Good programme, gone awry
The last has been heard on the reforms which have been initiated in higher education amidst much controversy over the introduction of the four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) by the Delhi University and now its proposed withdrawal under the directions from the University Grants Commission (UGC). The battle-lines in Delhi University are firmly drawn on the matter but most surprisingly ideological adversaries like the right-wing National Democratic Teachers Front (NDTF) and the Marxists under the banner of Democratic Teachers Front (DTF) have come together to fight the introduction of the programme.
The opposition to the FYUP cannot be merely criticised for having brought together diverse political groups together on the campus. May be it’s a reflection on the poor handling of the issue by the current university management which failed to take any of the political groups along while pursuing the agenda of change. There is truth in the fact that changes are not easily brought and at times strong arm tactics has to be used. But using strong-arm alone could also prove to be counter-productive as the current case of Delhi University shows.
The university, on the other hand, claims that it has gone through the complete consultation process starting from college staff councils, departmental councils, academic council and executive council before introducing change. This may sound very democratic but the truth is that in these various councils there is almost no scope for a view differing from that of the university management to get hearing forget approval. The present vice-chancellor too followed the tradition of his predecessors but where the current incumbent Professor Dinesh Singh, an internationally acclaimed mathematician, faltered was in failure to initiate Track II diplomacy. His failure to engage the Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) even in a perfunctory manner has been his big undoing.
For the success of his initiative the Vice-Chancellor should have realised that when a political party like the BJP, amidst the cacophony of price rise and power shortage, chose to include the issue of the roll back of the FYUP in its manifesto released at the eve of both the assembly polls and the parliament elections, there was need for wider consultation. The university management needed to look beyond its official consultation structure and convince all the stakeholders to back its initiative.
The other major failing of the vice-chancellor has been the composition of his team. I recall Professor Deepak Nayyar, one of the more successful vice-chancellors of the hoary university, too having broken the status quo with impunity. But he was very careful in the selection of his team members which had luminaries like Professor CR Babu, Kiran Datar and Professor Deepak Pental, all academic giants in their own right. They could stand up to the Vice-Chancellor and have their opinion counted. The same cannot be said about the team which Professor Dinesh Singh leads.
Without going into the inanities of the FYUP violating 10+2+3 system of education as decided by the Parliament, I personally would back its course content. FYUP took the first concrete step towards bringing value education to the classrooms. Howsoever we may debate on the television or in the newspaper columns, values can be best imbibed inside a classroom, which the foundation course, compulsory for all the students of the course, whichever stream they may belong to, proposed to do.
Unfortunately the first casualty of the rollback of the FYUP programme would be the foundation course, which had a paper on Indian History and Culture with a sub-theme on Mahatma Gandhi. It proposed to present Gandhi as an inspiration for the young generation. Can there be a more agreeable proposition than making reading of Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth compulsory for the students. To my understanding, in this time and era, knowing Gandhi is the best way to find many of our social inequalities and distortions.
Similarly there was a paper on ‘Social Inequality and Gender’. This paper attempted to inculcate a feeling of respect towards women talking about their contributions and suffering, their struggles and success and so on. Faced with biggest ever challenges regarding the safety of women, would teaching of this paper not prepare young minds to counter perversity which has entered our society using every possible mean including mobile pornography.
The paper on ‘Cultural Forms and Cultural Expressions’ if implemented in the true spirit of its content would have brought a student closer to the culture of Delhi of the yore, which was definitely not about rape and crime. It ordained doing projects on topics like ‘Concept of Haat Bazar’ in historical times linking it to Dilli Haat, compare and contrast Chandni Chowk with Rajpath and how did medieval and modern cities address the issue of water or transport and many more.
Having given both sides of argument in the favour and against the FYUP, I find myself in a dilemma whether to support the Vice-Chancellor or the University Grants Commission. I must confess I am an admirer of the foundation courses but I have my reservation about the way university management decided to not engage the stakeholders in decision making. I approve of the initiative of Professor Dinesh Singh to end the Marxist stranglehold over higher education but I disapprove of the authoritarian non-consultative mechanism adopted by the university.
It’s time for eminent Delhi University alumni, which includes Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to turn the current crisis into an opportunity to introduce real time reforms in higher education which has for long been held hostage either to Marxist dialecticism or whims and fancies of Congress poster boys Kapil Sibal and Sam Pitroda.
The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post