The nation’s premier Delhi University is in a mess largely of its own making. Last year, it virtually forced a four-year undergraduate course without undertaking the necessary minimal spadework for such a revolutionary change in the country’s moribund academic system. The vice-chancellor and his bosses in the HRD Ministry seemed to have got into their heads that another year in broad-basing learning at the under-grad level would prepare the mass of students better for the job markets. Maybe there was some merit in that line of thinking. But such a momentous change ought to have been fully thought through before its precipitate introduction. It was virtually rammed through various decision-making bodies of the university without whose pro forma approval it could not be approved. Even at that stage, there were vociferous protests from the stakeholders, including students, teachers and even parents, who would now be called upon to pay for yet another year for their children to acquire the all-important degrees, without which they could not expect to join the job market. How a four-year undergrad course in Delhi University would square with a three-year course in the rest of the country was never fully explained. There were questions about the course syllabi as well, for these were half-baked and elementary. It was as if the three-year honours courses were being spread out in four years and a brand new element was being introduced, giving students the option to arm themselves with diplomas, rather than degrees, if they chose to leave the studies mid-way without completing the course. A vast majority of Delhi University students and teaching staff were openly against the four-year course. The HRD Minister Kapil Sibal was fully in favour. The University Grants Commission, despite strong reservations, not only fell in line, but felt obliged to offer its own approval. However, the change of guard at the centre has made the UGC sing a different tune overnight. In one fell swoop, it has scrapped the four-year course, thus throwing the ongoing process of fresh university admissions in total confusion. If the UGC was wrong last year in quietly giving in to the rough-and-ready approach of the Delhi University Vice-Chancellor to drastically transform the undergrad courses at the behest of the UPA political bosses, it was wrong now in unilaterally abrogating that change without proper consultations with the university authorities and other stakeholders. Clearly, toadyism infects all, even the so-called guardians and regulators of higher education. Of course, the question of Delhi University’s autonomy is so much hot air, since it did not come in the way of its toeing its political masters’ line last year. And it is irrelevant now insofar as the UGC has chosen to ride roughshod over its own and Delhi University’s autonomy, to please the new government.
Notably, the BJP manifesto had specifically committed the party to the scrapping of the four-year course. That the party reflected the popular opinion in the entire university community was clear from the fact that within a day of the UGC order, 57 of the 64 Delhi University colleges readily agreed to revert to the three-year format; others were expected to follow suit soon. It was not that the UGC directive was unreasonable or unpopular. No. But it should have intervened last year, when the Delhi University V-C had decided to drive a coach and four into the established, but rickety academic order, for his own peculiar reasons. Since this was only the first year of the four-year course, the resulting adjustments by and large should not prove to be insurmountable. However, the UGC and the university would have to devise a via media for students admitted in certain courses on what have now turned out to be false promises following the scrapping of the four-year format. Meanwhile, the entire brouhaha over the abrupt introduction of the four-year course ought to spur fresh thinking about the degree-churning factories that are our seats of so-called higher learning. A careful study ought to be undertaken to mesh the undergrad courses with skill-learning. Higher education, while broadening minds and imparting intellectual curiosity, should vitally prepare a vast majority of students for the job markets by imparting purposeful vocational training in various fields. Otherwise, whether it is a three-year or a four-year degree, it would remain a worthless piece of paper offering little help in preparing its holders to face life with confidence and a determination to succeed. How worthless are these degrees can be gauged from the fact that a majority of graduates fail to pass the test administered to school-leavers and even post-graduates are found inadequate for simple clerical jobs.