is that the university had no business passing the FYUP in the manner that it did, but the UGC has even less business going over the heads of the university administration and the academic council. If today it can write directly to college principals, threatening to withdraw funding unless they revert to a three-year programme, tomorrow it might do the same unless they agree to implement courses in Vedic astrology or compulsory Hindi teaching in all courses.
It is true that the DU administration has violated so many academic conventions and laws in its haste to push through the FYUP that claims to academic autonomy sound sour in its name. Faculty have discovered major changes only through the media, been ordered to frame syllabi within weeks, the administration refuses to meet professors with alternative points of view and dissenting departments are punished in myriad ways. Faculty appointments have been unpardonably delayed, and even those appointments that have been made have been hostage to the vice-chancellor’s grand plan. The right to critical thinking and expression by faculty is the basic bloc of a university’s autonomy.
However, there are genuine differences over the FYUP. Not all those who supported it did so because of some corporate agenda to decimate DU’s ‘flagship programme’ to pave the way for private sector entry in liberal higher education. Many genuinely believed that the potential for interdisciplinarity it afforded, and the chance for a student to exit with some degree after two years would be a good thing. Yes, the vice-chancellor and his team were adept at mobilising support, but are the UGC and ministry of human resource development saying that all the college principals and department heads who voted for the FYUP — including many BJP stalwarts — in the academic council were mere puppets?
The spectacle of thousands of students applying to DU shows that it is not three or four years that matters to them, but the brand that DU offers. Ultimately, it is not the course but the teachers who matter, and unless they are able to have a discussion around courses on academic rather than political lines, this brand is doomed to fail.
If DU has violated laws, so has the UGC, which sat on the issue for a year before changing its mind. The UGC is meant to be a statutory and autonomous body to regulate education, but its willingness to serve whichever party is in power has never been more evident.
As usual, with the BJP’s doublespeak, the HRD minister is claiming to have outsourced the decision to the UGC, even as the NDTF and ABVP are taking credit for the change. Far from the HRD minister being a “Left agent”, it is the DUTA and Left student unions which have so far fought a principled struggle, who run the risk of becoming unwitting agents of the RSS-supported destruction of institutional autonomy.
There is still a way out if all parties put institutions first. Let the UGC take its directive back, let the UGC panel to overhaul the programme be reconstituted as a DU committee, and let the academic council deliberate again, this time taking proper heed of anti-FYUP views. A short delay in admissions is a small price to pay for the educational future of this country.
Nandini Sundar teaches sociology at Delhi University
The views expressed by the author are personal