EC member Abha Dev Habib writes to the Visitor

On the 4-year programme to be started in July 2013

Hon’ble Sh. Pranab Mukherjee
President of India
Visitor, University of Delhi

4 February 2013

Dear Sir,

You have been apprised of the situation at Delhi University by several representations from the DUTA and other elected teacher representatives. Today I am writing to you in regard to the move in the name of ‘reforms’ to replace the existing 3-year undergraduate programme with a 4-year Baccalaureate programme by July 2013.

Teachers of Delhi University are keenly anticipating your upcoming interaction with the Vice- Chancellors of Central Universities. Ever since the announcement of this proposed meeting was reported in the Press, the academic community of Delhi University has been hopeful that its profound discomfort with the un-academic nature of ‘reforms’ in the University and the thoughtless manner of their implementation will receive a focus in your discussions with the DU Vice-Chancellor. Since improvement in the quality of education and research in Higher Educational Institutions is your chief concern, it will be appropriate for me, as the elected representative of teachers in Delhi University’s Executive Council, to share with you the obvious inferences about the impending deterioration of both, owing to the nature of the recent reforms that have been imposed on the structure and curriculum of undergraduate education in Delhi University.

Why Four Years?

At complete variance with the existing National Education Policy which stipulates a 10+2+3 pattern, Delhi University will be replacing its traditional 3-year degree programmes with a 4-year Baccalaureate programme in the 2013 session. The first question that arises is whether one Central University can move to a 4-year undergraduate programme in isolation. It must be further noted here that owing to the limited increase in public-funding of Higher Education in recent years, the cost of studying for a degree in universities like ours has been steadily and exponentially rising. Students from different states come to Central Universities like DU and seek admission in degree programmes. Many come from economically weaker sections and regions. In such a scenario, how is it fair to impose the burden of an extra year on students who are already reeling under the rising costs of Higher Education?

Furthermore, the Government has consistently taken the stand that any expansion in Higher education cannot take place independently of an appropriate increase in resources and infrastructure. In order to make the inclusion policy for reservations for OBCs effective, the Moily Committee in 2006 had recommended increased funding for physical infrastructure and more teachers. This commitment is missing in the case of the expansion that will necessarily accompany the shift to this 4-year Baccalaureate programme. No funds have been marked out for the added burden on infrastructure. No extra teaching-posts have been allotted. The planning and preparation for such a radical change is being carried out in a most short-sighted and hasty manner. Teachers are of the view that the decision for such a change should have been referred to policy-makers after a thorough and public-oriented debate in national forums like the Parliament as it is likely to affect the synchronicity with which Universities and other Higher Educational Institutions all over India are meant to work.

Problem of Multiple Exit-Points

Two exit-points, one each at the end of the second and third years of the Baccalaureate programme, have been given with a view to offer a false sense of options for students. These exit-points, if understood in tandem with the rapidly rising fee structure in most colleges of the University, are likely to result in the elimination of students belonging to the weaker and underpriviledged sections of society. They will help incentivize and institutionalize drop-outs. The first exit-point mars the credibility and value of such a programme as the University has decided to offer an “associate degree” (equivalent of a diploma) to the students exiting at this point without any employable or critical skills. The Vice-Chancellor has callously claimed that this associate degree will make such students eligible to teach in primary schools, a claim that has been vociferously and logically refuted by the Faculty of Education which already offers a good-quality B.El.Ed. course in the University.

Problem of Quality and Academic Dilution

Even after the structure for the 4-year Baccalaureate has been passed, teachers remain unconvinced about the necessity or efficacy of the added fourth year. According to the structure, students will be forced to study a set of 11 compulsory Foundation Courses that may only superficially be described as Interdisciplinary. While students are still required to specialize into different streams of learning at the Intermediate or Higher Secondary level, to make them do courses that cut across streams will entail a necessary dilution in the rigour and difficulty-levels of these courses. Hence, these Foundation Courses will be school-level modules. The ratio of these Foundation Courses to the main Discipline-based Courses is very high: while students will be required to do only 20 Courses in the major Discipline (out of the total 42 credit-courses) in four years to be eligible for an Honours degree, 11 compulsory Foundation Courses spread over four semesters not only skew the balance of the Baccalaureate programme but only ensure that the added fourth year is really a waste for the students. Interdisciplinarity could and should have been ensured in other ways; an additional year in the name of diluted interdisciplinarity is not justified.

While the 4-year Baccalaureate is being presented to the media as increasing options for students, in fact it reduces their options by merging the Honours and Programme courses, by making 11 foundation courses compulsory and by reducing the choice of three disciplines in the Programme courses to two. The argument that the 4-year Baccalaureate will be more learner-centric also does not hold; firstly, the merging of the Honours and Programme courses will effectively mean larger class sizes, secondly, the existing centrality of small group tutorials and practicals in enabling active learning is sought to be eclipsed by student presentations in large lecture classes.

Under the garb of reducing the academic load on students, the syllabi in Discipline-based papers have also been preposterously divided into “Essential Reading” and “Desirable Reading for Reference.” Students will not be encouraged to read book-length literature on various subjects; rather, chapters and isolated sections from books will comprise “Essential Reading.” Such a move will adversely affect conceptual learning essential to grasp difficult and abstract ideas in theoretical disciplines. Progressive measures like continuous evaluation through written assignments and tests are being abandoned in favour of internal assessment based solely on oral presentations. Rather than reducing the burden of examinations, students will be subjected to elaborate testing through one-time examinations at the end of each semester. Teachers are already disconcerted with the witnessed decline in reading and interpretative skills at the school level; this manner of modularization and ‘streamlining’ is going to further aggravate the situation.

The academic hollowness of the 4-year programme is curiously manifested by its naming as Baccalaureate, a term largely used to designate school-leaving, i.e. pre-university qualifications. This foreign sounding term is also pretentious and elitist in our economically and socially unequal and diverse society.

Contractual appointments and flight of talent from teaching profession

Permanent appointments were stalled with the introduction of the semester system in 2010 by the then Vice-Chancellor who announced that they would be started only after teachers’ workload in the semester system became clear. As a result more than 4000 teaching posts are lying vacant and around 50% of teaching is being done by ad hoc or guest teachers. The 4-year structure with exit points after two years and three years will mean that teachers’ workload will become permanently unstable due to the uncertainty regarding the number of students that may be retained after each exit point. This instability will be further enhanced by the manner of distribution of the foundation courses across semesters, since some subjects will be taught in the odd semesters and some in the even ones. This will make contractual appointments on a large scale a permanent feature, result in the flight of talent from the teaching profession and lead to further severe decline in the quality of education imparted.

Why the unseemly haste?

After the hasty introduction of the semester system only two years ago, the Vice-Chancellor is in an even greater hurry to now replace the current curricular framework with an entirely new structure. He announced the wholesale restructuring of the 3-year undergraduate degree programmes into a 4-year diploma/ degree hybrid Baccalaureate programme, implementable from the 2013 academic session, through the media. Instead of mooting the idea with the teachers through open and interactive forums like the general bodies of Departments or College Staff Councils, he proceeded to engage select groups of teachers in closed-door consultations. Not a single meeting of even the Standing Committee of the Academic Council was held before the recommendations for the new structure were brought before the Academic Council on December 24, 2012. Though the Baccalaureate structure was passed in the said meeting, dissent from significant quarters was expressed. This was however registered in the most perfunctory manner and no discussion was allowed on the points raised in the dissent notes. Five elected members of the Academic Council and the Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences submitted their dissent through detailed written notes while the Head of the Economics department dissented orally.

To bring down an elaborate and established curricular structure without any empirical review and replace it with a hastily cobbled-up structure which only superficially pretends to be at par with curricular structures followed in universities of global repute is a travesty in the name of ‘reform’ and improvement. It is important to note that not a single university of global repute offers both a diploma and a degree within the same structure, as that would entail a dilution of focus. The reason why Delhi University is being forced to adopt such a hybrid structure is not known to its teachers and students, as the Vice-Chancellor does not care to explain the rationale behind such decisions to the academic community. The resulting situation is one in which an exaggerated and false impression of reform and improvement is being propagated through glib announcements and press releases to the media, but the substance and logic of such reform is not communicated to anybody beyond a select group and hence, is not open to public scrutiny or debate. In such a scenario, it is unfair to expect the teachers and students of Delhi University, on whom the success of such reform really depends, to overcome their skepticism and alienation and be led blindfolded on the path of so-called global excellence.

Delhi University caters to more than one and a half lakhs students in the regular courses and almost four lakhs students in the School of Open Learning. The hurry to implement the new structure in July 2013 without ensuring its infrastructural feasibility and academic quality will result in chaos and complete breakdown of the system from the start. The students of the School of Open Learning, who were part of the mainstream till the semesterisation of the regular courses, already find their options reduced; this will be increased significantly with the 4-year programme in regular courses. Decisions of such a far-reaching nature could be pushed through the Academic Council in such haste, without due consultation and debate, because the Vice-Chancellor has created an environment of intimidation, discouraging of all questioning voices, including of Deans, Heads of Departments, Principals and Professors.

Since your concern is that our flagship Central Universities like Delhi University should evolve and compare with the best institutions across the globe, I would request your attention to the serious concerns raised. The University community looks forward to your urgent intervention to halt the threatened destruction of Delhi University.

With kind regards,

Abha Dev Habib
Member, Executive Council

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