Down the Drain
The ‘Four Year Undergraduate Programme’ will maul the university’s fine resource heritage and its ‘School of Open Learning’
Ratna Raman Delhi
After months of being stonewalled by Delhi University’s Vice Chancellor and its administration, and being pushed to the wall by non-procedural machinations set in place, its beleaguered teachers took to the streets in April. Teachers from different disciplines have been addressing students and parents, whom Montek Singh Ahluwalia describes as stakeholders. It is but appropriate that, in the only country in the world where an affordable liberal university education is available, parents and students be made aware of the juggernaut that is coming their way in the form of the hastily imposed Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP). Although projected as a change for all undergraduate students in Delhi University, over 3.5 lakh students enrolled in the School of Open Learning (SOL) run by the university have been left out of its ambit.
Under the FYUP, any undergraduate student who completes a fourth year will receive a baccalaureate with honours. S/he will have a longer university education that will dilute specialisation and also escalate education costs considerably. The university administration says it will turn out employable young people who will be lapped up by corporates along the exit points at the end of two, three and four years.
Despite the support injected through political clout, the truth is that the university is not merely a placement system that guarantees jobs. It was set up to effect transformation of far greater magnitude through learning and teaching. All this is being dismantled with unseemly haste.
According to what is planned, 18-year-olds will be rushed through hastily-cobbled foundation programmes, to which the majority of teachers in the university have so far had little or no access. It is well known that, under the semester system and in the proposed four-year system, the university has successfully mangled extant syllabi across disciplines. Syllabi were split wide open and cut into halves under the semester system. They have been further truncated under the four-year system and across disciplines, subject options and readings have been incised and dropped at random.
This act, perpetrated by the hackers at the helm of affairs, needs to be brought to public notice. The so-called visionary plan for higher education repeatedly draws upon older extant curricula. The restructuring of syllabi has provided clear proof that the university did have in place an extensive and well thought-out academic pedagogy. It is this wonderful resource heritage that has been plundered, chopped up and recycled into successive academic calendars under the pretext of giving higher education a new spin.
Despite the support injected through political clout, the truth is that the university is not merely a placement system that guarantees jobs. It was set up to effect transformation of far greater magnitude through learning and teaching. All this is being dismantled with unseemly haste
The new thing about the four-year programme is not that there will be a rationalization of student-teacher ratios, or that adequate infrastructure will be installed by a swish of the Pitroda IT Wand. Instead, UGC-prescribed norms of classroom strength of 40 plus 10 percent will be done away with entirely. A novel solution has been devised as a result of which more teachers need not be employed and more classrooms need not be built.
Specialization across disciplines for students who usually opted for it is sought to be dissolved. The irony is most cruel because the university gave students the choice to graduate with both Honours or without under the old three-year system with annual examinations. The Honours Programmes and the General Programmes also incorporated interdisciplinary courses that were constantly being updated.
A humongous number of Delhi University’s undergraduate students in distance learning programmes are about to be given short shrift. Purported academic reforms have bypassed the SOL that functions under the aegis of Delhi University. Continually marginalized for years, and lately rechristened SOL, the School of Correspondence and Continuing Education was India’s first Distance Learning University Institution, founded in 1962. It was slated to provide succour to around 10,000 students across disciplines.
SOL offers both graduate and post-graduate degrees for students unable to enrol in Delhi University’s undergraduate colleges due to time constraints, not having access to the luxury of higher education, living a great distance away, a gap year, illness, poor marks in the CBSE and so on. Distance learning ensured that aspirants to higher education could overcome the debilitating factors that kept higher education out of their reach.
SOL, an integral part of India’s most prestigious central university, has grown in geometric progression in terms of student strength. In the 1990s, student transfers/migrations to regular undergraduate day colleges affiliated to Delhi University on completion of their first year through distance learning was a recurring feature. These students excelled academically and then went on to prestigious universities in the US to further their learning, inadvertently notching up more brownie points for the old undergraduate programme in annual mode.
However, all has not been well at SOL for a number of years. From a faculty of around 100 in its heyday, today it has a mere 35. Two of its 13 departments have no teachers at all, and for the past 17 years no faculty appointments have been made. Money that SOL collects from students as fees has apparently found its way into colossal fixed deposits that are used to pay the salaries of all staff and faculty on the rolls. Out of the money collected from students, SOL also pays Delhi University around Rs 51 crore towards the development fund, examination and enrolment fees. There is little evidence of this payment having been ploughed back into the institution or used to provide better facilities for students.
SOL functions at a small centre at the North Campus and at the Moti Bagh South Study Centre. In stark contrast to IGNOU and Anna Malai, set up much later, SOL has virtually no outreach programmes outside of Delhi. Neither has it study centres, libraries, offices or facilities worth mentioning anywhere in the national capital. Teaching is carried out in decrepit schools for one month in the year and examinations are conducted cartel-style in dilapidated institutions. Mass copying and abetting of cheating are disturbing markers during examinations.
The system of evaluating lakhs of answer scripts is best left to speculation. In the past several years, the thought of throwing open its classrooms to distance learners for writing examinations, let alone allowing access to libraries and sportsfields, has never occurred to the university administrators. If such processes had been introduced, a real meta university would have been in place.
In stark contrast to IGNOU and Anna Malai, set up much later, SOL has virtually no outreach programmes outside of Delhi. Neither has it study centres, libraries, offices or facilities worth mentioning anywhere in the national capital
In the past few years, internal assessment and semesterization became part of Delhi University’s undergraduate and post-graduate programmes. These were denied to SOL, thereby creating an unfavourable hierarchy and further devaluing distance education. And, now, SOL has been left out of the FYUP loop.
For all purposes, FYUP is not a system promoting inclusiveness, value for money, empowerment or specialization. It is poised to sound the death knell for SOL as directives pertaining to distance education very clearly state that the parity of teaching and learning between regular courses in colleges and correspondence courses in dual mode universities needs to be maintained. The folding up of SOL, the last bastion of Delhi University, after decades of sustained neglect, will ensure that no trace of the university’s remarkable academic traditions will be available for posterity.
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