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Teaching grammar of anarchy

Teaching grammar of anarchy
Underlying the present controversy over the Four Year Undergraduate Programme in Delhi University is divergent perception about policy making. Who makes policy, and for whom? A section of teachers believes that they have an important role in making education policy which should first meet their interests. Another view is that policies should be made by experts with larger social interest in mind. Industrial policy is not made by workers, nor is it made for their interests only.

The FYUP was duly approved after prolonged consultations by the Academic Council and the Executive Council which are empowered under the Delhi University Act to take decisions on structure and content of courses of study. Subsequently it was approved by the Delhi University Court which is the apex authority in the University of Delhi. Dissenting opinions had been expressed during the process of consultations and discussions in the Academic Council and the Executive Council.

Eventually, both the authorities approved the FYUP with an overwhelming endorsement by more than 90 per cent of their respective members. Subsequently, petitions against the FYUP were submitted to the President also, who is the Visitor of the university and has authority to overrule the Councils and the Court. The President did not deem it necessary or proper to intervene and the FYUP was put in operation from end July 2013.

These two authorities, Academic Council and the executive Council, consist of more than one hundred distinguished academicians, who are Deans of Faculty, Heads of Department, and Principals in the University of Delhi. It is because of such outstanding scholars and academicians that DU is the best university in India. They can be expected and trusted to take decisions in the best interests of students. All previous courses of study and structures of degree programmes for past ninety-two years in the University of Delhi have been approved in the same way by the same authorities. The decision to introduce FYUP was therefore perfectly legal and rational in every manner.

Differences of opinion have always existed and will continue to exist over almost any issue under the sun. That has not and should not prevent statutory authorities from taking decisions with best of their knowledge and intentions. Once a decision has been taken after due deliberation by an authorised institution, it must be allowed to be implemented before making an assessment of its success. The FYUP has inbuilt provisions for open and periodic review and assessment, and it allows for necessary changes to make it better serve the purposes for which it was introduced.  Discussion on the FYUP should not be misused to bring down the structure itself under the weight of populism. As Mahatma Gandhi put it so aptly, ‘I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides... But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any’. There are three major advantages of the FYUP over the three year programme. Firstly, it rejects the rigid compartmentalisation of subjects and introduces inter-disciplinary studies in the undergraduate programme. Secondly, it introduces practical skills and project based learning in all the courses of study across all disciplines. Finally, it adds undergraduate research projects as an essential component of college education. Thus, FYUP is a composite programme that builds the comprehension, analytical, and problem-solving capabilities of the students systematically over the four years of study. Four Year Undergraduate Programme has been followed by the engineering and medical colleges in India and abroad since long, and has also been introduced in liberal arts colleges in recent years.

The three year undergraduate programmed had outlived its utility for the youth and the nation long back. Surveys by various agencies, like NASSCOM-Mckinsey Report, had shown, as far back as 2005, that just about 25 per cent of the engineering graduates of Indian universities were employable, for non-engineering graduates employability  was just 10 per cent. The higher education structure and content had lost touch with the fast changing national and global economy. This widening gulf between our educational system and the real life situations was reflected in the rising absenteeism amongst the students and teachers, which averaged almost 30 per cent in government funded universities.

Students were being awarded degrees by the colleges in India without imparting them adequate skills to work efficiently in the manufacturing or service sectors. Information age had not dawned in the colleges of even Delhi University till 2013 as very few students and teachers were skilled in using the web to acquire information. It was only under the FYUP that more than 50,000 laptops and broadband connectivity were provided to all the colleges to make global information sources easily accessible to the students and teachers. It has been possible only under the FYUP to take thousands of students to various parts of the country to relate their college education with the reality of everyday life of the people of India.

The campaign in some sections of the media, and on the streets, for roll back of FYUP within a year of its implementation is an invitation to subversion of the system and will lead to chaos and disorder. If decision making function is taken away from designated institutions it will amount to the disintegration of the university system and uncertainty in the lives of thousands of students. Education policy is too important to be left to teachers and students unions. Which students union has ever supported rigorous study and examination system, and which teachers union has ever supported stringent performance based evaluation or even attendance of the college and university teachers?

Constitutionalism and reasoned dialogue are the hallmarks of a democracy, but disruption of established procedures and norms can only lead to anarchy. B R Ambedkar also echoed the views of Mahatma Gandhi on open society when he said in the Constituent Assembly that, ‘where constitutional methods are open, there can be no justification for the unconstitutional methods. These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us’.

The author is principal,
Maharaja Agrasen College,
University of Delhi

Sunil Sondhi

Sunil Sondhi

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