Questions on Campushttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/questions-on-campus/

Questions on Campus

Six months ago,Mandakini Gupta,a student of Delhi Public School,told herself she would study hard,aiming for enough marks in her Class XII exams to get admission to a college in Delhi University.

The sharp division in Delhi University over a new academic programme leaves aspiring students from across the country confused

Six months ago,Mandakini Gupta,a student of Delhi Public School,told herself she would study hard,aiming for enough marks in her Class XII exams to get admission to a college in Delhi University (DU). But as the university hurtles towards a new Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP),she is having second thoughts.

Under the proposed new course,to be implemented from the 2013-14 session,the undergraduate programme will shift from a three-year degree to a four-year one,with options to exit after two or three years. While earlier,there was a clear distinction between the honours programme,which lets a student specialise in one discipline,and the general BA Pass programme,under the new format,all students are taught 11 compulsory foundation courses,including mathematics,science and business management,in the first two years. They have to choose their major discipline at the outset,on which there are eight papers in the first two years—in addition to two papers on minor subjects to be chosen at the end of the first year. If the exit option at the end of three years is exercised,six more major discipline papers will be taught,as well as two minor discipline papers. To get an honours in a subject,a student has to submit two research papers in the fourth year. The changes could affect over one lakh students who apply to the central university from across India (1.75 lakh applied last year for 54,000 seats).

Dinesh Singh,the vice-chancellor of Delhi University,who faces allegations of ramming through the changes without taking teachers and other stakeholders on board,says the new programme will make graduates more employable. “A host of companies told me that they found it difficult to recruit products of the university. The 11 compulsory foundation courses,covering a range of subjects,will improve students’ data analysis skills and bring them up to speed. The course will have a greater emphasis on practical learning,which is becoming increasingly necessary,” Singh told The Indian Express editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta on Walk the Talk.

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Prospective students like Gupta are not convinced. They believe that the compulsory foundation courses reject a choice that they made at the senior secondary level. “The foundation courses seem like a waste of time,considering that I never studied maths or science after Class X. In order to get an honours,the new plan requires me to do research in my fourth year. I don’t see a future for myself in academics and one year doing very little apart from research seems like a waste of time. Employers in this country will still look for the honours tag,” says Gupta,a humanities student. Other students,while not being sceptical about the new programme,are worried that the protests might derail it altogether. “Those who are opposing the move aren’t just one small group. Several of them are professors themselves,who are meant to teach the course next year,” says Sankalp Kumar,a Class XII student from Noida.

One of the academics in disagreement with the university administration is Mukul Manglik,professor of history at Ramjas College. “The first problem is with the method that has been used to hurry through the programme. The second is with the course itself. While earlier,the three-year format had an in-depth study of the subject concerned,the introduction of compulsory foundation courses,like ‘Integrating Mind Body Heart’,leave little scope for any specialised study. Vital subjects,essential to the understanding of a course,will necessarily have to be dropped,” Manglik says.

There is also the question of affording one more year of college education. For Mainak Das,from Shillong,both the structure of the course and the finances pose a concern. While the DU administration has insisted that the fee structure,currently ranging from Rs 8,000 to Rs 15,000 per year,will not change significantly,Das believes that an increase is inevitable. “There will be an increase in the laboratory-based practical education for science students like me. This will mean an increased fee,which I may not be able to afford. My parents will have to pay for board and lodging in Delhi for another year too,” he says.

Das is also worried that while he is not academically cut out for research papers in the fourth year,if he exits after two or even three years of studies,there may not be any jobs waiting for him. “I have always played football and have not concentrated on studies. I intend to play for whichever college I get into. Research is something I may not be able to do,but if I choose to leave after two years,who will employ me? They will always go for someone who has completed the four years and has an honours degree,” Das said.

Those pushing for the programme,however,point out that a student can always return to complete his honours degree,if he chooses to. “Each year,2,500 students drop out,without a scrap of paper to prove that they spent time at the university. Through the various exit points,it is ensured that a student,even if they drop out,have some sort of formal backing,” says Dinesh Singh. The programme gives a student who has spent two years at the university a diploma certificate,accreditation of a BA with a major subject after three years and a BA Honours after four.

On the other end of the employability debate is the question of the environment in the university,famed as much for its scholars as its actors and debating and drama societies. “The Four Year Programme does include credits for extra-curricular activities,which is a welcome change from the current situation where we have to beg teachers for marks at the end of the year. But the more pressing concern is that with the four-year course,there is a constant emphasis on academics,a variety of foundation,minor and major subjects to be studied,there will be very little time to actually organise,participate and practice for events,” says the president of a dramatics society at a North Campus college.

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While students who hope to enrol in American universities for their postgraduate degree are hopeful of the new format,critics point out that they are being offered very little flexibility. “Wherever a similar four-year course has been offered,there is a basket of foundation courses that a student can pick and choose from. There was,in fact,greater choice in the existing three-year system,as there were interdisciplinary papers,taught by different departments,which a student could choose from,” says Saumyajit Bhattacharya,economics professor at Kirori Mal College.

Only time will tell if the FYUP will bring about a revolutionary change in teaching at Delhi University,and opinion seems deeply fractured. Till then,all that prospective students want is a measure of clarity.

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