While some academics hail it as a move forward, others slam it as an arbitrary exercise undertaken in defiance of the laiddown norms and procedures. The Hindu brings you the debate...
“As we write this piece, the Academic Council of Delhi University has just concluded a second meeting on May 27, approving all the courses of study for the new four-year undergraduate degree to be introduced in July this year.
The above meeting was the culmination of a series of consultations with the principal stakeholders i.e. students and teachers of the university. It is important to remember that about 60,000 students are admitted to around 80 colleges of DU each year. The new structure offers every single student the opportunity to earn an Honours degree, an opportunity that was previously limited to around 20,000 students selected on the basis of their school marks. During their fourth year, Honours students will undertake research projects that will equip them for higher studies.
All will agree that we had an unequal situation where the majority of the student body was denied the opportunity to pursue an Honours degree (opening the doors to better future options). An artificial and unforgiving line, drawn in the sand, limited the future options of the vast majority of students. The new system rectifies this flaw; performance in college will be the sole criterion for an Honours degree. Honours students also benefit in the new system as they will get a more rigorous grounding in a minor subject, and use the additional year to work on research projects and papers under the close supervision of faculty members.
The new undergraduate programme is the result of extensive consultation and detailed planning. Over 2,500 faculty members worked in the designing of the new syllabi. In the Commerce department alone, 300 faculty members participated in drafting the syllabus. In the Academic Council meetings held in May 2013, the heads of most departments, that will offer the new programme, reported that a large number of teachers in each of their departments participated in this process.
The Academic Council is the highest decision-making body in academic matters. It includes all Deans and Heads of the Faculties and Departments as well as some college Principals. It also includes a large number of elected representatives of teachers. In fact, of the 78 members present in the Academic Council meeting on May 27, 2013, nearly one-third of the members present were elected representatives. This body approved the syllabus of each course with an overwhelming majority (around 90% gave their assent). A similar story played out in the Academic Council and the Executive Council meetings in December 2012, when approval was granted to the new undergraduate programme.
The process of interactions with students and teachers on a large-scale began in January 2011. A gathering of a few thousand students expressed their views to the V-C and senior faculty members on their expectations from the University. In the same month, the administration met with several hundred teachers from the colleges, and took note of their views on the system. Subsequently, in the first half of 2012, meetings were held with numerous teachers from different disciplines. This was followed by a two-day open Academic Congress in September 2012 in which more than 1,200 teachers, students and members of civil society participated. The Academic Congress recommended that the University needed a new, four-year undergraduate programme.
In October 2012, the University constituted a 61-member task force comprising several teachers, principals, professors and heads of departments. The recommendations of the task force for a four-year programme were placed before the Academic Council and the Executive Council in December 2012, and were approved with an overwhelming majority.
We note with concern that a number of articles have recently been published conveying the impression that this is a hastily-conceived programme, produced without due consultation. This is clearly not the case. On May 26, over 80 senior faculty members of University of Delhi got together to set the record straight through a press conference. This group included the best known research scientists of the University – Bhatnagar Award winners, Fellows of the Indian Academies of Science, Humboldt Fellows – as well as several members of the Delhi University Teachers Association. This group expressed its strong objection to the attempts of a handful of people to belittle and ridicule this unprecedented exercise in Delhi University. All right-minded people will surely support an academic programme that is designed to provide equal opportunities for all students. We are of the firm belief that the research output of the University will register a massive increase in a few years when thousands of our bright undergraduate students start working on projects and engage with the world around them. Our role as teachers is to open their minds and encourage them to explore.”
Kamala Sankaran, Professor of Law, and Malashri Lal, Professor of English, at Delhi University (The views expressed are personal.)