DU’s uneasy tryst with the four-year undergraduate programme
Delhi University (DU) recently announced its intention to reintroduce the four-year undergraduate courses from the upcoming academic session 2021-22 as a part of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Even as the modalities of the proposed programme are yet to be finalised, teachers and students have raised concerns over its return, eight years after it had become one of the most controversial education reforms undertaken by DU.
The four-year programme is set to return to the DU this year with multiple exit options. Students are likely to get an option to do an honours plus research degree after completing the four-year course. It also proposes to allow students to restart their studies exactly from where they had left, in case they decide to exit.
The university had, in 2013, introduced the four-year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) amid much fanfare as a pet project of the then vice-chancellor (V-C) Dinesh Singh under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The idea behind it was to switch to a modern higher education format that was in tune with the global higher education structure, and promote interdisciplinary learning and research at the undergraduate level. The then Union education minister Kapil Sibal also supported the idea of moving from three-year undergraduate programmes to four-year programmes.
The move triggered widespread protests by students and teachers between 2013-14. They said that the programme was introduced without proper planning, consultations, resources, and course content. At least two petitions, for and against the implementation of FYUP, were also filed in the Delhi high court during the same period.
While the FYUP was completely backed by the university Grants Commission (UGC) at the time of its implementation, within months of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government coming into power and Smriti Irani taking the charge as the Union education minister, the commission took a U-turn. In June 2014, the UGC issued a notice to the DU directing it to immediately scrap the FYUP and resume regular three-year undergraduate programmes. It said that four-year programmes were not part of the previous national education policy.
Immediately after the roll-back, students, who were enrolled as the first FYUP batch, were shifted back to the three-year format. However, those who were enrolled in Bachelor of Technology (BTech) programmes the same year across 35 DU colleges were allowed to continue their course. The university had to again completely change the way it functions.
Incidentally, when the same BJP-led government last year announced the new NEP, 2020, it advocated the four-year undergraduate programmes. DU has, once again, decided to adopt the programme in line with the NEP. A committee constituted by the university last year to formulate the guidelines for the implementation of the NEP also submitted its recommendations on the structure of bachelor’s courses under the four-year model in February.
Dinesh Singh, who is now the chancellor of KR Mangalam university in Gurugram, said the “abrupt” roll-back of FYUP was unfortunate. “The one year we tried the FYUP in DU, we had enormous success. The number of research papers by undergraduate students shot up in that year in DU. There were many start-ups that came into being. It’s unfortunate that the programme was scrapped at a time when things had begun to happen...It’s good that the government has now decided to introduce it under the NEP. We should forever modify it and try to make it better. Better late than never,” he said.
According to the proposed structure of four-year programmes in DU, students may now get the option of pursuing three-year honours or four-year honours in a discipline or four-year honours in a discipline with research. The students will get multiple exit options like previously introduced FYUP. For instance, they can exit after one year and get a certificate, after two years, they will get a diploma and after three years, they will be awarded an honours degree.
A large section of teachers and students at the university said that their concerns have not been addressed in the new plan of introducing the four-year programme in DU.
Nandita Narain, an associate professor at St Stephen’s College who was the president of DU teachers association (DUTA) at that time of the implementation and revocation of FYUP, said that more concerns have been added now. “The committee has tried to maintain that in the first three years the current course structure will not be disturbed. However, they have again added some illogical courses in the first three years. They, in fact, proposed to remove some important courses which are being already taught in the third year and thinking of putting them in the fourth year. Why would students waste one year of their lives and money for the same courses they are already studying in the third year? Besides, they have again proposed to introduce some subjects in the first three years which are of no relevance to students,” she said.
The DU NEP implementation committee has proposed the introduction of new subjects such as language and literature, social and emotional learning, innovation and entrepreneurship, co-curricular, and ethics and culture in the first three years of the courses. Under the previously introduced FYUP, eleven “foundation courses” were made mandatory, including language, literature and creativity, information technology, business, entrepreneurship, and management.
Seema Das, a member of the university’s Executive Council (EC), DU’s highest decision-making body, also said that the quality of honours courses has been diluted with the introduction of some very basic courses in the undergraduate honours programmes in the “garb of multidisciplinarity.”
Mahamedha Nagar, who was enrolled in English (Hons) at Miranda House in the first batch of FYUP students, described her first year of undergraduate as “chaotic”. “We were forced to study some foundation courses that had nothing to do with our core subjects. Students of Sanskrit (Hons) were studying mathematics, those enrolled in Science courses were forced to write literary articles. It was so chaotic,” she said.
The other concern teachers raised is the possible introduction of the “credit transfer system” which has been advocated by the NEP 2020. Under the system, every student will have a “credit bank” i.e; an academic repository. Credits will be transferred to this online system after the completion of every year — 48 credits after one year, 100 credits after two years, 148 credits after three years, and 196 after four years. The credit transfer will be allowed between national and international universities.
DU follows the choice-based credit system format at the undergraduate level under which students are given a choice to choose from prescribed courses, which are referred to as core, elective, and open elective courses. The marks are converted into credit points and credit grades using formulae adopted by the respective university.
Pankaj Garg, an associate professor at Rajdhani College, said this credit transfer system between universities would encourage the trend of “virtual courses”. “As per the NEP 2020 recommendations, a student can collect 50-70% percent credits by pursuing online courses from any institution other than their own college. It means they can do some online courses from any institute and use the credit points to complete their undergraduate. This will completely undermine the academic quality of the university. It will eventually encourage the trend of attending online courses and decrease the workload of teachers in students’ parent colleges,” he said.
The new four-year programme format will also allow students to resume their education from where they left in case they decide to exit the course in between and they would be able to use their credit points. This is something that was not there in the previously introduced FYUP. “It might be a good option for some students who have some urgent financial liability so they want to exit the course and work. But, it will majorly create a lot of confusion among students. Many students may end up exiting and joining the courses more than once,” said Avinash Sharma, an undergraduate student at Shivaji College.
Teachers said that another thing that was opposed in 2013 is still there in the newly proposed four-year programme -- the “multiple-exit” option. Monami Basu, an assistant professor at Kamala Nehru College, said, that multiple exits have long-term repercussions on students coming from marginalised sections and women. “More and more students will exit after one or two years, take certificates and diplomas, and start working. For girls, it’s even more threatening. There are many girls in our college who have been at war with their families to pursue higher education. The multiple exit option will put them in a disadvantaged position,” she said.
A former DU administrator, who wished not to be named, said, “DU should not repeat the same mistake again and introduce any new changes in the courses after wide considerations with all stakeholders. It should reconsider its plan to implement a new course structure at a time when the academic cycle is already disrupted by a global pandemic.”
DU acting vice-chancellor PC Joshi had earlier said that the university was ready to implement the four-year programmes at the earliest. “The university has extensively worked on it in the last 6-7 months and we are ready to implement it now. We are only waiting to get approvals from the statutory bodies. I don’t think there will be an issue in the implementation since we are not replacing anything. We are only adding on to the existing,” he told HT.