Leaflet, 23.7.2009

Resist Commercialisation and Privatisation of Education

We are witness to a time when rapid moves are being made to dismember public-funded university system, notwithstanding creation of many “national” and “central” universities. Ironically, the talk about regulation of mushrooming private enterprises in education and even the much needed cleansing of AICTE are designed to make acceptable the laying down of a legal framework for commercialization of higher education so that private (foreign and domestic) players find legal space to make profit. One of the requirements of submitting to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) under the WTO is precisely such a framework where trade in higher education can be conducted without hindrances. It is not surprising, therefore, to hear our present HRD Minister say that there is nothing wrong with making profits in education. He vouches that ‘prestigious’ foreign universities would deliver quality. The MHRD argues that Foreign Direct Investment is the way to expand higher education. He even claims that the agenda of inclusive and accessible education does not conflict with the free market where institutions are to decide their own fees.

In order to help institutionalise an education market where the level of fees is to reflect quality of the institutions/courses, a rating agency becomes necessary. It also becomes necessary that existing public-funded institutions submit themselves to market pricing of their courses and get their assessment and rating done. Hence, more than a decade after the University of Delhi rejected assessment and accreditation by the NAAC, the UGC has now threatened colleges that it would release maintenance grant only on production of letters of intent for being assessed and rated by NAAC. The DU VC, without any discussion, says that the misgivings over NAAC is passé, that too at a time where apart from academic objections raised earlier the very assessment and rating by NAAC are being perceived with the same suspicion which people had about AICTE approval of institutions.

The Delhi Government too is moving at lightning speed, post- Knowledge Commission, to dismember the University of Delhi in its race to join the education market. In the month of May, it toyed with the idea of taking away colleges of the University of Delhi which are fully funded by the Delhi Government and affiliate them to a newly created Ambedkar University so that it can run self-financing courses and claim that it expanded education without having to spend an extra rupee. In the face of opposition it seems to have temporarily shelved the move. However, it has now adopted the “Delhi Technological University Bill, 2009” that takes away the Delhi College of Engineering (DCE) from the University of Delhi. The proposed new university is to be set up by reconstituting DCE. The proposed structure takes away the right of employees to approach courts over dispute in service conditions. And most importantly, the financial memorandum accompanying the bill envisages a three-fold expansion without any additional expenditure toward maintenance grants! The entire expansion is to be selffinanced. If these moves to commercialise all public funded institutions is not understood as the logic of joining GATS, fighting commercialisation would be difficult.

We are directly confronting a commercialisation agenda. That the VC is unwilling to debate the suitability of semester system is not surprising. He knows that it will be disastrous for the University. However, he is willing to act on behalf of the Government to facilitate private (domestic/foreign) players through credit transfers.

No to Semester System for Under Graduate Studies

Last year, the VC was forced to accept that the desirability and the feasibility of the proposal must be discussed by the teaching community. An overwhelming majority of the official responses of the colleges either rejected it outright or expressed very serious apprehensions. The responses are detailed showing serious engagement with the pedagogic process and deep concern about the academic future of the undergraduate courses. The depth of the deliberations should have convinced any rational and open-minded person that such a move could be quite ill fitted and inimical to the essential parameters and character of our undergraduate programme. To summarise teachers’ opinion as mixed responses, as did the VC in his letter dated May 12, 2009, is an attempt to camouflage the truth.

In the AC meeting held on June 5, 2009, the VC in a most arbitrary and autocratic manner ruled out discussion on the desirability of the semester system. When the elected members protested against such arbitrariness, the VC declared as passed his decision to form a committee with the PVC as the chairperson to create a detailed blueprint for implementation of the semester system.

The VC also chose not to reply to an eight-page letter on the issue written by DTF members of the EC/AC (the letter can be read here).

Semester System is Unsuitable for DU Undergraduate Programmes

  • Size and spread do matter: The semester system essentially runs well in institutions with a small student size, where teaching, examination and evaluation are done by the same faculty members. A course being taught in so many different colleges will necessarily have a lot of variation in coverage in a short span of time, which can be reasonably ironed out in the course of a year, but will be difficult to do in a semester time span. A teacher may go on leave even for 2 or 3 weeks (for attending refresher course or short medical leave for example). Moreover, in many subjects it is difficult to find teachers at short notice. Students would suffer since the time cannot be made up in a semester system.
  • Further a good semester system has modes of evaluation, which are often not examination based. In JNU, for example, the examinations only carry about 50% of total assessment in most social science and liberal arts courses; the rest of the assessment is based on term papers which students write based on wide ranging reading material with sufficient time in hand. However, this needs small batches of students when evaluation is done by the teacher herself.
  • Leisure is valuable: The semester system is supposed to iron out periods of “leisure and hyperactivity with uniform academic pressure on students”. Advocacy of the system on that ground ignores the necessity of ‘leisure’ in academic pursuits of students. The conceptualisation of leisure as nonproductive time is misplaced. The semester system may introduce greater discipline but also harsher regimentation among students.
  • The semester system will deny students who come from diverse backgrounds and with different abilities necessary time to get used to the system and develop the ability to critically analyse, evaluate and understand “texts”. This is more so for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The undergraduate programme in our country is a basic necessity for any decent employment and, while continuously striving to enhance its standards, its essential character and role in transforming people’s lives in an unequal society should not be forgotten.
  • The annual system is also more conducive to students who are interested to read texts outside their course. The semester system will accentuate the existing attitude in large number of students to only study what is relevant for an exam.
  • A tight semester system will have a negative impact on cultural and sports activities. The VC’s promise that adequate time will be allotted to them within the University calendar shows complete lack of understanding of the problem. He seems to equate such pursuits with college festivals and considers as useless serious time commitment on a regular basis to sports or cultural activities like theatre, music and such others, ignoring the fact that such ‘leisure’ gives many students the opportunity to widen their horizons, flower and rediscover themselves.
  • Continuous engagement: The assertion that semester system would facilitate “continuous learning and assessment/feedback” and “a continuous engagement between students and teachers” is based on a false assumption that the annual system is incapable of doing so. A continuous engagement of the teachers with the students takes place in the present system in the general class room, in tutorial and contact periods and often also in the sphere of extracurricular activities or through personal informal interactions. The only way to increase such interaction is by decreasing the student-teacher ratio and increasing small group interactions such as tutorials.
  • Interdisciplinarity: The semester system is not superior to an annual one with regard to interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinary courses exist in this university. Similarly, semester system is not going to expand the possibility of the student choosing courses across disciplines beyond what is available at present. A large number of optional papers are not and cannot be offered since colleges are constrained by lack of faculty and space, and the huge size, geographical spread and the sheer number of students.
  • False claims about constraints: The VC claims that the current injection of funds for significant addition to infrastructure and faculty strength will mitigate the existing constraints. The truth is that these funds are to meet the requirements of 54% expansion following the introduction of OBC reservations. Surplus spaces or hands to experiment with more lavish choices do not emerge merely by switching over to a semester system.
  • Facts about credit transfers: The advocacy of the semester system on the ground that it will enable students to transfer credits across national and international universities is both presumptuous and devious. It assumes a standardised curriculum and syllabus across the country (a pet UGC vision). Even in countries like the USA where credit transfer is possible, it is done rarely and mostly in elementary courses between similarly ranked Universities. At most, such arrangements will benefit only a minuscule number of students who can financially afford them. Interinstitution transfer of credit is going to involve bilateral agreements. The hidden agenda is to allow credit transfer arrangements with a few private universities, and provide legitimacy to their courses in return for some money.
  • Workload norms: The VC bluffs his way out of the poser that global standards cannot be built without global infrastructure and workload norms. The sixteen and half hours work norm (18 periods a week) is much higher than any international norm. Teachers who are expected to do research do not teach more than 6 to 8 hours a week in any reputed university across the world. Even in the primarily undergraduate teaching colleges of the USA (where the emphasis on research for its teachers is secondary) the workload is about 10 hours a week.

    He seeks to mislead by claiming that the 1:18 teacher-student ratio that exists in our university is comparable to international standards. The teacher-student ratio is not a reliable indicator of load on a teacher as far as lecturing is concerned. It takes almost the same effort and preparation to lecture to a larger class. In major universities in the US, often basic courses at the undergraduate level are taught to batches of 500 plus students over a microphone in a large hall. But in such cases the teacher does not evaluate these students, that job is primarily done by research students, who are appointed as teaching assistants. In our case the teacher herself has to conduct the tutorial/ practical for all the students in the class. Therefore, what is relevant for a teacher here are teaching hours and the requirement of two time correction of large number external examination scripts in addition to the existing assignment correction load. There will be hardly any scope for college teachers pursuing research.
  • Unacceptable curriculum design: If the current syllabi are to be reworked for the semester mould without any change in the workload norm, we can either have the same number of papers as are being currently taught in a year and roughly divide each of their content in half and cover them in two semesters or we can have roughly half the current number of papers in each semester.

    In the first case, teaching will remain annual whereas the number of examinations conducted in a year will almost double. This will mean the University will take almost twice the current time to conduct the examinations. Additionally one must count at least one month each semester for evaluation and publication of results. Moreover, it is pedagogically unacceptable to mechanically break a course, jeopardising the holistic nature of a paper designed for an annual system.

    The second option is to teach roughly half the number of courses compared to the current level in each semester. Conduct of the examinations may take about one month per term. We will be teaching a paper that we teach now for a whole year in one semester by mechanically doubling the lecture time in each paper. This implies that the current 100 marks papers will have 10 lectures per week. It will hardly leave students any time to grasp the concepts and teachers the flexibility to explain these. Given the mindless workload norm for determination of teaching positions, it would neither be possible to have shorter courses with drastically changed content since no teacher can be allowed not to teach about 18 periods in any semester.
  • Learn from past mistakes: Both the available options to fit in the existing curriculum and syllabi in the semester mode have negative consequences. The need of the hour is to revise and re-examine changes introduced in the last few years including the present internal assessment system which has overburdened both students and teachers. What is being proposed is to repeat the past mistake of syllabus revision through empowered committees that ruined the B. Sc. programme. This time we would end up destroying all the undergraduate programmes.
  • No time for research: Any reasonable system of evaluation in each semester will require at least three weeks to a month. For a teacher evaluating more than one course, it will take about one and a half to two months each semester. This will leave no effective vacation for the teachers. The apparently longer December break will now almost entirely be spent on evaluation work. The students too will hardly have any semester break, as their examinations will run well into December (if not longer), if they start from middle/end of November. Or else examinations must start from end October and the effective teaching time will just be three months in the semester.
  • Late admissions: The admission process in the first year often goes on till September in many colleges particularly in the Science courses. Students leave these courses as they get admission to medical and engineering courses. In the semester system admissions must be completed at least by July end even if seats go vacant and serious imbalances show up in many courses and colleges and precious seats are to be wasted.

There is no system, whether annual or semester, which is per se more effective than the other. The context and peculiarities of the ground situation should determine the desirability of one or the other system. Unlike what is being made out, all the ills of the present system, such as rote-learning, are not intrinsic to the annual system and do not magically vanish in the semester system. There are substantial academic and pedagogic grounds on which the annual system is far more desirable than the semester system for the undergraduate programme of the University of Delhi. Precisely for the same reasons, the semester system would only lower academic standards. One would expect the VC of a premier university to be open to points of view and arguments and not to push through borrowed “vision”.

Unfortunately, the VC has decided to accept the UGC diktat unquestioningly and demands that we showed him the same respect. He got the semester system adopted at the PG level promising interdisciplinarity, option for students to pursue papers in other departments through inter-department credit transfers. The syllabi of some departments are still pending for approval in the AC meeting of 22 July 2009 even after the new semester has begun. Most syllabi do not provide for interdisciplinarity, options for students to choose papers in other departments. The VC is not perturbed over the absence since the University can still enter into bilateral arrangements with other institutions and carry out inter-institution credit transfers. Even after the failure to introduce the sound-good features at the PG level, he wants us to believe that these could be done in less than a year at the undergraduate level. He is keen to push through the current government agenda at any cost. It is our responsibility to defeat his design.

Immediate Tasks for the DUTA

  • The battle against semester system since November has been left to the elected AC members. The holding of dharnas by a few DUTA Executive members outside and by elected AC members inside the AC meetings has proved to be ineffective in preventing the VC from taking decisions. Given the pace at which the VC is pushing through the semester system, the need is to launch well-mobilised and sustained action programmes. No mode of struggle should be left untouched. Struggle should be supported by arguments and case building in the media. The students, parents and the public at large should be apprised of the disastrous consequences.
  • The directive from the UGC to all the colleges making funding conditional on accreditation by NAAC must urgently be argued against and fought. Succumbing to NAAC would pave the way for autonomous colleges as would the introduction of semester system. Both are viewed by the Government as means of pressurising more colleges to become autonomous.
  • The Delhi Government should be confronted on the issue of snatching away DCE from DU. DCE should be made into a constituent college of DU. The Delhi Government has to be also warned against any further attempt to take away some colleges of the University just because they are funded by it.
  • Roll back the compulsory centralised evaluation scheme that both regiments the process of evaluation and undermines it by insisting that a teacher puts marks on (evaluates?) an incredibly large number of papers per day.
  • Implementation of the provision that college teachers can supervise research. The VC has turned a blind eye to the refusal by the Science Departments to allow eligible college teachers to supervise research.
  • Taking up the numerous instances of arbitrary action by the VC, often in violation of rules, with the Visitor. Apart from arbitrarily changing the character of the South Campus, the VC habitually declares agenda items (e.g., Examination Reforms) as passed in principle without letting the AC discuss it. Acceptance in principle allows for arbitrary and selective implementation.
  • Strengthen the DUTA by eschewing anti-struggle attitude and demobilisation. Such negative roles has led to a situation where many demands related pay revision went unrepresented. The Government claim of higher pay than IAS at entry has been reduced to a token Rs. 600 extra in grade pay; Guest teachers remain excluded from the ambit of pay revision; Senior Lectures have been given a raw deal; Readers (both promoted and directly recruited) along with all lecturers and Senior Lecturers have been pushed back by three years before they can get the Associate Professor scale; Professors have been downgraded in terms of Grade Pay and pushed down one rung in the hierarchy with the introduction of a quota based promotion to Higher Academic Grade Pay of Rs. 12000; college teachers have been denied personal promotion to Professor. Now the fitment table further downgrades Associate Professors and Professors. If the union remains dormant, our service conditions and promotional possibilities will get worse.
  • The issue of withdrawal of exemption from NET and the terms and tenure of and procedure for the ad hoc appointment must be pursued at once. The complicity of the DUTA leadership in letting the University boot out the Agnihotri Committee Report continues to be source of harassment. This issue must be raised immediately.

The DTF appeals to all teachers to turn up in large numbers for the 28th July DUTA GBM. A well attended meeting would communicate to the authorities the determination of the teaching community and help formulation of a sustained and effective action programme.

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2 thoughts on “Leaflet, 23.7.2009

  1. My dear friend

    I am aware of your fighting skills. But please save the career of M.Phil degree holders. We are your students. You know better than me the latest development about the NEt exemption.
    Thanking you

    Like

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