For the sake of learning, change course and perspective.

With so much of debate going on about changes in the higher education system of India , one thing is blatantly apparent. That it’s not easy to make a change in this system. Whether introduction of a four year university system which stands out as unique in a well-oiled, but not necessarily an efficient, machinery of a three year undergraduate program was a good decision or not can be debatable. Debatable, because while it may leave the students at a disadvantage as compared to others in India, a correctly structured syllabi could have given them a fantastic range of majors in subjects, crossing all barriers. You could study English and Physics, equally. Something previously unheard of. It may have bought about in our students, bored with gulping pages and pages of books, to actually accomplishing the ultimate goal of education – that of reading subjects of interests to an individual.

This was exactly what, whoever supported the four-year programme, started out believing. And then the power game of politics unfolded. A power hungry vice-chancellor following the footsteps of probably the worst HRD minister in decades. It didn’t take long for the University teachers to realize that the Vice-chancellor was far removed from the worries of administration and treated his equals (fellow academicians) how a land-owner may treat his workers. Dynastically speaking, much like the Congress and its HRD minister. Everyone else was lesser compared to this Stephen and Oxford educated Lutyen’s elite. Much like his classmate, who dismissed the economy class travellers as cattles. (Well, most of us cattle-class could take the joke while some took the joke and him apart over that). Unfortunately, in the University system the only person who could take a call over this, was the one taking the shots. For all his efforts in ass-licking, the VC was awarded a Padma Shri. His egocentric mindset was apparent when the University website cited only his award and not those of other illustrious colleagues from the University who had received the same award that year.

The question of why the four year programme was introduced has many theories. It has been quite evident that the programme is based on exactly the US undergraduate one, and while many have been criticizing him for readying our students more for the US degrees than our own, it was quietly pointed out by a good friend that many US universities have asked for permission to set up shop in India. With DU at par with them, the elevations would have been altogether different. Now that is big business. And while the HRD minister, who pays 16lakhs a month for his home, is probably used to thinking of ways to own that business, I can’t but help wonder how the VC could possibly assume that he could get away with it all so easily. While I don’t think that academics should be altogether independent of money, I certainly don’t expect them to make it an obvious priority when in power. Another interesting theory that I read was that of prospective deals with the land mafia, land-dealing being a Congress stronghold. While another friend says that the deal was to downgrade the relevance of the four-year course, while other three-year course private universities flourished, I would say the deal was to help set up foreign universities with the help of these land mafia and sign MOUs between DU and them. Either way, it would have been a lucrative business, if not education.

It didn’t work. For the good of anybody.

Lets face it, nothing changes in this system easily. So, while the VC thought the best way to make it conclusive was by forcing it through (he wasn’t wrong in assuming this), the change itself was too large. Large for whom? Well, the old cronies who had been teaching the same redundant courses for decades now- the pillars of stagnation that refused to move with the times and also, the ones who make up the committees that revise courses. The University mafias function differently. Wars are fought over appointments, each lion(ess) trying to rule his/her own den, trying to facilitate inbreeding by appointing their own thesis students such that their clan is preserved. Most do not realize how rotten this system can be, until someone starts checking these facts. In the corridors of basic natural sciences, of which I know better about, the stench is apparent. As the time went by while creating a fresh set of courses, all the dissidents were slowly alienated from meetings. And all those who complied because they didn’t care enough to protest were made signatories.

A number of revision of courses started by the dynamic previous VC, and left incomplete, were dragged back to the old ways. If not directly, I blame the present VC for ignoring these important concerns in academics. Those departments, which were quick enough to push the revisions through, gained. I know that various applied biological science courses were one of them. Appointments made by the previous VC, who recruited people well-trained outside the country by offering them top of the bracket scales in their pay bands, was frowned upon by those who were used to moving forward by the University guidelines and not by themselves.

Only a few have the vision to take a University in India forward. The quest of picking up the best of ideas, old and new, requires a foresight but taking it forward amidst those having a habit of protesting and the old guards is not easy.

The four year programme was a faux pas because it was too big a change to not take everyone along. The courses – a last of concerns. The political gains – appallingly apparent. The VC – an unapproachable bad administrator.

University of Delhi needs a revision of courses to make academics interesting. To not dumb it down, such that our students who come through rigorous schooling feel like they are gaining something new. To innovate methods of teaching and practical, such that students think for themselves and not just read history. Ensure that a teacher fulfills their requirement of teaching and research even if s/he has attained the highest rank. To ensure that committees involve those with merit, irrespective of age. Decentralize administration such that all colleges gain attention and have someone to voice their concern. With the number of students increasing and the cut-offs skyrocketing, the colleges need to let go of their inter-college competition and try to ensure same proficiency in teaching throughout. If that requires teachers to interact with colleagues from other colleges and exchange notes, it should be done.







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