Leaflet, 13.11.08

Semester system – Pay Revision – Ordinance XVD – ABVP Attack at Arts Faculty

On Semester System for Undergraduate Studies

The letter of the Vice Chancellor to “stakeholders” in Delhi University proclaiming that the semester system is the only alternative toward attaining global standards is alarming. The undue haste shown by the VC in pushing for the semester system at the undergraduate level was evident in the AC meeting of October 7, 2008 when he insisted on an approval if only ‘in principle”. Under pressure from the elected AC members the VC was compelled to seek the opinion of the university community, but the manner – hurriedly and without informed discussions – suggests that it is eyewash.

Does this haste emanate from the VC’s convictions or from the UGC proposal to make all universities switch to the semester system during the XI Plan? The UGC and the National Knowledge Commission are proposing a uniform and standardized model of higher education. Is it fear of penalty on non-compliance that the VC wants the semester system for postgraduate courses from 2009-10, and for undergraduate courses from 2010-11, without any study of the feasibility or desirability of such a switch?

The DTF is strongly opposed to this ill-advised ambitious project as it would further stretch the already strained academic resources of the university. It would be disastrous to destroy a working system only to end up in complete chaos. The transition does not merely involve problems of implementation. There are substantial issues which are beyond the purview of the University. Instead of asking for more academic resources and infrastructural facilities, the VC has been tom-tomming the semester system as a panacea to all ills.

The virtues of the semester system as enumerated by the VC in his open letter include the facility for student exchange, interdisciplinarity and continuous evaluation. We wish to point out certain serious problems with his argument:

  • Workload: The global standards being referred to demand very different working conditions, not a minimum of 18 periods of teaching per week as is the case for college teachers. A quality semester system requires variable workload subject to a maximum and not an insistence on a minimum load per teacher. Whatever be the system, annual or semester, there is a case for reducing the present workload norms.
  • Annual System: Many reputed universities the world over have resisted this standardization not merely to remain different but because an annual system has its own merit, not least of which is its pace of learning involving periods of leisure.
  • Credit System: The credit system is not inseparable from the Semester system. Student exchange and movement across universities hinge on the credit system. These are of value only if institutions are saved from ruin. The Government policy on workload norms and teacher-student ratio does not address this.
  • Continuous Assessment: Neither interdisciplinarity nor continuous evaluation require the semester system. In fact, we have both. But there are serious problems with the way these are designed. The University must address them first before envisaging further changes. It has been pointed out that the continuous evaluation system that exists is an overload on both teachers and students. What was debated was one assignment per paper for each term or the mid-term examination as an alternative. What got imposed was a scheme of both assignments and mid-term examinations. The freedom to choose from various forms of assessments such as home assignments, class tests, seminars, presentations and projects was also discussed. However, at least three assignments anda project per paper were pushed through.The global standards involve reducing examination load and not increasing it. Moreover, the system of moderation remains non-transparent and its modalities have not been placed for an informed debate.
  • Syllabus Revision: Syllabus revision through empowered committees without the involvement of teachers has resulted in ill-designed courses – new topics in every paper without corresponding reduction in content, introduction of additional papers to teach new areas / skills. This along with the assessment system has overburdened students.
  • Bigger Units Unviable for Semester System: The examples of IITs, JNU, University of Hyderabad and some courses in Delhi University as success stories of the semester system are misplaced. These involve smaller units, have a better teacher-student ratio, an internal examination system and no minimum workload norm. This is not the case with undergraduate courses in Delhi University. Inability to find a teacher for a particular course even for a short while would jeopardize the careers of students in a semester system. With an external examination each semester, the time for recovery from any lapse would be too short.
  • Logistics of Examinations: Given the variety of courses and number of colleges, a lot of time would be wasted in conducting examinations twice. The current mid-term examination is compressed in terms of time. This cannot be compared to an end-semester examination unless one is thinking of internal examinations. The university community has a reasoned position against making colleges conduct their own exams. Making colleges autonomous through the backdoor is not acceptable.
  • Overburdening: Without reducing workload and student-teacher ratio, the semester system would further overburden teachers with examination work denying them whatever little time and opportunity they have for self-study and research or to contribute to the corporate life of institutions.
  • Commercialisation of Higher Education: If there are arguments to show that the semester system would not worsen the situation, these must be placed for wider discussion and the concerns addressed before considering a change of such magnitude. Unwillingness to appreciate the issues involved would confirm apprehensions that the primary concerns are to fall in line with the UGC in order to facilitate marketisation of education, setting up of private universities and promoting educational business.

The track record of the present VC has been dismal not only in terms of upholding the laws of the University but also of being pro-active on serious academic matters. This VC has not showen any willingness to discuss the recommendations of the Committee on Examination Reforms whose report has been gathering dust for more than two years. The Continuous Assessment System suffers due to shoddy, half-hearted and half-baked implementation. The University authorities refuse to implement the unfinished agenda of Academic Reforms relating to its accountability.

The tenure of this VC ends in August 2010. He will not be around to face the academic mess ushered in by his whimsical decision. The DTF, therefore, urges the teaching community to be vigilant and to resist any attempt to compromise university autonomy on academic matters. Otherwise, this will become a precedent for the UGC, MHRD and National Knowledge Commission not only to intervene on academic issues but also to tamper with teachers’ service conditions especially in terms of increasing workload, student-teacher ratio, and introduction of differential emoluments, contractual service etc.


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