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Curious case of blind man’s bluff

Delhi University's four-year undergraduate programme is being portrayed as moving in the direction that the UPA government, in tandem with India Inc, wants to push the nation’s higher education.

india Updated: May 15, 2013 02:00 IST
Saikat Ghosh

Delhi University’s four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) is being portrayed as moving in the direction that the UPA government, in tandem with India Inc, wants to push the nation’s higher education.

However, the difficult point that remains to be discussed before admissions begin is whether this FYUP — conceptualised by Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh — can truly be described as a visionary step towards improving or adding value to the existing undergraduate education.

It’s difficult to answer this question because the FYUP has been championed through various claims, some of which contradict the others and end up confusing the admission-seeker about the possibilities and limits of the degree that she is being asked to pursue.

An indication of the problem lying at the heart of the structure is the fact that this programme attempts to offer three different kinds of degrees (with different objectives) to hypothetically different sets of students. While some dust has been allowed to settle over this confusion by the University Grants Commission (UGC), the Associate Baccalaureate degree (for a student who chooses to exit after two years) has been scrapped and will be called a diploma henceforth.

The clarity in this forced move exposes some dishonesty on the part of the VC and his taskforce who were earlier trying to pitch for the second-year exit certificate as a pseudo-degree. But that is the least of our problems, as even this diploma does not make a student notionally employable. The 11 compulsory foundation courses, however linked they may be to the essential values of citizenship and broad-based knowledge, do not offer specific skills.

It would be quite unfair to expect them to, considering that these foundation courses have been allotted 48 teaching-hours over the semester and, more importantly, cramped classrooms.

The idea that physical infrastructure and teaching may be efficiently replaced by the provision of laptops and wi-fi connectivity is preposterous. If it were remotely true, then one would have to fairly assume that spending long hours on Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter would necessarily augment the general awareness and communication skills of students.

On the other hand, the discipline-based courses seem to have undergone more than the usual wear and tear at the hands of harried teachers who have been racing against time to cobble together a syllabus for the FYUP.

Reports of arbitrary choices, mysterious excisions and the thoughtless continuation of old papers with minor, albeit damaging, modifications have been widespread. But how could it have been otherwise, considering that scandalously, little more than a fortnight was given to departments to prepare their syllabi.

The devil, as one can see, lies in the details of the FYUP and the VC has been wary of discussing these details in public. Neither has the government, in its responses to the many queries in Parliament, been able to give convincing answers.

Glib promotions of the FYUP have been forthcoming, but as Shashi Tharoor’s disingenuous invocation of ‘autonomy’ in defending the DU VC’s right to impose the FYUP has shown up, the government’s non-interference has few takers.

A university’s autonomy is realised in the critical and self-reflexive exercise that its various statutory bodies undertake in order to maintain quality standards and administrative coherence. In this case, horror stories about a malfunctioning semester system, despairing students and dissenting members of faculties and course committees do not point towards a believable picture of autonomy.

The UGC rule mandates that new courses, once passed by the University’s Academic Council, must be referred to the UGC for scrutiny and approval at least six months before they are implemented on the ground. While the courses for the FYUP still await the approval of the academic council, the VC has decided that the programme will start from July 2013.

The onus of interpreting and explaining the DU VC’s ‘vision’ lies squarely on the government and not on people who are questioning its very existence. Such an investigation must be initiated sooner rather than later if lakhs of students and thousands of teachers are being seriously expected to move ahead with conviction and hope. Unfortunately, no such signs are in the offing.

While the government is in the habit of getting easily convinced, it has made a virtue of letting loose ends be whenever probing questions about its policy decisions are asked. If its proverbial blind eye and self-congratulatory homilies continue to favour the VC, Delhi University may end up being a casualty.

Saikat Ghosh teaches English in SGTB Khalsa College, Delhi University and is a Save DU Campaigner. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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