DU's 4-year degree: a course correction or pushed in hurry?

Teachers oppose it, ministers bat for it, PM asks what’s the hurry. Governance Now opens up the debate

jasleen

Jasleen Kaur | May 14, 2013



Come July, Delhi University (DU) will have implemented its new three-tiered, four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP). The university’s executive council (EC), the highest administrative body, has given its approval to the final shape and nature of the programme at its meeting on May 9.

The path to the approval has been rocky for the university’s vice chancellor (VC), professor Dinesh Singh, who put his weight behind the programme despite opposition from many DU teachers. There are also those outside the university, including prime minister Manmohan Singh, who have questioned the move. But the biggest victory for the autonomy of the office of the vice chancellor, and by extension for that of the university, is the stands HRD minister Pallam Raju and his deputy, Shashi Tharoor, have taken.

While Tharoor has said that any intervention by the HRD ministry will set a “bad precedent”, Raju ruled out any interference saying, “We should not be seen as dictating to them or questioning their wisdom.. We do not want to come in the way.”

The minister has assured that the concerns of those who opposed the FYUP had been addressed in his discussion with the vice-chancellor. “We definitely do not want to derail the enthusiasm and momentum generated and certainly do not want to impinge on the academic authority and independence of the executive council of the university.’’

The FYUP is a part of long due reforms in academics, argue the proponents of the programme. The programme, they say, is intended to give graduates greater employability while enabling them to work towards solutions to some of the challenges that the country faces. The vice chancellor, according to a report in the Financial Express, has contended that students, under the old programme, did not meet the standards expected of them by the corporate who came to recruit. “I have met representatives of some of the best corporate institutions that came to visit the university. Even for very basic jobs, they did not find a single student who met their standards,” Singh said. “The present system gives student nothing needed for a job.”

What is four-year undergraduate programme, or FYUP?
The FYUP was conceptualised during the term of Singh’s predecessor, Deepak Pental. The Indian National Science Academy (INSA), of which Pental was a member, had proposed a four-year model to replace the existing three-year one. But the former VC’s term expired before the university began considering the proposal. The proposal received a fresh lease of life in September 2012 when Singh (Dinesh) handpicked the 61 members of a task force for drafting the structure and designing the course for the FYUP.

In December 2012, the academic council (AC), the university’s highest body on academics, met and cleared the FYUP which was approved within a couple of days by the EC. The debate around the FYUP pretty much got heated from here with many professors alleging that the adoption of the programme happened in an undemocratic manner without any discussion on the ramifications of such a course.

Until May 9, FYUP was designed to offer three degrees (renamed baccalureate) — the associate baccalaureate on the completion of the first two years, the baccalaureate with one major (extensive study in one discipline) on the completion of three year, and the baccalaureate with honours  or BTech. But the University Grants Commission (UGC) recently flagged both, the provision to award the two-year degree and the renaming of the degree. The first violated the UGC Regulations of 2003 which held that no degree can be awarded until the successful completion of three years of undergraduate studies while the use of Baccalaureate was a non-standard practice in academia.

So, the AC meeting on May 8 dropped the plans to award an Associate Baccalaureate in favour of a diploma and decided in favour of calling the third year and the fourth year degree as Bachelors with major and Bachelors with honours and BTech.

WHAT ARE THE ‘PROBLEMS’?
Issue of structure, learning gaps
The dissenting professors insist that FYUP is far from perfect so far as its structure goes. They say that some of the11 foundation courses, including information technology, governance and citizenship, science and life, building mathematical ability, history, culture and civilization, as well as language papers, that will be taught in the first two years across disciplines throw up multiple issues.

“First, there will be learning gaps for students who come from a different discipline in assimilating a course if the course is designed to proceed from the intermediate level. Conversely, if the course is designed to lead from the secondary level, the students who have already studied the portion in the senior secondary level will have to bear with learning that is redundant, or at best, of a refresher grade,” says Aryama, professor of political science, SGBT Khalsa College.

Inadequate infrastructure
“With infrastructure limitations, how does the university propose to deal with teaching the foundation courses? It doesn’t have classrooms to accommodate students of all disciplines who will have the same courses in the first two years. This means that teachers will have to take the same classes over and over again to teach the students in a college. This repetitive exercise will erode motivation of teachers which will affect quality of teaching. It means even with the same syllabus and professors the learning of students for a course will vary,” he points out.

Is it too American?
DU’s administration is hard-selling the four-year programme as a more globalised degree course. But some senior members of the university academia believe it will “Americanise” the university. Moreover, they are upset over the way the decision to implement FYUP has been passed by the administration. The way the changes have been forced through and the changes themselves will have damage the academic credibility of the university, they hold.

Little scope for debate
Nandita Narayan, a professor of mathematics at St Stephen’s College, says there has been no debate on the issue and the course was passed in a hurried manner by the university administration. “It was passed in a meeting of academic council. The proposal was not even shown to the departments. The heads of departments wanted to present it before their colleagues for discussion but it was not allowed,” she said.  

The very handling of the issue seems to be undemocratic, if one were to go by the protesting professors. Narayan offers the vice chancellor (VC) Dinesh Singh’s setting up of the task force to shape the proposal as an example. “The 61 members on it were handpicked by the VC himself. There was no representation from many departments like history, economics and English,” she says.

The only consultation with stakeholders that has happened is the academic congress which took place in November 2012 that involved 10,000 specially invited students, teachers and parents. However, at the congress, there was no serious discussion on the four-year programme as it was not listed in the agenda.

Being implemented in a hurry?
Another complaint that the protesting professors are making is that while they will be responsible for handling the implementation of the new structure under FYUP, they have been kept in the dark about everything till late, including the structure itself.

The course structure was announced (without giving any details) in February. On March 5, orders were issued to the departments to prepare syllabi for the newly announced courses within two weeks. The deadline has been extended by a month, but it is still a very short length of time, say teachers.

But among the ranks of the protestors are many teachers who are not fundamentally opposed to the idea. It is the manner in which it is being hurried through that is concerning. Full-time, regular courses at the university will offer honours only on the completion of four years of study while the school of open learning will offer the same for correspondence courses after the completion of three years.

“Why then would anyone want to do a regular course in four years when they are getting the same degree in 3-years via correspondence education?” asks Narayan.

The more the administration pushes for the model, the louder the cry gets that it is a shift towards an American model of education to benefit foreign institutions that are set to enter the Indian education sector once the foreign universities Bill is passed.

Dev Habib says, “Seventy courses were passed in 40 minutes, which shows the quality of the programme. Till date we do not know what the syllabi for the foundation courses are. How will we able to justify these? We see it as a way to prepare the base for foreign universities to swoop in once the Bill is passed. The next round of reform will be fees hike. If we will not revolt, it will not just be implemented in DU but in other universities as well.”

THOSE IN FAVOUR
Deepak Pental, former vice chancellor and member of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) which had proposed a shift from the three-year courses to FYUP, says the idea was to strengthen the base of students in quantitative areas.

“Our university is not among the top universities in the world because we do not encourage research. I am not very clear whether the foundation courses will be able to meet the needs or not. But I think people should look at the four year programme from the student’s perspective. We saw the same debate during the implementation of the semester system. But I feel the debate should be more about the kind of education we want,” Pental said.

Another part of the debate is the dropout issue. The university authorities believe the policy is likely to bring down the dropout rates in colleges. “Do you know 30% students drop out every year? Even in second year, there are dropouts. In two years, those who learn how to make spreadsheets, do a few application courses will get better jobs than what dropouts get. We've also changed the criterion for promotion . You don't need to get a minimum score in every paper but just in your aggregate. People will not fail easily,” vice chancellor Singh told Times of India in an interview.

But the protesting professors say that the three-tiered programme will facilitate higher exit rates.

“Allowing students to exit anytime after the completion of two years in the course will create more dropouts. Earlier, students were forced to complete 3 years for both, regular and honours courses, to receive their degrees but now they can drop out after two years and get a diploma. In the case of poor students and girls, especially, dropout rates will spurt. They may face pressure to do a year less due to financial constraints since they will anyway get a diploma,” Narayan surmises.
 
Vice-chancellor’s open letter
In an open letter, vice chancellor Dinesh Singh, on April 26, said that the administration has been working in close coordination with the heads of departments, principals and teachers to work out all the concerns with the new programme. Singh laid out several new measures that will be introduced to get the FYUP going. First, all colleges will have to work out their teaching requirements as per the new programme. The colleges will have to then fill up these posts. At the same time, Singh wrote, the university will try and regularise teachers who have been appointed on an ad hoc basis by the end of June 2013, while the university moves away from contractual employment. Singh appeared to be aware of the increased workload under the new system, hence the move to fill more teaching post. However, the dissenting teachers say that all measures are being forced upon them.

The question of autonomy
While the controversy was flaring, CPI(M) politburo member Sitaram Yechury had moved a special mention on the issue in the Rajya Sabha, objecting to the “hasty manner” in which the university was implementing FYUP. Soon, two separate groups of parliamentarians submitted separate petitions to prime minister Singh requesting the government’s intervention.

When the parliamentary delegations submitted their petition, the PM asked why the university was in such a hurry to implement the switch, Yechury late told the media. On May 3, Congress MP Rashid Alvi also wrote to the prime minister asking him to rescue the university from decline.

For some teachers, the vice chancellor’s move is reminiscent of the crisis that had arose during the implementation of the semester system at the university. “It was made by some others and we have been teaching the syllabus which is crippled. That’s the reason we have made the syllabus for the 4-year programme. But it was his (VC’s) duty to ensure that there is a free discussion at every level. And the HRD ministry used the autonomy issue not to intervene in the mess,” Dev Habib says.

But Dinesh Singh has his own take on the issue. On the accusations of being undemocratic, and on the claims that the course was passed without a debate at the December 24 AC meeting he told the Times of India, “Parliament has asked us questions about this and we have supplied documents… I didn't stop anyone from speaking... I only asked them to stick to the agenda. Our elected teachers have a habit of straying and I just brought them back. We were moving with an agenda and a calendar in mind.”

“I have been distracted for the last few days as the government keeps asking questions. I have told the minister.... Parliament is not the last word on wisdom that it will decide everything,” he added.

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