Six years after Delhi University’s (DU) four-year degree experiment ended in ignominy, with the University Grants Commission (UGC) shutting down the programme after vociferous protests from a section of students and faculty, the National Education Policy (NEP) has brought the concept back into the spotlight and recommends its implementation across the country.
For the then DU vice chancellor Dinesh Singh, who had to resign when his brainchild programme was struck down, the NEP is something of a vindication. “The NEP proposal mirrors many aspects of our programme at DU. We had also proposed a holistic, flexible educational experience,” he says, noting that he was aiming at wider change than the simple addition of an extra year.
He relates the experience of discovering that top multinational finance companies which interviewed 1,200 students at DU had found only three worth hiring, because students simply did not have basic holistic knowledge to succeed in the real world. “In that one year that we implemented the four-year degree, DU shot up to around 200 in the global rankings, higher than most IITs. Today, it is around the 800 rank mark,” he says.
The head of the NEP’s drafting committee K. Kasturirangan agrees that Professor Singh’s initiative was a “visionary step” at that time. “We must recognise that a student’s knowledge base must be sufficiently flexible to cope with a 21st century job scenario,” he says. “At that time in DU, there was concern among students about whether they would gain anything from an extra year, as well as among teachers objecting to the additional work that would have to be put in to teach a four-year degree.”
He hopes that the clear options to exit the programme at all levels with a specific set of knowledge and skills will assuage student concerns. With regard to teachers, he notes that extra work will come not so much in the form of additional teaching hours, but in terms of a changed pedagogy. “Professors need to be able to make connections between multiple disciplines. It will take time for such a culture to evolve, but we must provide a holistic atmosphere conducive to such a change,” he says.
Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare agrees that the change needs to go beyond simply tacking an extra year on to the existing system. “Modular courses are being prepared between now and May 2021, which will add value. Right from first to fourth year, there will be a research component. It’s not just adding a year, but restructuring from the first to the fourth year. It will be like an integrated course,” he says.
However, he feels that the biggest change from the stymied DU experiment will be the strength of numbers. “Dinesh Singh was alone in that ecosystem. This time, we are saying that all the Institutes of Eminence (IoE) together will change. So you have a group of 20 universities who are changing, not just one in the entire country,” he said. DU itself is one of the IoEs scheduled to pioneer the programme from 2021-22.
Even the players which brought about the downfall of the DU initiative six years ago are more enthused because of the countrywide implementation being planned now. “When there was no national framework, we worried that our students would suffer by being the only ones who have to do an extra year. If it’s part of a national policy, the issues can be tackled nationally,” says Rajib Ray, president of the DU Teachers’ Associations, adding that students and teachers’ groups had also objected to statutory bodies getting “bulldozed” by Prof. Singh’s proposal.
Dr. Ray added that it is yet to be seen if the NEP’s implementers are willing to put in the necessary homework, and hold consultations with teachers and other stakeholders before the next academic year.
Prof. Singh agrees that extensive preparation is needed, noting that he took two years to train those teaching first year students alone before introducing the 4-year degree earlier. “Teachers must be mentors. We need to create proper curriculum and not reduce it to rote learning,” he said. “This is a good beginning, but the programme will be meaningless unless the entire model of pedagogy changes.”