DU: Why teachers are fighting the four-year degree programme

Come July 2013, Delhi University will become India's first university to offer US-style four-year degree to students. The ambitious experiment, seen as part of the big push for reforms by Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh, has become controversial amid allegations of being pushed through with haste and without public debate.

A 'Save Delhi University' campaign, launched earlier this month, has started a signature campaign seeking the Prime Minister's intervention to stop the move and is mobilising public opinion against what the campaigners say is "against the interest of students." Read full report here.

 DU: Why teachers are fighting the four-year degree programme

Students at Delhi University. AFP

With only two-and-a-half months to go before the new academic session begins, the race by departments to prepare the new syllabus for the four-year programme is on, amid reports of lack of consensus and coordination on the way forward.

"Without any kind of discussion in the departments or faculties or committees of courses - which are bodies that are set up under the statute for discussion on courses - the Vice-Chancellor took the four-year degree proposal to the Academic Council. The task force that came up with the proposal is not a statutory body. Despite the dean of social sciences and the head of the Economics department seeking time to discuss the proposal within their departments, the proposal was passed on the same day that it was introduced," says Nandita Narain, associate professor at St Stephen's college, Delhi University, a vocal critic who is at the forefront of the campaign against the four-year degree programme.

While its proponents have said the new programme will be oriented to meet corporate India's needs and geared towards getting jobs, the opponents have hit out at not enough thought being given to the transformation and absence of a public debate before fundamentally changing the nature of Delhi University (DU).

By introducing a policy of the exit after two and three years, and making foundation courses compulsory, critics say, the new system will hamper the academic growth of students.

Talking about some of the specific problems with the four year degree programme, Narain says, "More than one-fourth of the 42 credit courses (of the 50, eight are non-credit courses) are compulsory foundation courses - English, Mathematics, History, Geography and so on. If you make these compulsory, then even those who gave up Mathematics, for instance, in Class X will be forced to do them. And that means the level will have to be very low. It is these foundation courses that are making the fourth year necessary."

(The eleven compulsory foundation courses are English, Hindi or English Literature, History, Mathematics, Science, Geography, Information Technology, Environment, Governance and Psychology and Business. See structure of the four year undergraduate programme here)

Watch this video on 'Why students oppose Delhi University's 4-year course'

But members of the 61-member task force on academic reforms that came up with the four-year degree proposal, say it is the foundation courses that are the strength of the new four-year degree.

Says Anurag Mishra, associate professor at the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College, Delhi University, and member of the task force, "We, in the task force, believe that certain foundations courses should be introduced as part of the ongoing reform process so that students become more aware about their responsibilities as citizens, about their culture and environment and about the historical and political background of the country. We believe that a student should know all this whether he is from the science or commerce or humanities stream. To accomplish this, an additional year was introduced."

Mishra adds that the proposal for foundation courses was made in consultation with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). "This whole process was done in consultation with the CBSE. There was an Academic Congress in August 2012 organised by the university in which the CBSE chairman was invited and he gave us suggestions."

Those opposed to the new format say the four-year programme is a dilution the DU Honours course which is seen as the university's USP.

Says Narain, "That the main discipline in the Honours course, which is now called Discipline 1, occupies less than 50 percent of the total course content. That is, 20 papers out of 42. But the basic understanding of an Honours course we've had until now in DU was that while there are allied courses, they don't count for more than 30 percent of total. The major emphasis is on the Honours course and that was the USP of DU. We have strong Honours courses because of which we've had students with high research potential. Our best students when they went abroad were really at the top. The four-year programme is a great dilution in the Honours course."

However, refuting the claim Mishra argues that while the current three-year Honours has 16-17 core papers, the four year Honours will have 20 core papers and four application papers.

Another aspect of the four-year degree programme that is controversial is the multiple exit option that allows students to exit after two years (with an Associate Baccalaureate) and three years (with a Baccalaureate).

On completion of four years, the student gets a 'Baccalaureate with Honours'.

While critics have called the multiple exit option tantamount to "institutionalising" dropping out, the task force members says the exit option will increase 'employability' of students.

Making the point on how it will encourage students drop out, Narain says, "We feel the exit policy is dangerous because it institutionalises drop outs. And there are always threats of drop out from students coming from weaker backgrounds, Hindi medium and governments schools. There is always pressure on them to start earning. We want to encourage them to finish their degree and earn at a much higher level. The exit policy will encourage vulnerable sections to drop out."

Contesting such a possibility, Mishra points at DU's already high drop-out rate (according to the Vice-Chancellor it is about 30-40 percent) which he says is a poor commentary on the current system.

Echoing the Vice-Chancellor's recent sweeping remark that not a single DU student met industry standards (read full report here.) Mishra says, "The students would now have three exit points. First after two years, he gets an associate baccalaureate which is equivalent to a Diploma in Elementary Teacher Education (DIET).

"In Delhi and around, there are lot of shops that give degrees and diplomas offering DIET programmes. If we want to stop this, we will have to start the same kind of programme in our university. And since the academic level of a student coming out of DU would be far better we will be contributing to society in a more meaningful manner. For these students, their employability will go up."

Contesting the claim, Narain says, "They are saying that after two years, students can go out and become a teacher. But the Education Department has given a resolution against this. All education commissions have said that four-five years training after school is necessary to become a teacher. You cannot be qualified to be a teacher before that. This way, you will have a whole lot of under-qualified teachers."

The next exit point, after three years, Mishra says, is suitable for students wanting to go for the civil services or CA.

And those wanting to go for higher studies can complete four years and get a honours degree, he adds.

"Because of flexibility and more exposure, the employability of students go up. And the student becomes more suitable for industry. We have introduced a special concept of application courses. Currently, there is a wide gap between what the student gets from this university and what the industry wants. If this gap can be bridged, that will be more beneficial for the student," says Mishra.

Conflicts with the structure apart, how sure is the task force that students want a four-year degree. And is there a danger of doing this in isolation, with only DU opting for the US model.

"Students were demanding this. There are thousands of Indian students who want to go abroad. They will be benefited," says Mishra.

Mishra says he does not forsee any problems with other universities recognising a three-year DU Baccalaureate. "After three years, the student will get a full-fledged baccalaureate degree. That will be fully recognised as three-year degree by other universities. I don't see any problem in not getting that recognition."

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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2013 00:11:22 IST