The Delhi University's (DU) decision to convert its three-year undergraduate (UG) programmes into four years with multiple exit points and greater freedom for students to pick their subjects is an excellent step. Unlike the top universities in the US, Britain and in other developed nations, most Indian universities continue to thrust a mandatory course structure down the throats of students, giving them little opportunity to figure out where their real interests and abilities lie. At present, if a student wants to change her stream, she will have to drop a year and apply afresh. In the new scheme of things, multiple exit points will allow students to leave the course after three years and come back later to continue it.
The new four-year programme will align with international degree programmes, making it easier for students to apply abroad for post-graduate (PG) courses. Only India's professional education schools that teach engineering, architecture, law and medicine have internationally aligned course structures. At present, humanities and science students can't go to the US to study after they finish their three-year UG programmes because they fall short of the requirement of 16 years (10+2+4) of formal education that American varsities want. Earlier in the year, DU laun-ched meta-university, which gives students from one varsity the chance to study in another varsity. These two reforms - coupled with the shift to a semester system - indicate that administrators and policy-makers are now willing to move forward. That DU is at the forefront of these reforms is a welcome sign because it is the country's largest university (in terms of numbers of full-time students) and has historically shown the way to India's higher education system.
But such changes can be introduced and sustained only with the support of all stakeholders. As the fracas between the last DU vice-chancellor and his faculty over the semester system showed, the absence of discussions with teachers, students and independent academicians can make the reform process painful.