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Campus fiasco

Publication Date : 18-07-2014


Do you remember FYUP? It is the fancy acronym for “four-year undergraduate programme “. Here is a brief history. This term came into usage in January 2012 when Delhi University Vice-Chancellor, Dinesh Singh, shared FYUP plans with the media and insisted that it would be introduced from the academic year of 2013. The idea, of course, was to extend the duration of bachelor study at his university from three to four years.

In September 2012, Dinesh Singh unexpectedly invited some experts to speak on FYUP at an academic congress. Based on these presentations, a programme was suggested and passed off as consultation on FYUP. In December 2012, an emergency academic council meeting was called whose agenda was available barely two days before it was held.

The academic council hurriedly approved the plan for introducing the FYUP.  This was quickly followed by the Executive Council passing necessary resolutions with some against votes. From January 2013 Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) started protests against the move.

In April 2013 the then Minister of State Shashi Tharoor told Parliament that Delhi University was all set to start the FYUP. The programme started in July 2013 amidst confusion, including exit points for students to leave after two years, three years and on completion after four years. The farce had just begun!

At that juncture, with my lifelong experience of university systems in India, United States and Europe, I could figure out only two possible reasons for this move. Both were intended to cater to the wealthy of our country. The first was to facilitate smooth transition of our students to graduate schools in the United States without the need of an additional “bridging year” to conform to the US system of four-year undergraduate programme.

The other was to use the FYUP at Delhi University as a propaganda mechanism for attracting students of wealthy parents to four-year undergraduate programme of US universities as they set up shops in India.

St. Stephens College, the main beneficiary of this ploy, supported this move the most. The HRD Minister in the UPA government, Kapil Sibal, was an enthusiastic supporter. UGC was pressured to approve this move. Ironically, Kapil Sibal, Shashi Tharoor and Dinesh Singh are all ex-Stephanians.

Supporters of the FYUP could not reveal the real reasons behind this unilateral move of Delhi University. This would not fit well with the propaganda of “inclusive growth”. Novel arguments needed to be fabricated to provide some appearance of decency. We were told that our school education is too bookish, based on cramming and spoon-feeding by private tutors, and is not congenial to developing critical faculties.

One extra year was needed to fill up this gap in our school education. Some haphazard foundational courses were hastily put together for this purpose. Another argument was to allow students more time to choose their “majors”. This would help them avoid wrong choices. Deviation from the national norm was justified under the argument of the “university autonomy”.

Student unions from the Left, as well as from the Right (BJP affiliated) protested vehemently against this move. This is obvious, as a dramatic restructuring of the curricula that only catered to the wealthy was shoved down their throats by the university authorities. UGC, a supposedly autonomous body, complied meekly with the whims of the rich and the powerful, under pressure from the government.

The only dissenting voice, Yogendra Yadav, was summarily fired for his opposition to the move. To the credit of the BJP, they stated categorically in their election manifesto that they would roll back the FYUP to the traditional one if they were to grab power in Delhi. The aspirational middle class cannot all afford the extra year of study for the benefit of smooth transition to the graduate programme of US universities. Their votes, after all, count in an election!

I do not know of any country where the duration of study for obtaining a university bachelor degree varies from one university to the other. All over the United States, the 12+4 system is followed for obtaining a bachelor degree at all universities and colleges. In Europe, each country had its own system that was uniform throughout that country, but did vary from one country to the other.

One major achievement of the European Union was to bring one uniform system of university education throughout the Union as part of the Bologna Accord. It was reached in 1988 by the Rectors of European Union universities in Bologna, where they were celebrating 900 years since the establishment of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe. Education Ministers of 29 European countries duly signed the Bologna Declaration in 1999.

With the introduction of FYUP at Delhi University, we made a novel move in the other direction. The motive was to align the programme of one major university in India with that of a different country, a move with no parallel in the history of modern universities of any nation.

Going back to the Bologna Accord, EU countries decided to award two types of bachelor degrees; one obtained in a university and the other in what I like to call “higher polytechnics/professional colleges”. They together comprise the higher education segment in all EU countries and are followed by about 40 per cent of all students leaving the high school.

Universities follow 8+4+3 and higher polytechnics/professional colleges follow 8+3+3 years of successful schooling to grant a bachelor degree. Thus all European universities require the same number of years for a student to obtain the bachelor degree as in India. Why then should we try to mimic the US system?

There is very good reason for four-year undergraduate programme in US universities. United States pioneered publicly funded school education system in the West and made big strides in reducing illiteracy among the whole population.

The country also had to devise a mechanism to integrate a constant stream of immigrant youth with diverse levels of schooling and language background into the school system. The result was unique, with schools stressing character-building, physical fitness, competitive sports and social acceptability.

Students learnt to be comfortable with their individuality and confident of their abilities. Traditional academic learning took historically a back seat in US schools against other competing trainings. An average university freshman in the US has far less traditional knowledge than his/her counterpart in Europe or in India. By contrast, students in the US are more innovative and risk-taking when they join the university than in other countries.

They need an extra year to fill up their gap in classical learning in high school. If our students do not develop critical abilities in school, we cannot fill the gap by extending our university education by one more year. Firstly, this is a luxury a poor country like India cannot afford. Secondly, it is futile to try this at that late stage. It can only be inculcated during formative years of a student in high school.

With the BJP in power in Delhi with absolute majority in Parliament, the UGC sent a directive to Delhi University to abandon the FYUP immediately and revert  to the standard three-year system from the academic year of 2014. The directive that was issued by the UGC comprised essentially the same team that permitted Delhi University to switch over to the FYUP just a year back.

The HRD Ministry must have encouraged UGC to make this volte-face, although our new HRD Minister denied putting any such pressure. UGC actually threatened Delhi University with dire consequences if they did not oblige. After some dilly-dallying, Delhi University was forced to roll back to the three-year programme.  This was a harrowing experience for the incoming students. Those who started the FYUP last year are still in a limbo.

Some top associates of the Vice Chancellor seem to have changed sides. Rumours were spread about the Vice Chancellor’s impending resignation, a very logical step indeed, to be later denied by the Vice Chancellor’s office. Now that our top educationists have been exposed in this sordid tale, no section of our social elites has been left untouched by unprincipled actions. The aam aadmi has no one left to look up to anymore!

(The writer is former Dean and Emeritus Professor of Applied Mathematics, University of Twente, The Netherlands)


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