On a chilly morning of January in 2011, Dinesh Singh, vice chancellor of the University of Delhi or DU, called around 4,000 students for an open house. Singh, who had recently taken over, wanted to understand, say DU faculty members, the expectation that DU's students had from the university.
Singh learnt that the 90-year-old university - ranked first by India Today in "India's Top 50 Universities" of 2012, and 401st out of 450 in the QS World University Rankings of 2012 - could not provide a degree to its students which could fetch them jobs. The classes were uninteresting and students had problems with regard to the teaching methods.
A year later, a similar session with parents, deans and principals of every department with over 800 teachers from DU led to the formation of a 16-member task force, comprising college principals, faculty members and deans of colleges. It was to suggest ways of revamping the education system at the university.
After several meetings and deliberations for over two years, the task force suggested that a four-year programme be implemented. In December 2012, the executive council approved the programme. The decision has left the entire university body divided.
Some faculty members say it is a small section of the intelligentsia of the leftist persuasion that is protesting against the new programme. "There are three major political outfits in this university among the teachers - the Left, Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress," says Professor Sanjit Ragi, associate professor and deputy dean, Academic Activities and Projects, Delhi University. "Except for the Left, nobody else has protested against the programme."
The main grouse of those protesting against the implementation of the four- year programme is that it is being done without consultations. "There has been no discussion in Parliament or at the ministry level. So we see this as a backdoor attempt to change the National Education Policy," says MT Hany Babu, associate professor in the Department of English at the university. He is also a member of the Joint Action Front, a group of teachers from different universities opposed to the new programme.
Other members of the Joint Action Front reason that if only DU implemented a four-year programme, the course would not have parity with other Indian universities. Besides, it would make education at DU more expensive. "You pay Rs 3 lakh for a three-year programme, but now you will end up paying Rs 4 lakh or more," says Babu. This, some protestors contend, will hit students coming from economically weaker sections. Some faculty members not in favour of change have approached the President of India and the Ministry of Human Resource Development. "The Ministry can ask the university not to rush, but take another year to implement it," hopes a faculty member. A dipstick survey by DU students themselves two weeks ago revealed that 90 per cent of them favoured the programme suggesting it would benefit them. Each year, 30 per cent of over 200,000 students every year drop out of DU sans any document recognising their stint at the university.
DU is not the only university to have introduced the four-year bachelors' degree programme. Shiv Nadar University (SNU) in Greater Noida and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore have also implemented it. In fact, DU authorities say that many universities have approached the university, seeking details of the programme to introduce on their campus.
A four-year undergraduate degree programme is based mostly on the American system. Here students study a bit of pure sciences, commerce and arts in the initial year, and then go on to graduate in a discipline. The final degree that students get is similar to the other three-year degrees, and is called a Bachelor in Science (BS) or Bachelor in Arts (BA). Experts say students who want to pursue the masters programmes abroad, especially in the US, will find the four-year course extremely useful as they do not have to study an extra year in India to fulfil the eligibility criteria.
At SNU, for instance, a four-year programme is a combination of classroom learning, fieldwork and discussions. SNU follows the US model in which every one hour spent in class is complemented with one-and-a-half hours work outside. Summer internships are also a part of the four-year programme.
Since awareness is comparatively low in India, education institutions offering this model hold workshops to explain the importance of the four-year programmes to students.
While in the other institutions, students have the option of completing the course in three-and-a-half years if they perform exceptionally well, at DU there are three exit points. Students can drop out of the course after either two or three years of study. On completion of two years' study, they will get a diploma certificate. A three-year stint will earn them a bachelor's degree. After four years, students will get a bachelor's degree with honours or a BTech degree. Also, if students who have dropped out wish to come back and complete the four-year programme, they would be allowed to do so within 10 years of leaving mid-way.
DU says the four-year programme would facilitate overall development of an individual's personality; enable students to be job-ready by imparting technical, generic and employment-centric modules; facilitate knowledge and innovation and prepare the youth for higher quality research.
The programme is designed to have four components: foundation course, discipline one (major relating to honours paper), discipline two (minor) and employment-centric module. The foundation course will expose students to 11 basic modules relating to computer technology, mathematics, science and day-to-day governance, among others. The mathematics module, however, would not be based on higher mathematics and would be a breeze for any student who has done maths up to Class 8 or 9.
"Why should a student of literature not know how to handle basic data or graphs?" asks a professor of the university on condition of anonymity. "Our experience says that most people doing higher research do not know how to handle data. All students should know these things. If you have to do higher research and you have to have a work degree in the market, you have to know these things."
Adds Ragi: "It will help prepare a new class of professionals. We are giving value addition to students. They will be taught communication skills and get language experience, for which private institutes charge a bomb."
Modules in English language and creativity will be taught across all the subjects and throughout the course. Theories would be based on practice and study material uploaded on the website.
Professors protesting against the implementation of the four year programme are concerned about the changes being brought in sans any consultation.
"There has been no discussion in the parliament or at the ministry level. So we see this as a backdoor attempt to change the National Education Policy. Once you make a change in Delhi Univeristy, one of the biggest Central Universities, other universities will also follow. So without anyone being aware of it, you have in effect, changed the country's Education Policy," says MT Hany Babu, Associate Prof at Department of English, DU and Member Joint Action Front.
Professors say there has been no debate before bringing this change in. The VC invited a few faculty members and briefed them about this. There are statutory bodies with in DU which have not been consulted.
"Very few people are defending it. The syllabus was drafted and presented to the committee of courses in April 2013 with the agenda that the committee is supposed to pass it. The discussions have been done with handpicked people and professors in closed doors," adds Babu.
Other members of the Joint Action Front, which represents protesting candidates, say if only DU implemented a four year programme, the course will not have parity with other universities. Besides, increasing the programme by one year will make education at DU more expensive. "At present you pay Rs 3 lakh for a three year programme now you will pay Rs 4 lakh or more. There will be a 33 per cent increase," says Babu.
Protesting faculty members say this may hit students coming from economically weaker sections. And with a rigourous 11 foundation courses structure, students may not be comfortable doing it.
Another concern is the diploma that students would get if they droupout after two years. What kind of job value would a dimploma have?
The protesting faculty members have approached the President of India and the Ministry of Human Resource Development against implementing this. "The MHRD can ask the university not to rush into this and probably take another year to implement it," says another professor.
HR heads give a thumbs-up to the idea of an additional year on campus and say this would not only produce more informed but also more mature students. Recently, when the DU vice-chancellor invited a major multinational finance institution from Mumbai to his campus, the company flew down an entire team as it wanted to hire in big numbers. Singh arranged for a blind interview of 1,100 potential graduates of the university. The company finally chose a mere three. The company told Singh it had been a waste of time and it was never coming back to DU. "We realised we were sitting on a time bomb," Singh remarked.
So DU has addressed the employability and communication aspects of a student's life in the new programme. Besides, all students joining in the first year will be given a laptop with 1000 mbps bandwidth connectivity. DU says it has spoken to the principals of colleges and areas of concerns have been addressed.
"A four-year programme, I think, would impart life skills," says Arvind Agarwal, president corporate development and HR, RPG Group. "Students would have greater maturity not only for corporate careers, but also to weigh options more wisely and to make informed choices."
RPG has to hire 500 engineers every year and Agarwal says most students they interview are not employable. "There is no shortage of people but good people are in short supply. DU has some very high quality colleges and if they have taken the view of adding additional year, is a great initiative," adds Agarwal.
S M Gupta, Global Chief People Officer at Aegis Limited, a division of Essar Group, says, "The complete lifestyle of education needs to be changed. It is not about increasing the programme's duration but about the style and content of education and the manner in which you make people more and more employable." Aegis recruits around 15,000 people every year from campuses for its BPO business.