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When A Change Is Needed

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I'm sure this matter will be resolved as suddenly as it has come up, but it does seem strange that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has out of the blue issued a directive to colleges under the Delhi University (DU) to admit students under the three-year programme, which to the best of my knowledge no longer exists. And if the UGC wanted to object, why didn’t it do it a year ago when students were in fact admitted to the four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP). Why has it suddenly woken up? Wasn’t the three-year degree scrapped? What was the UGC doing then?

And why has the human resources development (HRD) ministry taken the trouble to distance itself from the “scrap” between the DU and UGC? That too after the BJP and HRD minister Smriti Irani have openly expressed their reservations over the FYUP. Just say you don’t agree with it and issue a directive scrapping it. There must be ways of getting the university to fall in line without going through this entire rigmarole through the UGC and so on.

And what are students and parents expected to do amidst all this confusion and crazy wrangling? If the FYUP is scrapped, what happens to the students who were admitted under it last year? Why is all this drama unfolding just as the students are being admitted for the current year? Things are making so little sense one wouldn’t blame people from being put off the DU all together.

There are some things that need to be clarified here. One, change is always difficult and one should expect resistance to change. Of course, one must make the change only if one is convinced of its advantages and not for the sake of change itself. In this case, having spent five years at the DU, I am convinced change is called for.

Two, the number of years being spent (4 versus 3) seems to have taken centerstage whereas what the university was attempting was a change in the mode, style and system of education — the number of years is not really relevant. I agree that one more year of doing what we did when we were in college is a waste, but if the programme can be made more productive and more relevant, one year here or there simply does not matter. What matters is that the degree you have in hand has actually taught you something and perhaps even aroused your curiosity to make you want to study further.

As I have understood it, the university was trying to make the teaching more hands-on and experiential and less text-book oriented. It was also trying to make the students who graduate more “employable”. To me, both sound like noble objectives. But with things like these there are some things to keep in mind.
One, you have to carry with you those who need to implement a change of this magnitude and it doesn’t seem the university managed to do that. Every once in a while, some group of teachers or others are objecting. In Gargi College, one professor used the example of the FYUP to explain the concept of a “sunk cost” to students. Many students say that teachers have been telling them the foundation courses are “useless” and that they will answer their queries once they figure it out themselves. So, if the purveyors of the change are so anti it, can it work?
Second, the gains and impact of the change would be seen only 10-15 years down the line once the new system has fallen in place, been accepted, understood and only then will it be appreciated or begin to show tangible results. Unfortunately, since students have to be enrolled every year, some batches may in fact suffer even more as they become the “guinea pigs” in a way. This is unfair since we are talking about the future of these students and there is no reason why that should be played around with. So while I support and am convinced that the change is needed, I am not so sure that it has been handled as best it could. Does that mean we scrap it and revert to the old broken system? No. We sit together and see how best to move forward.