After a tortuous week it took to withdraw the controversial four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) and revert to the three-year format, Delhi University (DU) will finally roll out its admission process this week. The cut-offs are expected to be steep. After all, the number of students scoring 95% and above in CBSE’s Class XII board exams shot up to 2,423 from 1,523 last year.
In Delhi’s marks-market dynamics, there are few good options for undergraduate courses and too many top-grade students applying. DU, despite being on a roller-coaster itself, is still the preferred choice. Recently though, it became a laboratory for higher educational reforms.
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Those in favour of FYUP argued that it became a victim of political expediency. The new government used the autonomous University Grants Commission (UGC) to arm-twist Delhi University, another autonomous institution, to fulfill a poll promise the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made in its election manifesto. Totally dependent on the UGC for funds, DU’s vice-chancellor had no option but to comply, which he did grudgingly after a week-long resistance.
The detractors of FYUP found support among students and teachers who raised serious questions on the content, tenure and purpose of the programme. The programme could have gone into integrating the existing courses better. Done hastily without adequate consultation, it turned out to be an exercise in cut-and-paste. But the rollback, like the rollout last year, has not taken care of the fundamental problems facing DU today.
There are key issues of staff shortage, poor teaching, absenteeism, quality of courses offered and the lack of basic infrastructure that need to be addressed. The scenario may look better in a few top colleges, but a majority of them still reflect mediocrity. With at least 4,000 positions vacant, teaching is pretty much an ad-hoc arrangement. The vacancies account for nearly 45% of the required teaching strength of the varsity. Temporary teachers shuttle between colleges every year. Many have waited endlessly to be regularised before opting out of DU.
The last time courses were restructured with proper consultation with the faculty was in 2004 under the then vice-chancellor Deepak Nayyar. The stale and mediocre BA and BCom pass courses were overhauled into sought-after undergraduate programmes. In 2010, the semester system was a big opportunity for course revision. But with the exception of science courses, which went through restructuring because the teachers were on board, all other courses taught over a year were simply slashed into half to fit into the semester mode.
There has been little value addition in terms of introduction of new streams and subjects. It is not that DU teachers are not up to it. Set up in 2008, Delhi’s Ambedkar University handpicked its teaching faculty from among the best in DU, devising the most innovative courses running through its inter-disciplinary schools and centres.
The issues of crowded classrooms, poorly stocked libraries and laboratories have been overlooked in DU for years. Many colleges operate from portable cabins while others accommodate their students in foyers, sports rooms and temporary bamboo structures. In spite of fund allocations for expansion and implementation of the OBC quota, colleges are still struggling to get their building plans cleared.
While DU has been in an obvious hurry to put itself on the global academic map, it cannot hope to turn into a world-class university without fixing the basics. With at least 4,00,000 students studying in 62 colleges as well as the School of Open Learning, and eligibility for admissions ranging between 45 and 99% in the school-leaving exams, there can be no one-size-fits-all remedy. DU requires democratic consultations among teachers, students and authorities to bridge the learning and infrastructure gaps. Unilateral decisions do not help either education or reforms.