In less than a month, the Class XII board results will be out, triggering the annual rat race for college admission. In Delhi’s marks-market dynamics, there are too few good options and too many students applying. Delhi University (DU) is the preferred choice because it is better placed than other central varsities offering undergraduate courses.
To be fair to DU, it has worked hard to earn that reputation. Recently though, it seems to have become a laboratory for higher educational reforms. The semester system was rolled out in 2010. Next year, four-year trans-disciplinary BTech courses — under the Meta university plan — will allow students to pick and choose any subject in any DU college.
These are some revolutionary ideas that could change the face of higher education in India. But introducing such reforms without building adequate infrastructure is, to quote some teachers, nothing short of a “policy assault”.
The semester system was not exactly rolled out with fanfare. Surviving stiff resistance from teachers, strikes and court cases, the teaching pattern of DU undergraduate course was changed from annual exam mode to two shorter terms.
Introduced hastily, the system degenerated into chaos. In the first semester, students scored exceptionally high amid allegations that authorities inflated marks to prove that the new system was a success. Teething troubles have just got bigger since. The whole of last week, question papers for the second semester exams arrived late at centres. Some students did not get the right papers while others had to make do with photocopies of hurriedly scribbled ones.
While DU is in an obvious hurry, it cannot hope to turn into a world-class university without fixing the basics. With at least 400,000 students studying in 62 colleges and the School of Open Learning, there is no single remedy that may work for all.
There are key concerns of staff shortage, outdated courses, poor regulatory system and the lack of basic infrastructure that need to be addressed first. The scenario may look better in a few top colleges, but the majority of them still reflect mediocrity.
With at least 4,000 positions vacant, teaching is pretty much an ad-hoc arrangement. There is the sourcing problem in streams such as economics and sciences where corporate jobs are more alluring. But many ad-hoc teachers have waited endlessly to be regularised before opting out of DU.
The semester system was a big opportunity for course revision. But rather than restructuring, annual courses were slashed into half for each semester. Perhaps the thought applied to a Meta university could have gone into integrating the existing courses better. It is surprising that despite two revisions since 2004, contemporary history that is taught in schools is still not part of the history (honours) syllabus. Neither are economic history and modern political thought.
In 2003, DU made it mandatory for colleges to mark students on writing assignments. It is a fine practice followed internationally. But most students, and even teachers, found a way around it. There is rarely any original writing. Methodology and referencing, taught in schools abroad, is still not part of our curriculum.
The issues of crowded classrooms, poorly stocked libraries and laboratories have been overlooked for years. Many colleges operate from portable cabins. In spite of fund allocations for expansion and implementation of the OBC quota, colleges have not got their building plans cleared from the MCD.
Perhaps, the authorities should take small but sure steps on the reform path and ensure stability of one system before trying out another. For that, the authorities and the teachers must talk and walk together. Closed minds help neither education nor reforms.