When push came to shove, even the Congress did not back Delhi University’s controversial Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP), and the varsity’s administration was left to defend on its own a decision that was, clearly, taken for it by the United Progressive Alliance Government a little over a year ago. Successive Human Resource Development Ministers from the Congress had batted for FYUP, and the University administration — with probably some conviction about its merits and the full backing of the University Grants Commission (UGC) — rammed it down on a university system ill-prepared to deal with such a major change in course structure. What took The University of Hong Kong with an undergraduate student strength of 15,000 seven years to do, Delhi University did in a few months for an annual intake of over 50,000 students at the undergraduate level. Acting as the hand-maiden of the government of the day, the UGC looked the other way as the University rushed through the switch from the decades-old three-year programme. A year later, the UGC again donned the hand-maiden-of-the-government role when a new political dispensation wanted FYUP out. So it is not just the University that has egg on its face. The UGC also has a lot to answer for, given how it arm-twisted the University to roll back FYUP for falling foul of the law. If FYUP was illegal, why the UGC released funds for it last year is a question that begs an answer.
The flip-flop over FYUP has raised questions about university autonomy, but had Delhi University gone through the necessary procedures mandated in the Delhi University Act, 1922, the government would not have been able to bulldoze it so easily. The government’s bid to scrap FYUP gained traction only when it became evident that the University had not secured the Visitor’s nod for the change. And when it went for the jugular with the UGC acting as a tool, the University administration found itself isolated as it had over the past year failed to consult all the stakeholders, address their concerns or even consider their suggestion to defer FYUP by a year. While some bitter critics of FYUP concede merits in the pro-change argument, that the University needs to make its students more employable with courses that are in line with international standards, their contention is that this cannot be done overnight without putting in place the necessary infrastructure, having enough teachers and preparing proper course content. There was a general consensus that the foundation course syllabus was sub-standard and school-level. If anything, the controversy offers a lesson to the current government which is working to the mantra of “speed” along with skill and scale. Fast-tracking decisions without taking on board multiple factors can only set the clock back.