Delhi University – Three or Four Years

24 Jun


(This was written hours before the DU Vice Chancellor resigned over the issue) (Link to previous background at the end of this article)



Fine, give them both the three year and the four year degree options and see who does better for their students in a decade!

Yes, this was an impulsive reaction and has not been tested for pragmatic things like capacity, demand and transition design. The noise against the Delhi University four year program is enough to drown out a reasonable discussion on it with the very stakeholders it needs to engage.

Of course change is difficult. Of course students will weigh the short term before they are able to see the long term benefits of a four year program. Of course students can judge only on the basis of what they have received – a half baked program that has almost been scuppered by faculty who are resisting change. Faculty will obviously resist a change that they see as unnecessary. They will have to work harder in the new system and much of their previous material that is regurgitated every year may even need to be reworked. They have tenure, and more importantly – they are a scarce resource. They also have strong unions and are the force that will have to deliver on the program. If they are not convinced it is a good idea then there is every likelihood that the implementation will be flawed, even if a proper design can be started off.

But the FYUP is not all bad. It is a clear step away from the rote learning system that has beset university quality for decades. Students come in to the university system totally underprepared for it – most of them do not even have independent study skills having depended upon tuitions, past examination papers, and a stack of notes that have been handed down the generations. They are replicators. Few, if any have any research capability or even analytical skills. University is about independent thinking and living – the foundational year must be about building those skills. If the schools and the examination system will not do that job, somebody has to – and Delhi University is only trying to prepare its students for success by ensuring they are not unemployable replicators as they have been called in the past.

Four years does add to costs and is a year away from employment. Again, a good design allows for opt in and opt out within this system. Do your diploma, earn a bit, come back and finish your degree. Modular learning and certification is daunting at first but eminently practical. Take your time to figure out what you really want to study, allow yourself to breathe easy and learn for success, follow your interests and talents, try it out in the job market and then come back and complete what you began. If you are really good, your employer or potential employer may even sponsor you – they do that often if they think you bring value.

The fear is understandable. The FYUP asks people to have faith in themselves and invest in their future in a way that abandons the hyper-efficient race to the certificate and the salary cheque. It is a leap for all and will need everyone to step up and do the right thing for the students. Where does one find that trust in a traditional university system that has let down its students so many times? Can one trust the lecturer to have invested in new material, to bring energy and verve into the classroom and help students grow in their hearts and minds while they expand their knowledge horizons. We know some lecturers will certainly step up. But we fear that most will not be able to change. And if they cannot step up, the new plan fails with them.

Change is never easy. Faith in oneself at a vulnerable age is not easy. Investing in oneself without a clear sense of the gains from it is never easy – indeed  – why would one do this? And yet we all know that students are rushing through content with little sense of curiosity, of exploration or even of internalising the content. What are they really learning? The three year degree is of little worth (not just for admissions abroad) in the job market without another masters degree. Maybe three years is not enough for most, even as it may be enough for efficient achievers. But for those of us who like to do things well so that we can actually use it later on – maybe we need more time. More time to know some philosophy even if we are training to be accountants. Or a bit about physics even if we want to graduate in political science. Maybe some Sanskrit for the economists. They do connect up and help students develop in ways that only the multi-disciplinarians can see, it seems. To be able to see structures and patterns in various disciplines is an education in itself – to be able to use them across contexts is true preparation for life. We call it learning how to learn.

Ideally there should be choice for each student within the course to do the full degree or diploma in three or four years. The choice built in so far does not allow enough free choice of modules to complete the diploma or degree. The efficient ones can march their way to quick certification, the explorers should be able to take their time and do the same at their own pace, probably with richer knowledge. Will this payoff in the first salary? Probably not – but this is an investment for life that will make everyone richer.

What stops this? Complexity? Of course it is complex. Faculty? Certainly – where do you find enough people to teach to such complex timetables? And this makes it totally student centred, which is as it should be – but then imposes the cost of good tutorials for undergraduate students on the university. Some colleges such as St. Stephens have a strong tutorial system that has stood its students in good stead over the generations.

It is easy to give up and say – forget it, lets just carry on as we were! It does retain the old power structures too – as the current UGC-DU standoff shows clearly. University autonomy has always been essential to quality. Great learning institutions are built on independent thought, courage of convictions and intellectual horsepower. Delhi University now also stands at the frontline for the autonomy of all central universities and the negotiation will have implications for all.

Colleges are deferring admissions till the face off is resolved. Students suffer uncertainty in admissions. What happens to those who signed up for the FYUP last year? Do they graduate at the same time as this year’s intake (if it is a three year program?) Do students know for sure of the intent and ultimate design of the FYUP as they vote for or against the change? Or are they voting against phase one of the implementation? Are they protesting the FYUP or the fact that they are being subject to a partial implementation of the proper FYUP design? All the criticism points to the latter – the halfway house FYUP is clearly not popular. Even if it might be the right thing for the students.

One wonders whether this is being fought over administrative necessity or the true interest of the students. This needs work – good design, good communication, modular construct and phased implementation and so much more to succeed.

Published in the Times of India blogs on June 24, 2014 and is linked here:


A previous post identifying the issue of capacity constraints and marking the FYUP as a probable solution is here:


And how the high cutoffs in Delhi University actually are a symptom of deeper problems:





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