In a move that smacks of arbitrariness, the University Grants Commission has told Delhi University to roll back its four-year undergraduate programme for not being in sync with the 10+2+3 format prescribed by the national education policy, and for having overlooked the fact that it had not received “visitor’s approval” from the president. This is a 180 degree switch from its arguments in the UPA years, when it said that universities had the right to choose the duration of their programmes, and that variations between universities was not a problem.
This is the latest of several attempts to obstruct DU’s far-sighted transformation, from various quarters and interest groups. India’s premier central university for liberal arts and sciences had made a creditable attempt to shift to a model more akin to the American undergraduate model, where a college entrant is allowed a broad survey of many disciplines, to understand connections between them and then choose one or two more precise areas of enquiry.
But heaving an old, settled university in a radically new direction was never going to be easy. It proved difficult to move an umbrella of colleges, with different standards, to a system where courses can be independently designed and recombined, or where credits can be transferred. There was pushback from sections of the faculty and unsure students, some of whom disagreed with the very imperative of moving to a more internationally integrated system.
The FYUP was on its way to self-correcting the problems in execution, settling into a smoother rhythm. But instead of letting the institution handle its own transition, the higher education regulator has suddenly decided to interfere, changing its own position. There have been protests about the FYUP as the new academic year begins, many of which may have inconvenienced the new HRD minister Smriti Irani.
But a new political dispensation should not mean a wholesale reconsideration of ideas that have already been agreed upon and put into practice. The UGC had not noticed or spoken of DU’s technical infractions before this. Now, in an entirely ad hoc manner, it has swooped in to undo its biggest, most forward-thinking initiative in decades. Higher education cannot be energised as long as education governance remains politically beholden and disrespectful of university autonomy.