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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Delhi University: Bursting at the seams

Since 2008, DU has been adding to the number of seats it offers, even as teaching capacity and infrastructure have failed to keep pace. With cut-offs breaking previous records, the way ahead requires bolstering other universities, and a proactive approach from Centre and state

Written by Aranya Shankar , Sukrita Baruah | New Delhi |
Updated: October 3, 2021 12:37:08 pm
Delhi University released its first cutoff list on Friday. (Express Photo: Praveen Khanna)

With cut-offs reaching 100% for multiple programmes and above 99% in more than 90 programmes, the story across Delhi University colleges is of an ever increasing number of applicants receiving high grades from their school education boards vying for a limited number of seats.

The question, then, is can Delhi University — the most sought-after undergraduate university in the country — increase its capacity to reduce competition and consequently the pressure on applicants?

To be sure, the university’s seats have expanded considerably since 2008. At that time, to be able to implement the OBC reservation, DU had increased seats by 54%. But since infrastructure has largely remained the same, this has, over the past decade, led to many colleges functioning with makeshift arrangements such as using porta-cabins and bamboo rooms as classrooms and partitions in rooms to accommodate multiple classes.

While colleges were already stretched to capacity, seats were increased from 56,000 by 10% in 2019 and by 15% in 2020 to accommodate the new 10% EWS reservation. As a result, this year, around 70,000 undergraduate seats are open for admissions.

Former DU Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental, under whose tenure the OBC expansion began, says increasing seats further is not an option.

“When the OBC reservation took place, the number of seats was increased but I think there’s a limit to how much you can increase the seats. I don’t know what the ratios abroad in the best universities are, but here that limit seems to have been reached. In DU, even evening colleges were converted to full-time day colleges without adequate infrastructure. Adding more seats is not a good idea, since the size of the classroom is up to the brim. They were made for holding a certain number of students; how many more can you insert into those?” he said.

Pental said the focus has to shift to new universities such as Ambedkar University Delhi. “Maybe they can create a South Campus, and increase more seats since they are a new university,” he said.

His successor, former V-C Dinesh Singh, agreed that the focus needs to shift to other “good universities”. He said, however, that the main issue was the quality of educational institutes in the country.

“DU is not a black hole where you can put as many seats as you like. There’s a far deeper issue at work. If there were good institutions in other parts of the country, why would everyone want to study at Delhi University? Things will change if we put a little more effort in this direction,” he said.

“All colleges are working at full capacity. To increase seats you need more faculty, you need better infrastructure. An average college teacher at DU is comparable to an average college teacher at Bombay University or Calcutta University. So why create this mad rush for DU? You can’t have all of India studying at DU,” he said.

Singh said other good institutes in Delhi were not being considered — like Ambedkar University Delhi, and some private universities, “There is a herd mentality when it comes to DU… I think and pray that the National Education Policy, if implemented correctly with patience and determination, may help bring about the right decisions,” he said.

Delhi University Teachers’ Association treasurer Abha Dev Habib said that while seats in existing colleges cannot be increased, more colleges could have been opened.

“We need labs accordingly if students increase… More colleges can open under DU, but we saw that despite making promises to this effect, the Delhi government has still not opened any new colleges. Nor has the central government. And the NEP now talks of autonomous colleges and de-affiliation from the university, so that is also not a possibility,” she said.

On the question of increasing the number of colleges, Aryabhatta College principal Manoj Sinha, who has been part of Delhi University for three decades, said there have been two major phases of growth in the university.

“The first period was in the 1960s when Vijay Kumar Malhotra was the Chief Executive Council of Delhi’s Metropolitan Council. Several colleges such as Rajdhani College, Bhagat Singh College and Shyama Prasad Mukherji College came up during that time. The second major period of expansion was in the 1990s during the Sahib Singh Verma government. The Delhi government of the time planned a massive expansion based on ground-level demands in Delhi, and several colleges in further off parts of Delhi such as Bhagini Nivedita College, Aditi Mahavidyala, Maharaja Agrasen College and Bhim Rao Ambedkar College were set up,” he said.

He said that since then, no “substantial expansion” in the number of institutes in the university has taken place, except that during Dinesh Singh’s tenure as Vice-Chancellor, some evening colleges were converted to independent colleges in an attempt to augment capacity, which also led to Ram Lal College (Evening) being converted to Aryabhatta College.

“There has been a lack of financing from both the Centre and the Delhi government to expand in this way, and in fact there has been a tendency in the Delhi government to take away institutes from the University. But there should not be so much pressure on DU to expand when the outcome will be that quality will be compromised. Alternate options need to be developed, other institutes need to be run well in their areas of expertise,” he said.

Even as a record high number of 100 percenters compete for seats in the university this year, colleges are yet to feel the full impact of the latest phase of expansion which took place in 2020.

“The university’s capacity has almost doubled in a little over 10 years. Even now maybe some expansion can be done, but not a huge one. But no expansion can be done in a year. For this, ideally, the central government should express an intent to expand and invite proposals on how to go about this from colleges, giving them a few months to draw this up and then it can take place over 2-3 years. It can’t be done as the expansion for EWS reservation has been done, forced on with no increase in infrastructure. We haven’t even felt the full impact of this expansion yet since it took place last year and students have not been to their colleges because of the pandemic,” said Naveen Gaur, teacher at Dyal Singh College and a member of the University’s Academic Council.

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