Millennium Post


For last few months, the detractors of Four-Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) have left no stone unturned to pooh-pooh it on various forums and the social media seems to be the most active one. On 15 January this year, there was news in a national daily on how some students and teachers of Delhi University had joined a protest about the unfulfilled promises of FYUP and that it was introduced in a hurry. Again in April, a leading newspaper reported that both left and right political parties are planning to rollback FYUP, if they come to power. 

All these reports have been creating ripples in the academic circles, though more in exasperation than in anticipation. One is shocked at the level of negativity that has been built around this programme, though the inherent strength of it would surely set a new benchmark for higher education in this country.

As a member of the Academic Council of Delhi University, one has had the privilege of participating in the deliberations of it that passed the FYUP. It started with a little awe, a lot of excitement and some reservations when it was introduced as part of the academic curriculum from July 2013. 

Despite approval from the highest statutory bodies of Delhi University, there were protesting voices from certain quarters, driven more by the unstated political desire to block it rather than emanating from actual understanding of it. The criticism was primarily based on two things; firstly, the structure part of it i.e. whether FYUP was sustainable in Delhi University where students with diverse backgrounds take admission and secondly, the hurry with which it was introduced.

In fact, it was made abundantly clear, time and again, by none other than the vice-chancellor of Delhi University himself, both within Academic Council and outside, that he wanted the programme to be introduced from the academic year 2013-2014 itself as it would allow the whole thing to settle down and leave some scope for review or revision before his tenure ended. It was not hurry but only a logical desire to see a landmark programme through within a time frame. 

It was also emphasised that in today’s globalised world, a student was virtually cocooned in one’s own discipline whereas the world expected one to be more competitive and comprehensive, transcending the barriers of various disciplines. As a member, one would vouch for the fact that it was discussed threadbare in the Academic Council and most members agreed that the content was highly progressive, forward looking and in sync with contemporary times. The course content was discussed, debated and passed first by the course committees at the level of various departments, then reviewed by a sub-committee of Academic Council and then presented, debated, and finally passed in the full-house of Academic Council last year.

For the first time in the history of higher education in independent India, a student has been offered two more subjects in discipline II apart from one’s main subject in discipline I in which one can do post-graduation provided a student takes all the six papers in discipline II of one subject. This gives the student tremendous scope to diversify at the level of post-graduation, if the need be. Besides, for the first time in the history of higher education in independent India, the Father of nation Mahatma Gandhi is overlooking the entire course content in various ways. 

Firstly, a foundation course like Integrated Mind, Body and Heart (IMBH) provides a student the necessary boost not only in terms of one’s physical growth but also one’s blossoming out as an individual with high moral standards, if only one is kept out of politics overshadowing it. The moral content of this course is superlative and completely in sync with the Gandhian ideals. Secondly, if one reads ‘Gandhi’s ‘Autobiography’, there are many references to his craving for general reading to become a good speaker. He was advised by his British friend in England to do a lot of general reading when Gandhi expressed his desire to become a fiery speaker like Phirozshah Mehta. 

Gandhi advises his readers to have as much of reading as possible to become confident and connect with the world, even if some of this reading might include reading of religious scriptures. Gandhi always believed that knowledge should come from all open windows like fresh air and if one looks at the course curriculum of various disciplines in the foundation course, this sentiment clearly pops-up quite frequently. It not only provides a student ample opportunity to acquire something from various branches of knowledge, but also sensitises one to the various challenges of the contemporary world, be it political, social, scientific or economic etc. 

Thirdly, it must be known to everyone that Gandhi very firmly believed in ‘learning by doing’ i.e. a student in the Indian context must learn through ‘hands-on’ approach to be self-reliant and be trained to cater to one’s economic needs rather than pursuing an education that remained only theoretical. It was this very sentiment that was clearly reflected in Late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s vision document on education in 1985 as well. Needless to say, in a developing country like ours, it is need of the hour that the entire  educational system and the training based on it must cater to the growing needs of the society to become largely self-reliant and productive. 

Is it wrong to follow this spirit under the FYUP and give students ample opportunity to learn through ‘hands-on’ experience of their projects? As a matter of fact, the students have been offered a large number of projects to choose from under every discipline in the foundation course that are basically indicative rather than prescriptive in nature. It implies that the questions in the final examination need not be based only on the syllabus prescribed but may require the students to write on any theme similar in nature. 

There is no doubt whatsoever that a student from science or commerce would have tremendous opportunity to learn something from the social sciences and vice versa in the eleven foundation course papers, howsoever limited it might be. It is actually a wonderful platform for a student to get acquainted with the basics of various branches of knowledge at an early stage of one’s career rather than being thrown straightaway in the competitive world after one’s graduation. 

The assessment part of it would be done by the teachers more as a facilitator who would mark them on their reading and understanding, presentation and communication abilities. Further, premium is put on the team work in the project which encourages camaraderie among the students through interaction and participation with one’s peer-group. For the first time, NSS, NCC and sports would be part of the course curriculum from the third semester. 

Would it not be a great boost for improvement of sporting standards in our country which has woefully suffered on this front all these years? Further, a programme like ‘Antardhwani’ organised by the University actually showcases the achievements and accomplishments of a college in all its facets. One must also know that the University sponsors and organizes a ‘Gyanodaya Express’, teaming up with Indian railways that takes the students under FYUP along with some of their teachers  for an all-India tour which familiarizes them to different cultures, people and heritage of our country. Another highlight of FYUP is the concept of ‘Innovation Projects’.  

It brings knowledge, innovation and technology in an interface with each other and is expected to yield rich dividends to the community, society and the country in times to come. The vice-chancellor is on record to have said that his main aim was to bring benefits of education for the broader use of the society rather than keeping it locked in laboratories and libraries.  It must be understood that the primary duty of a university is to give direction to society and to channelise the energies of youth for productive and creative purposes. There were more than two hundred awards for ‘Innovation Projects’ this year and the response to it by both the students and teachers was extremely overwhelming.  

It would be reasonable to assume that the entire programme and the spirit behind it must be understood with wisdom and patience rather than chest-beating and thumping without much substance and sense. At this juncture, Delhi University is straightaway leading from the front in the field of higher education and the momentum must not be broken by vested interests, howsoever mighty they might be.

The author is Associate Professor in History, Delhi University and also Member of Academic Council

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