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Friday, January 21, 2022

Hostels not possible… for theory classes, should start with 3rd-year students: DU V-C Yogesh Singh

🔴 On being asked as to what is holding DU from inviting students from all years to colleges, the V-C, in an interview with The Indian Express, said: Our situation is very different from schools. School students are local students while ours are from all states. We have to see the status of Covid in those states also…"

Written by Sukrita Baruah , Aranya Shankar | New Delhi |
Updated: December 2, 2021 2:23:20 pm
Hostels not possible... for theory classes, should start with 3rd-year students: DU V-C Yogesh SinghTalking about his personal view on the continuation of the cut-off (merit-based) system, Singh said he is "not for it". (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Yogesh Singh took charge as Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University last month in the midst of its admission season. He spoke to The Indian Express on the need to reform the admission process to create opportunities for students of all boards, the different admission options before the university, on the challenges with re-opening colleges for theory classes, implementing the NEP in the university, improving its ranking and dealing with controversy and conflict.

Given that Delhi University has set up a committee to examine admission related issues, are we looking at a change in the admission process for next year? What kind of changes do you think are necessary in this process?

There are many options available to us but we will decide based on the recommendations of the committee. The first option is continuing with the present system. The second is normalization of marks of various boards. If in one board the topper is has a 90%, and in another the topper has a 70%, we make all of them 100% and then normalize the marks of all students… This is slightly difficult to implement because we may not get accurate data from some of the boards. But it is doable. BITs used to follow this system in its early days. Another option is to go for entrance tests which can be the Central Universities Common Entrance Test or we may conduct our own test also. Another option is a mixed mode with 50% weightage to the entrance test and 50 % to class 12 marks.

Even if a mixed mode is adopted, would you be looking to implement some reforms on that 50% based on class 12 results?

An argument is that by doing this, we are reducing the problem to 50% but without normalization the problem still persists. Let’s see.

But is status quo still an option?

It is still an option but I don’t whether or not it’s a good option. Our Academic Council will meet in December 10 and they will take a call on it. But in the present system, there are issues that need to be addressed. We cannot ignore the performances of students in different boards. For example, in Uttar Pradesh board, they’re not liberal in giving marks vis-à-vis the other boards. Their students may be suffering if they want to take admission in Delhi University. They don’t have a fair chance… They are applying but not getting admission… we are dependent on the performance of the boards… The decision will be made on December 17 after the Executive Council meets so that students will get adequate time for preparation.

The Central Government is looking to expand the CUCET to all Central Universities. Is the Ministry of government in touch with DU regarding this?

Last year they could not do this due to the pandemic. Yes, this year they are working towards it. In my opinion, if our Academic and Executive Councils decide that we should go for an entrance test, CUCET is a good option.

What is holding Delhi University from inviting students of all years to return to their colleges?

Our situation is very different from schools. School students are local students while ours are from all states. We have to see the status of COVID in those states also… We have now opened for practicals, projects, PhD students, research for PG and undergraduate final year students. But now, we may open it for projects practicals and research for first year, second year and third year very soon. But the main issue is that of theory classes. It is very easy for us to open for practicals and we will do it also. But the DDMA says that 50% of the capacity is allowed. What is happening is that large number of students are admitted to the colleges. They don’t have adequate infrastructure for those students even… There is an effect of overadmission also. If a class has a capacity of 120, 60 are allowed. But against 120 seats, we are admitting 150-160 students. How to manage that? If DDMA relaxes this and allows 100%, we will immediately allow offline classes.

So are you saying that unless the 50% requirement is relaxed, calling them back is not an option?

It’s a difficult option. I have called a meeting of principals also. Then we can, say, start offline classes for third year. Then all classrooms can be used for third year only… We can do offline classes for one year only… In that case we will have adequate number of classrooms available… It’s for principals to decide which year that can be. In my opinion, since third year is important, we should start with them…

Accommodating students in hostels would also be a challenge…

We cannot accommodate them in hostels, it is not possible. A hostel room which had 4 people, can only accommodate 2 now… These are unprecedented times. Delhi is safe now and we want that to continue.

DU will be implementing the four year undergraduate from next year and there have been many questions within the university, including on the manner in which it was passed. Last time a programme like this was introduced, it had to be rolled back. How can you address the concerns about it?

Last time the issues were different and I don’t want to discuss this. This time, first of all, it is a mandate given by the National Education Policy. Secondly, after every year we have an exit option… There are many possibilities of giving options to students. But students will continue to the full four years only if they see the value in the fourth year… They will get graduation honours after the third year… For a student the structure is similar but with various options. Our job is to make it more meaningful and useful for students, having a good number of options… This is the real crux of the success…

Last time a major concern was that there was not enough thought being put into the content. And that concern still stands.

Whenever we experiment with something new, there are challenges. Here, we will frame the curriculum for the first year only. After that, next year we will frame for the second year. But we will decide the overall structure first and we are also waiting for the National Higher Education Qualification Framework which will come very soon… It should be everyone’s approach and it is my approach that it should be student centric… if it is not in the interest of students and they are not willing to take those subjects, why should we teach those… Implementation is not easy but if we do it successfully, others will also implement it.

FYUP is one aspect of NEP. Are there any other aspects that you would want to prioritize in your term? What about autonomy of institutes?

If I were not the Vice-Chancellor and you would ask me, then yes, we should give autonomy… Autonomy is good for everyone. But here, we have to see the regulations and provisions. I am told there are no provisions in the DU Act to give autonomy to any of the colleges… There are many things I’m keen on. For example, we are in the process of starting a Faculty of Technology with three departments in which students will have ample opportunity to study different minors which DU can offer because it’s a multidisciplinary university…

The NEP wants to do away with the affiliated process. What is your view on that?

In the US, every institution is a degree awarding institution. Here, in the affiliation process what happens is that one teacher teaches a course, another sets the question paper, a third evaluates that, a fourth does the tabulation and moderation, and a fifth group declares the result… It only encourages rote-learning… In the world’s best universities, all activities are performed by a teacher. If you are a teacher, you will set the papers and evaluate which makes possible a strong teacher-taught relationship. This is possible only in unitary universities. All IITs, NITs, IISC have this system. In DU also, in PG and PhD, we have this system…

Is it practical at least in DU’s case?

We should go very slowly. The government of India is also framing guidelines for this autonomy and degree awarding power… But is not an easy task…

Some colleges here had tried for autonomy…

But it didn’t happen because there is no provision in the DU Act. It’s a sensitive and tricky subject…

Absorption of ad hoc teachers and general teacher recruitment is a big issue in the university. What is your plan for addressing this?

If it is possible as per law, we will do absorption. I can’t go beyond the law. We will start recruitment very soon. For the university department, our advertisement for posts is already out. We will start interviews in the last week of December of January. For colleges, they have to give their advertisements, we have asked them to submit their rosters… Student teacher ratio also affects the university’s rank.

Besides the student: teacher ratio, what can be done to improve DU’s ranking, especially QS rankings? And how much importance do you think should be given to them?

We should give importance to international rankings. If we ignore then obsiously, it will damage the reputation of the university. We should focus on it. Why not? Like in Times Higher Education ranking, last year we were in the bracket of 600-800, this year we are in the bracket of 800-1000. To nuksaan ho gaya… There are three four things on which we have to focus. First is the student: teacher ratio. Second is the quality of research in the institution and the impact of that research. Quality of research means we should publish papers in high impact quality journals. People should use our research, which we call citations…These two things are third party assessment. We have no control. If we publish good papers in good journals and they are some of use then people will refer to that and citations will improve. In these two aspects we have to focus. Third is consultancy which we practically don’t have in DU; there are only a few cases… For example, in Civil Engineering, there is a third party consultancy. If a road or bridge is being made, we do soil testing, structure testing so there is third party certification for that… Then there is consultancy for projects for establishment of something or improving the process. Some money should come from there… We have to focus on that. We also have to focus on quantity of research, patents and commercialisation of research. So we are thinking of establishing a Section 8 (non-profit) company to look after this aspect – to promote innovation, to create a start-up culture… Incubation centre will be managed and run by the company.

Under IOE, you will get money around Rs 1000 crore from the government, but there is also an expectation that the institute will raise the same amount of money to match the grant. DU, central universities aren’t cash rich institutions like IITs that are managing to generate a lot of internal revenue aside from the students’ fee because of the consultancy and research that they do. Do you have plans of increasing DU’s internal revenue?

This is a big subject – fund-raising. One source could be our alumni. It’s very difficult to ask someone for money… The best universities of the world have a separate unit or company that looks after this work. Their job is only to tap alumni, CSR, industry for funding. It is my wish to set-up something like this here, and give them some target of at least in the tune of Rs 100 crore. This is what we are thinkin; let’s see how much we will be able to do. But money in secondary; funds will come from somewhere or the other. Primary thing is, we should have the zeal… It’s not as though research is not happening because there is no money. There are many funding agencies.

DU held online open book exams at such a large scale during Covid. What do you think of this mode of exams, and do you think it can be the future of examinations?

This was one of the options which DU adopted, and they could save 1-2 years of students. We should look at it from that perspective. Otherwise, if you say, it’s the best thing; no it’s not the best thing. It was only a compromise formula because other options were not available, so this was one of the best options which they implemented. In DTU we decided to go for AI-based proctored exams. Now students are very comfortable in that, they don’t want to go for offline exams. The point is these are difficult times, and through whatever was possible, we could save 1-2 years of the students.

Are open book exams something that should be here to stay?

Open book exams worldwide are very difficult exams. In engineering also when we suggest open book exams, students refuse. Because such problems will be given in the open book exams, that students won’t find it in their books… But the situation here is very different. Here the same question paper will go to 70-80 colleges. That is the limitation of the affiliating system, and in that if we you ask very difficult questions, it will lead to chaos.

Does open book work format work for a set up like DU?

Then it is possible that we have to group the teachers. For example, first year English (Hons). The teachers who are teaching this course, should sit together. Coverage is important, depth of the course is important. After that we can go for an open book exam. If you don’t teach students enough and then give open book exam, that can create problem. But in affiliation, normally we don’t prefer this practice.

If DU has to go ahead with online exams again, will that be in an open book format?

Here the difficulty level will not be so much… If a question paper is of normal difficulty, then it’s doable… Times are very difficult right now, there is no option of new experiments right now. It’s just that the show must go on. But yes, I feel at least for PG (post-graduate) exams, we should have open book exams but in offline mode. Because there the teachers are together, so it can work better even if it is done just for one subject. But very few students will say this is a good thing; it requires more hard work. Right now DU has issues of connectivity, Wi-Fi, so many other things. How can we hold proctored based examinations? Plus students’ backgrounds are very diversified, so to sum up everything and take out a mean action. I think this was the best action they (DU) could have done.

There was much controversy over the removal of Dalit authors including Mahasweta Devi from the English syllabus. The Registrar had said the Indian army was being shown in a bad light in Mahasweta Devi’s ‘Draupadi’. What is your view on this?

No idea. I really have no idea. When such subject papers come to us, we will see what to do.

One of the criticisms was that the Oversight Committee which forced these changes did not have members from the department, or the Dalit community. What do you have to say about that?

But the proposal must have come from the English department. The Oversight Committee must have just reviewed it… But we will try to minimise controversies so that the university keeps growing. The more controversies there are, the growth is hampered. And we have limited time to do our work.

How will you minimise controversies?

Dialogue, communication.

One long standing controversy in DU is that relationship between the Delhi government and its 12 fully funded colleges. Even recently there was a flare up… So what can you do to reduce the friction? As the VC do you have any plans of how to mediate this controversial relationship and resolve it?

We will resolve all issues. They are very simple issues. First is we have to build trust with the Delhi government. This is from the colleges’ side. Second is, suppose they have posts which are not sanctioned or approved by the Delhi government, we will ask colleges to start the process of approval. They will do it. It’s not a big deal. Third is, government also should release their grants because colleges also have their own monthly commitments. And not giving salary by colleges is also not a good thing. Principals should ensure that salaries are given to teachers.

When you say trust has to be built with the Delhi government, how will that be built?

Not by me; by the principals. They have to deal with the Delhi government. We will do whatever we can to improve relations in the larger interest of teachers and students. And I’m very hopeful that things will improve.

But why do you think there is a trust deficit and this sense of animosity?

I don’t know because I’ve worked with the Delhi government for about 6-7 years. I had not faced such problems. Even our posts were not recognised. We asked Delhi government to give approval, they gave approval… They gave Rs 300 crores.

Do you think your experience of having worked with the Delhi government, might come in handy in the mediation?

Yes. Most of the times what happens is that colleges feel that university will do it. It’s not the job of the university. For our posts, we have to go to UGC and MHRD for approval. Our EC is competent but we have to take approval from the funding agencies. Similarly their governing bodies are competent to create posts but they have to take approval from their funding agency… And in 12 colleges, no post was approved by the Delhi government. Now that process has started, post-facto approval will come. That’s not a big issue. The bigger issue is to imrove the working relationship with the government. Thoda colleges aage badhenge, thoda government badhegi, and DU will try to help wherever we can.

What are your short-term or long term plans for DU?

I want Delhi University to be in the first 200 best universities of the world. That is the target. As per Times Higher Education or QS Rankings… For this I said, we have to improve teacher: student ratio, how do we increase research, patents, citations. There are marks for all these parameters. When we work on these, the ranking will improve.

What about starting new departments and courses?

We are already starting three departments under the Faculty of Technology. Apart from this, new things will start because of the IOE status… I have not thought that much. But recruitment will be regular exercise in the university, and we will think of how to increase students and fellowships for PG and PhD students.

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