People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 25

June 20, 2010



Grave Danger to Public Funded Higher Education


Sanjaya Kumar Bohidar


A DELEGATION of teachers of Delhi University (DU) accompanied by Sitaram Yechury met the President of India on June 3, 2010. Sitaram Yechury pleaded her intervention in her capacity as the Visitor of DU to stem the grave crisis caused by the arbitrary actions of its vice chancellor (VC) threatening the future of a premier university that has immensely contributed to the academic sphere and to nation building. The delegation included Aditya Narayan Mishra (DUTA president), Vinay Kumar Singh (DUTA secretary), Vijender Sharma (former DUTA president), Abha Dev Habib (member, academic council) and Sanjaya Kumar Bohidar (former DUTA treasurer).


Earlier, on May 18, 2010, Sitaram Yechury had also written a letter to the president of India informing her about the major structural changes that the VC was forcing in DU, pleading pressure from the MHRD. Yechury pointed out that the arbitrary actions by the VC over the last year and a half, in pushing major structural change without proper discussion among its highly qualified faculty or in the academic council (AC), has been in gross violation of the authority and powers vested in various bodies consequent upon the provisions of the act of parliament establishing the university. He also forwarded an appeal from Abha Dev Habib, an AC member belonging to the Democratic Teachersí Front, seeking the presidentís intervention so that the content and quality of education in this premier university is not compromised with.


Sitaram Yechury's intervention is in the context of the current agitation led by the Delhi University Teachersí Association (DUTA) against the unilateral and arbitrary imposition of the semester system in DU. The UGC had written to the VCs of all universities in January 2008 to switch to semester system within two years. The DU VC placed this proposal in the AC in October 2008. After some discussion over the issue it was evident that given the structure of DU and other constraints, the switch to semester system at the undergraduate level would adversely affect the quality of teaching. It was clear that in such a large university with more than 70 colleges and a plethora of courses and options conducted through college-wise admission and teaching and a common annual examinations external to the teaching units, it would be practically impossible to implement the semester system without compromising on quality and content of the courses. Unreasonable rigid limits on the number of teachers per subject and lack of physical infrastructure, which has become more acute after the 54 per cent expansion in intake of students following OBC reservations, are some of the other constraints. Elected teacher members insisted that the matter be placed for an informed debate and discussion. The AC concurred. But, the VC acted in bad faith. Instead of organising seminars or workshops to critically and dispassionately examine all aspects, he circulated a letter praising the semester system and seeking feedback in quick time.




Despite this, the academic community painstakingly put together the various problems that render semester system infeasible and unsuitable for quality accessible education at the undergraduate level in the University. The VC misrepresented the opinion of the teaching community through a letter in May 2009. He did not engage in any discussion with teachers during this long period save a scheduled AC meeting in March 2009 which he adjourned when the elected AC members demanded that the feedback he had received be circulated and discussed. In June 2009, he held another AC meeting where he again refused to discuss the concerns and find answers and adjourned the meeting amidst protests. He claimed that the AC had approved implementation of semester system in all undergraduate courses from the academic year 2010-2011.


Though barely a year was left for the new framework and syllabi to be worked out, he constituted a committee only in October 2009 which by November circulated a common framework and asked all departments to get their syllabi ready within three months. Though the framework affects the standards of the academic programmes and had to be placed in the AC for its consideration and decision, he refused to convene any AC meeting. Most departments which scrutinised the framework with the participation of teachers pointed out that the restrictive framework would dilute the Honours Programme which is DUís flagship programme and would adversely affect quality. The VC got the framework modified by the nominated committee further restricting the choices for students, diluting the system of tutorials through which closer interaction between students and teachers takes place and took away the right of students to seek revaluation of answer scripts.


At the behest of the VC, a few heads of departments without the necessary expertise bypassed all due processes and without the involvement of teachers patched together syllabi for certain courses. There were instances of temporary teachers and others in vulnerable situations made to approve specific syllabi. Under instructions from the administration, some annual courses were fitted into semester frame showing complete ignorance of academic requirements. Some of these heads also chose to misrepresent the decisions of the departments to falsely claim that the syllabi were approved.


The VC convened an AC meeting on May 13, 2010 and placed the syllabi of 12 undergraduate science courses for its consideration. He refused to entertain any discussion on the framework into which these courses had been fitted. He refused even to consider the incomplete nature of the syllabi since the English and mathematics components had not been approved by the respective departments. He also refused to take cognisance of the gross procedural irregularities and violations through which these courses had come from departments to the AC. Amidst protest by the elected members in the AC, he declared those as passed. 


Even when the courses are duly approved by the AC, there is a legal requirement for these to be approved by the executive council (EC) which is also obliged to frame ordinances without which the courses are not valid. These ordinances, in turn, can be annulled by the university court or the visitor. The VC, therefore, chose to bypass the executive council by not convening it, cancelled a scheduled meeting of the university court and even deprived the visitor of taking a view of the courses through gross misuse of a provision in the rules of emergency power. As per an existing directive from the visitor, the VC is not allowed to use emergency power in routine matters and in policy matters. He is not allowed to undermine and marginalise the authorities of the university such as the AC, EC, university court and the visitor. The VC is only an important officer of the university, albeit an important one.  He cares little for its authorities because he wishes to claim success in implementing the government agenda. He cares little about the adverse academic outcome for the university. Without any compunction he pushes through syllabi during the vacation knowing full well that teachers who are supposed to teach these have not seen the contents let alone be prepared for teaching.




In fact, the government is pushing through semester system (which became a part of the ministry of human resource developmentís 100-day agenda in UPA-2 government) without considering the specific structures and constraints and without the willingness to provide for the per-requisites for such a change becoming feasible. It is not concerned about quality of education in public funded universities. It is driven merely by the desire to impose a common calendar so that private and foreign universities can find cost minimising ways of expanding through some exchanges (mobility) with the public funded ones. DU has semester system at post-graduate level but does not allow students of one department to pursue courses in another. Private institutions can use the possibility of mobility provided by a common calendar to get their fee-paying students to avail some courses in the public institutions in return for a small sum since the public institutions are starved of funds. Foreign universities will get the wealthier students enrolled in public universities for short term courses on payment of hefty fees while these private players can sell high priced degrees with little investment.


The policy of privatiSation and commercialiSation of higher education chosen by the government of India is being ruthlessly pursued by the MHRD. Through the UGC, pliant VCs and outright arm-twisting, it wants all institutions without any regard for their concrete conditions and constraints to shift to semester system. It is one thing to insist that every institution takes considered steps to improve standards and quite another to trample upon academic autonomy and informed debate by insisting that a shift to semester system would automatically improve quality. The questions raised by the academia in DU concerns public funded higher education as a whole. It has been argued that misplaced implantation of a semester system can lower standards and the specific framework imposed by the DU VC bears it out. There is no shortcut to finding answers and initiatives to improve education. Hallowed slogans like academic reforms should not be used to smuggle in the agenda of privatisation and commercialisation. The public funded universities and higher education thus face grave danger and have to be defended against meeting the fate of the government school system.