The Four-Letter Mess

Published: July 4, 2014 - 16:35 Updated: July 4, 2014 - 16:46

Delhi University’s FYUP gaffe is an excellent lesson in how not to introduce reforms, and how not to suspend discussion

Lily Tekseng Delhi 

Delhi’s summer, hostile as it is, bustles with activity. Located a slight distance from the country’s administrative bastion—nine closely Metro stations away— is one of the premier universities of the country: the Delhi University. Usually in the news every year for its towering cut-offs and for having the top-notch colleges of the country, DU has become host to a contest between its authorities and the University Grants Commission (UGC), the statutory body responsible for the regulation and maintenance of university standards, and disbursement of funds toward that purpose.

A variety of protesting voices reached a crescendo in the aftermath of the series of UGC directives giving ultimatums to the university to either comply with the National Policy on Education—which prescribes the format of 10+2+3—or face the financial consequences. In July 2013, Delhi University (DU) implemented the Four Year Undergraduate Program me (FYUP), replacing the three-year- bachelor course. The programme was contentious right from the start, and it was introduced by quashing various dissenting voices from within the university (both the Delhi University Teachers’ Association and Delhi University Students’ Union opposed it) as well as of intellectuals such as Romila Thapar, and UR Ananthamurthy among the public. At the time, the UGC cited the university’s autonomy as the reason for not getting involved, despite appeals for intervention.

Erstwhile Minister of Human Resource Development (MHRD) Kapil Sibal’s and Vice Chancellor of the University Dinesh Singh’s pet project, FYUP was introduced primarily with a view to reform DU’s higher education system. FYUP was aimed at encouraging the spirit of interdisciplinarity and the marketability of the graduates, with recognised exit and entry points in the form of multiple degree options for students who wanted to leave/pause studies before the four-year period. Mandatory ‘Foundation Courses’ were introduced, which ranged from Information Technology, Science and Life, Building Mathematical Ability to Language, Literature and Creativity. While the spirit of reform in higher education might have guided the system overhaul to a large extent, the manner of its implementation was both thoughtless and ruthless. 

Spirit of reform

The clamorous tussle between the UGC and the university over FYUP continued for over two weeks last month, halting fresh admissions for 2014 and setting in disarray the futures of thousands of students enrolled in the FYUP programme. Despite widespread rumours of Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh’s resignation, he kept his distance from both the protesters and the media. He finally succumbed to pressure from the UGC and various student and teacher organisations on June 27.

Even though admissions for the 2014 academic year began on July 1 with relief and gusto—despite towering cut-offs—the trailing spirit of the recent protests is palpable. For Anil Jha, a vocal supporter of FYUP and a member of the Academic Council, the rollback of the four-year bachelor programme is marred by a feeling of exasperation amongst the many members of the Academic and  Executive Councils. The councils—comprising the Vice Chancellor, Heads of Departments, Principals and Teachers’ Representatives—were responsible for the almost unanimous approval of the FYUP in 2013.

In contrast, the mood is celebratory for Sunny Kumar, a member of the students’ union, AISA, who vehemently opposed the FYUP. “It is the biggest victory of the students’ movement in the recent past, which was made possible by sheer persistence.” With regard to the debate over the autonomy of the university, Kumar says that “the farce of autonomy” reveals itself in the puppeteering of the Academic and Executive Council by the Vice Chancellor, wherein “both bodies constitute 75 per cent nominated members”. On the question of whether this particular incident sets a rather dangerous precedent with regard to the autonomy of Delhi University, Assistant Professor Mona Das remarks, “The Vice Chancellor is not Delhi University”.

Who’s dream?

In 2013, when FYUP was introduced, the university was already acutely short of infrastructure and the lecturers severely overburdened. Oddly, the UGC did not think it necessary to point out the deviations of FYUP from the National  Policy on Education at the time and approved the programme with a minor suggestion for a change of nomenclature. Although Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani categorically specified that there would be no intervention in the matter, the fact that the UGC became the euphemism of the MHRD agenda cannot be stressed more.

Nonetheless, the UGC’s inadvisable political maneuvering should not detract attention from the FYUP’s appalling standards; the numerous dissatisfied voices within the university have opposed it for legitimate academic and structural reasons. Foremost among these was the sheer irrelevance and inanity of the content of the compulsory courses, which amounted to a total of 12. This attempt at interdisciplinarity was criticised for largely being an irrelevant extension of school-level subjects that were generalised even more for students who had already specialised in different streams at +2 level. Delhi University is one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the fields of arts, sciences and commerce. The attempt to reduce it to a quasi-vocational centre that dumbs down the academic culture of enquiry and ideas was bound to have far-reaching, adverse repercussions in the country’s academic culture.

The four-year, American-style ‘Baccalaureate’ also had structural issues that would perpetuate exclusion—it added a whole year to student expenses, in a country where higher education remains a privilege, in a university that is acutely short of accommodation facilities. The exit points establish systemic lacunae that will encourage the tendency to egest students belonging to marginalised communities and genders (dropout incidents being highest in the marginalised groups), in an environment that is already dominated by the urban/middle-class/private-school-educated/male cultural categories. Besides these structural issues, it will also create a one-year lapse for students willing
to pursue post-graduation, since the other institutions in the country follow the pattern of 10+2+3+2, and the American University dream is one few can actually afford. 

Arrested Development

That this altercation erupted at the very time of admissions proved to be extremely inconvenient and distressing for the countless students who travelled from various parts of the country to seek admission. Also, in the mess of scoring political bonuses, genuine commitment to quality education has been somewhat overshadowed and the pleas of accidental victims subdued. The B Tech programme’s lack of qualified faculty and low academic standard have raised concerns despite students’ relief at the programme not being scrapped. Many students have also been worried about their professional prospects, being a one-off, experimental batch.

Amid sighs of relief and exasperation, and the frenetic labour of admissions, there is a distinctive choir of voices that finds the Vice Chancellor’s being still in office both improper and illegal. There are allegations that the Gyanodaya Express, Delhi University’s exclusive “educational train” and laptop schemes, were bought by diverting OBC/SC/ST funds; for a transparent inquiry to take place, it is essential that the Vice Chancellor resign or be barred from office for a given period of time.

The need for reform in the country’s educational system is long overdue. This year, the university’s cut-offs went as high as 100 per cent, hinting at serious issues in school education and university selection. The most reputed and affordable public universities are also overburdened and inaccessible to most. However, the example of Delhi University’s FYUP gaffe is an excellent lesson in how not to introduce reforms, and how not to suspend discussion. The intersection of politics and education cannot come at the cost of
a generation.

Delhi University’s FYUP gaffe is an excellent lesson in how not to introduce reforms, and how not to suspend discussion
Lily Tekseng Delhi 

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