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Winds of change at Delhi University

Vijetha S.N
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IT all started here:A view of the grand Viceregal Lodge at Delhi University which was thrown open to students through an internship programme.Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
IT all started here:A view of the grand Viceregal Lodge at Delhi University which was thrown open to students through an internship programme.Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

On the first day of the new academic year this past July, teachers of a college on the outskirts of the Capital were slowly gearing up to face their new students when suddenly they received what could be the worst jolt of their careers – a surprise visit by Delhi University Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh with the entire University administration in tow.

Time-tables were not ready, classrooms were dirty, half the teachers did not seem to realise that the summer break was actually over and even their staff room clock didn’t work. Nothing like this had ever happened before, at least before the change of guard at the university’s highest office – that of the Vice-Chancellor.

Surprise visits are just some of the changes sweeping the university since the former South Campus director and mathematics professor took over the reins.

At that time, the university was in the middle of converting its under-graduate annual system into the semester mode, hugely unpopular with the substantial Left-leaning teaching fraternity. “The science streams had already come under the semester scheme and it took about a year to effectuate change for the remaining streams,” says Prof. Singh, whose ambitious plans for the university were only beginning to take shape.

Since then “reforms” have become a norm in the university. Admission procedures have been overhauled, new courses introduced and innovation centres built. There have been memoranda of understanding with foreign and other Indian universities and collaborations with government agencies. There have been week-long international conferences with Nobel laureates participating and public “Durbars” with Prof. Singh and his staff. The most ambitious project yet is conversion of the three-year under-graduate course into a four-year course, come June.

It all started with the oldest building in the university, the historic Viceregal Lodge, the abode of the President before the Rashtrapati Bhavan came into existence. The white mansion was thrown open to students through an internship programme and Prof. Singh announced that it would soon host a song and light show. Heritage walks through the historic Ridge area, the Flag Staff and Munity Memorial were also announced and an MoU with the Archaeological Survey of India that transfers upkeep and public exposure of the monuments over to Delhi University finalised.

After history, it was mathematics’ turn. A cluster innovation centre was built in the university with “innovation in mathematics” as its main objective. The cluster centre was to serve the ambitious “meta-university” concept with students being empowered to choose courses from other universities and eventually get a joint degree.

An admission overhaul soon followed where all admissions to under-graduate courses were again centralised. This past June, students had to apply directly to the university and mark out their choices of colleges. Then the cut-offs for each college was released, after which students meeting the cut-off in any of the colleges were eligible to be compulsorily admitted in the college of their choice.

The “reforms”, however, did not stop at the university gates. The “Gyanodaya Express” was another grand idea of the Vice-Chancellor. A train was hired by the university to carry about 1,000 NSS and NCC cadets to about five cities over 12 days. The idea was to provide a first-hand experience to their classroom lessons on the history of the nation, the geology of its landscape and the customs of its people. To be sure, a train journey in India is an education in itself.

All this time, the university did not have a journal of its own so another first followed in October – the university was to publish its own free-access, online journals by roping in distinguished academicians from across the globe to serve on the editorial board.

According to Prof. Singh, “research” was what distinguished the good from the bad when it came to university education and therefore an MoU with the Defence Research and Development Organisation was signed. Scientific projects as well as exchange of know-how between DRDO scientists and the faculty would take place with the cluster innovation centre as the chosen spot.

The Examination Department, by far the most complained about department, was severely in need of an overhaul, and Prof. Singh obliged. Deans were replaced several times and professors had to mark the papers publicly in “correction centres” with supervisors. Each paper had to be “shared” by two or three professors. Revaluation was also done away with.

Other reforms included the public lecture series under the National Knowledge Network in which the university organised a public lecture series and connected live with over 500 universities. Soon to be effectuated reforms include a “college on wheels” where one term a year would take place inside a moving train, and decentralisation of SC/ST admissions.

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