The Four Year Transform

UntitledThis post has been a while in the mulling, and several news items in yesterday’s newspaper (The Hindu, 11 May 2013) that seem to be of considerable importance as far as we are concerned has prompted me to write.

One item focussed on the comment of the Visitor, the President of India, who said at the convocation of the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University in Lucknow,  that he was unhappy with the education given by Central Universities. His drawing attention to the quality of the education, the employability of the graduates is germane, and since he comes hierarchically at the top of the pyramid of all Central Universities, it is necessary for us to take cognizance of the comment. The report adds, editorially, that higher education must be made affordable for students, especially from economically weak background. It should be brought closer to the population by innovative techniques and knowledge-sharing.

logo_duThe need for innovation seems to be at the heart of a second news item, on Delhi University’s ambitious four-year undergraduate programme that is apparently now a reality with the Executive Council on Thursday approving all the courses, examination schemes and amendments to university ordinances that are required to introduce the new structure from this July onwards. July 2013, that is. This move has also prompted a number of academics and organizations to ask the Visitor’s intervention in this matter, since DU’s decision to implement a four-year undergraduate programme has far ranging consequences.

The central issue is the nature of undergraduate education in India, its form and shape in the near future. Since this has quite obviously an impact on the nature of graduate education, on employment and employability, there is a need for all of us to be engaged in the debate, and not just leave it either to politics or to the powers that be, no matter where they be or what they are.

As is quite well known, the four year format is the norm in the US, and the merits of a flexible curriculum in the US university system as a whole is well documented. Having the youth enter the workforce at the age of 22 or 23 is also desirable, so a degree that would enable the majority to get jobs at this age would be quite welcome. However, the US system has its own internal consistencies, its own system of checks and balances that have been worked out over a long period.

Even in the Indian context, the four year undergraduate programme is not new- the various academies of science have a Science Education Panel that has this structure as an explicit recommendation, and indeed the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore has started a four year programme in the sciences last year. However, the numbers involved are, at the moment, small, and what is offered is a B. Sc. (Honours) degree.

A third news item on the same day, reported that the Government “would not interfere in the Delhi University’s decision to introduce a four-year undergraduate course, but would look into the concerns expressed by some sections. Any decision on deferring the programme by a year would be taken by the University, which was an autonomous institution, it clarified.

My concerns are less about the nature of the four year programme at Delhi University, and the voices of doom that assure “chaos and academic disaster” at Delhi University if this is implemented from July 2013, and more about what it means to the rest of the country. There have been many op-eds in the papers recently that are specific to the DU experiment, as well as many other blog comments and it is clear that the overall curriculum is not as well thought-out as it might have been. There have been as many voices on the side of change and that is really an internal debate.

When a large and influential university such as DU- and as Indian universities go Delhi University is one of the largest (about 4.5 lakh students) and very very influential- makes such a fundamental change in the structure of it’s undergraduate programme, the MHRD, and more importantly, the University Grants Commission, should be concerned. Very concerned.

There are many ways in which this affects all of us in general, and the UoH in particular. DU students will not get the B. A., B. Sc., B. Com. (or their Honours variants). Instead, the exit options that are being chosen for the Delhi University students is at the end of the second year is that of an Associate Baccalaureate, at the end of the third year, a Baccalaureate, and after four years, a Baccalaureate with Honours in his/her major discipline subject or a B.Tech. degree.

When the Minister for HRD says that “We should not be seen as dictating to them or questioning their wisdom. If they feel comfortable to go ahead, we do not want to come in the way,” one wonders why this coyness? Why not question the wisdom? And is the comfort really as widespread as it is made out? When the Government is so deeply involved in the functioning of Universities-  most notably by the manner in which funds are given, or to the point, not given in time- why should the HRD ministry not comment on what is surely one of the more revolutionary moves that has been proposed in the Indian University system? Especially one that appears to be as hastily implemented as this.

It is not about university autonomy and whether the Delhi University academic and executive councils have followed procedures while endorsing the programme. As the President has remarked, for the majority, a University education is really about employability, and the various degrees that DU has put on the platter do not appear to offer any advantage over what exists now, while it does promise to increase the costs of a degree by at least 33%, if not more. And the cost of additional infrastructure (that does not exist in most colleges as of now) is another factor that should be viewed in the context of the low funding that most colleges have in the first place.  It is therefore inexplicable why the UGC, which certifies all degrees, has not entered the debate so far.

1b1191eb-3f2b-4684-8c22-ac91119e67fc_170x255The change in the school educational system from the 11 year pattern to an 10+2 pattern was an equally momentous one, and while it was generally good for education all around, one system that did not benefit from it was the network of polytechnic institutions in the country, which remain to this day a poor option for those that pass Class 10. I mentioned this in my talk at the Sundarayya Vignana Kendram,  at the recent Centenary Celebrations India Today: Looking Back, Looking Forward conference when I had to speak in a session on Science and Education, and was asked specifically to focus on Science, Education and Research: Problems and Prospects. I mentioned that this has resulted in very poor inputs into the industrial and manufacturing sector. Similarly, the introduction of new and poorly conceived degrees should be viewed with some concern, and the employability of persons with two years of college seems, at this time, to be in considerable doubt.

This also impacts two issues that affect us more. The mobility of students has been viewed in recent times as highly desirable and indeed necessary from a purely academic point of view. This move by DU will make it very difficult for their students to move to another university for their subsequent degrees. At the UoH we have greatly benefited by having DU undergraduates enter our Masters programmes. Where the Bac. (Hons) or B. Tech. are going to fit in our system is a moot question. And would they come? And vice versa, when our Masters’ students go to DU, where do they fit in? And even later, will we employ them? Will they employ our graduates?

DominoMore to the point, what does this say for undergraduate education in the country as a whole? It is not generally feasible to have parallel systems that are radically different when the numbers involved are so huge. (The business schools are, on this scale, minuscule, and it hardly matters if one institution offers certificates and another offers diplomas- in the end, they both offer brand names and enable very lucrative jobs.) The move by DU will naturally affect all other universities directly or indirectly. Our own five year Integrated Master’s programs are continually being reviewed, and one question that we have been asking is whether there could (or should) be an exit after the third or the fourth year. Maybe it is time to factor in the ongoing changes in the rest of the country into our own discussion as well.

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18 thoughts on “The Four Year Transform

  1. For a long time I have felt that DU, at least in physics, has one of the best undergraduate programmes in the country, and the B.Sc. (Hons) degree should have an option of an additional 1 year coursework (rather than 2 years) that leads to a Master’s degree. This could be offered only to the very best, since master’s programmes are taught at the university department and not in colleges and space is limited. Also, the original meaning of an “honours” degree, in universities like Madras, was one that led automatically to a master’s degree after one year of waiting (it was fully equivalent to a master’s, except in duration). DU has been guilty of diluting the meaning of “honours”. So a 1-year master’s for “honours” students would have been the least invasive way of doing what Dinesh Singh proposes. His other reforms, of foundational courses etc, could have been done over time with more discussion.

    Coming to UoH, I certainly think it is a good idea to offer exit options at the 3 year and/or 4 year points. If memory serves, when I was a student, IIT Kharagpur allowed an exit with a B.Sc. after 3 years of an integrated M.Sc. programme (IIT Kanpur did not); I don’t know the current situation. I feel a 5-year first degree in basic sciences or humanities is a bit too long, given that most of these graduates will not go on to do Ph.D.s (nor should they!)

    • My main worry is not about the DU programme- that is (since I am neither an alumnus nor have any other association with it) an internal matter that I am not anxious to comment on- but what it implies for the rest of the country. There are, after all, 599 other universities, all of which follow the 3 year undergraduate programme, by and large. Not having a uniform pattern in the country will have a new set of problems, particularly for students…

      • Well, if DU had done the 4-year transition smoothly and with the full support of their best-known faculty, I don’t think we’d be talking about them (except in a positive manner) or that you would have written this post! The non-uniformity is already a reality. IISc started a 4-year programme 2 years ago, I’m told Bangalore University started one at the same time, BITS Pilani has had a 4-year M.Sc. (Hons) for a very long time. These 4-year degrees should, one assumes, be treated as equivalent to B.Tech. degrees. Some IITs have had 4-year B.Techs in “engineering physics”, which are science degrees in all but name, for some years now.

        But can a student with a 4-year B.Tech. or B.E. degree directly join a Ph.D. programme without an intervening master’s? Again there is non-uniformity: some universities say yes, some say no. Within our (IMSc’s) umbrella university, HBNI, the boards of studies in physical and mathematical sciences allow admitting a 4-year BTech/BE degree holder for a Ph.D., the life sciences board does not. If a “master’s” degree is required, does it make sense to allow BITS Pilani’s 4-year “MSc (hons)” but not an IIT’s BTech or IISc’s BS? The non-uniformity is a problem but DU is really not the cause of this… The UGC should step in and provide some clarity.

      • While preponing our entrance exams we did not bother about 599 other universities or uniform patterns.

      • While I do agree the lack of uniformity is quite likely to factor in a range of issues, as a student of the IMA program, I do not believe the exit option is viable. At least at present.
        Reasons are: Firstly, the amount of knowledge we gain in three years is hardly good enough to deserve a degree. I do not know about the sciences, but I’m pretty sure a BA in “Social Sciences” wouldn’t have much value outside. The program has been really good for us academically because we get to take courses from all 5 social sciences (and humanities as well as sciences if the teachers permit). However, I doubt that it is comprehensive enough to be of much value as a Bachelors degree.
        Secondly, there is a huge problem with the IMA/IMSc program with regards to teachers ‘not wanting to go there’. Tackling this is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks for the administration. The amount we get to learn in three years is insufficient, added to that if we aren’t taught by the kind of teachers our University is famous for, then grades really mean zilch.
        So basically, if we are to introduce an exit plan, then massive reforms need to be implemented in the Integrated MA/MSc course structures.

  2. Your blog-post certainly is a bold and pragmatic one. A very long term for students just makes them doze off and try to finish in whatever way possible, even if it means getting very few marks. That will certainly dilute the reforms, and human resource development. As an example, while I am proud of having studied at DU in B.Sc (Honours), and I say the word ‘Honours’ with pride, all I wanted while studying and because of rote-learning in some of the subjects and very strict routines which sometimes made me confused, I wanted to go out as quickly as possible and get some fresh air. M.Sc course at BHU, Varanasi, gave me that: a stress-free routine, time to think, time to act and plain, vibrant fresh air. Even at our University, I have heard students of IMSc saying they want to go to Germany for their Ph.D just because they have stayed here for far too long for 5-years. A balance between discipline and stress-free routine in classes is a must, of course, alongwith exit options so that students do not feel stifled in their creativity.

  3. I don’t think uniformity across central universities is a good idea to begin with, if anything we need less uniformity and allow universities to chart their own course as they see fit (In fact I would like to see less uniformity in other aspects of academic administration, especially in the way the HRD ministry lumps colleges, universities, arts and science together). I do have a problem with the foundation courses that consume nearly two years of the students time and reduces everyone, regardless of their ability or prior training, to the lowest common denominator. What I’d really like to know is if they have devised any yardstick to evaluate the impact of this change on the students careers and gauge whether the students coming out of the four year programme will be any better prepared for their careers than the current lot. My guess is that they haven’t and the resulting impact will be in the best case minimally positive and in the worst case catastrophic. If the intentions behind this change were sincere, one would be more supportive but its hard to believe that this change is happening for any reason other than HRD ministers desire to emulate an american system, if only in duration.The fact that this is being rushed through before this governments tenure ends in 2014 is cause for suspicion anyway.

    • The case for uniformity is to permit students to move from one university to the other with minimal loss, and if possible, maximal gain. I am concerned that this takes away the opportunity from students without necessarily giving them much. As you point out, an additional year is not likely to make students more employable, possibly less. The overall motivation for the urgency remains a mystery, and that is worrisome.

  4. Apart from the issues mentioned there are many other serious issues that Delhi Universities Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) fails to address. Some of them (from physics view point as I am teaching physics in DU) are :
    –> FYUP fails to answer how can one/same curriculum can address multiple exit points and multiple objectives? I think any curriculum with multiple exit needs to answer this very important question.
    –> Although DU claims of flexibility but the fact is there is hardly any, in fact it is more rigid system compared to even the annual system that was there till 2/3 years ago. If a student opts for Physics Discipline-1 (DC-1) than he/she is supposed to do 18 papers in Physics over 4 years (8 in first 2 years, 6 in third year) with absolutely no choice of papers, all 18 papers are mandatory. Compare this with currently on 3-year semesterized B.Sc. (Hons.) Physics course where a student does 21 physics papers in 3 years. So the content of the main discipline has reduced although student has to spend one extra year.
    –> The percentage contribution of DC-1 (marks wise) in FYUP comes out to be about 48% and interestingly there is no mandatory requirement of clearing/passing minimum number of papers in any discipline. One needs overall 40% marks to get degree. So as the things stands if a student fails in majority of DC-1 papers still he/she can get degree of Honours in the same DC-1.
    –> A large chunk of FYUP is devoted to Foundation Courses (FC’s), there are 12 of them and contribute to nearly 28% (marks wise). All the courses are mandatory (with no choice) for every student taking admission in any DC-1 (science/arts/humanities/commerce). It is very easy to gauge the level of mandatory FC’s that are common to all the disciplines. So as the things stands even if a student want to pursue Physics DC-1 he/she has to do FCs in history, geography, psychology, business and management etc. Note all these are mandatory for every student with no choice.
    –> DU is proposing to reduce post-graduation from 2-year to 1-year for the students who do FYUP in DU. So if someone does honours DC-1 in FYUP despite of the fact that he has taken less number of courses in physics (in DC-1) as compared to earlier (semester/annual system of UG) his number of courses and time duration in PG will reduce. This will lead to huge dilution in content.
    –> DU has tried to propagate wrong notion of inter-disciplinarity in FYUP. The only claim is that student can opt for Discipline-2 (DC-2) of his/her choice. Yes theoretically it is there but considering infrastructure problems (specially after OBC expansion) colleges will restrict that choice. Even if the free choice is given than a student is supposed to do 6 DC-2 courses (in 4-years) and it starts from second years. Once a choice of DC-2 is made (at the start of third semester) it is fixed for next three years, there is no way he/she can change it.
    –> Multiple exit points will cause extra financial burden (note HRD has stated that they will not share it) that will result weaker section of students to drop out and hence lead to social exclusion.

    As I stated this is just incomplete list of problems. DU is spreading a myth about FYUP and it’s flexibility whereas the facts are totally opposite.

    Needless the say there is a big issue of compatibility of FYUP of DU with other Universities. Will a student who has done FYUP in DU be allowed to do 1-year PG at other places and/or visa-versa? Should we allow this incompatibility?

    I sincerely hope that HRD/UGC intervenes and stop DU’s FYUP.

  5. Pingback: The Four Year Transform | A central Central University | 4 year graduation at DU

  6. You have hit the correct point: “why UGC has not entered the debate?”
    My concern is by not saying anything against the proposal , UGC is tacitly supporting it.If true, then slowly
    it may gently force it on other universities as well.
    In the UGC approved degrees does this 2 year degree and 4 year degree figure? Without the approval DU cannot start the program.When did UGC approve these degrees.?

  7. I am joining late int he discussion. I am just curious. How many of the students who pass out of DU use explicitly the subject content they learn in their courses (not the general development)? Do we have any such studies on this?

    • In physics, for example, I expect it’s a very tiny number (since very few go on to higher studies in physics and most go into management, finance, UPSC, or something equally irrelevant)… At best you can say that their skills in mathematical model-building could, in principle, be useful, but I doubt even that. And this is true everywhere, not just DU. I don’t know about studies, but future careers of graduates should be not very hard to trace.

      A good fraction of, say, English Literature graduates did go on to careers in writing, but I don’t know how useful their training was to them, or economics training to graduates in those fields, etc. I suspect the answer isn’t much more encouraging.

  8. Yes. This move by DU to introduce 4YUP is welcome by students as a whole. Why all this fuss, when DU stands to its reputation always, and this time too. We all wish DU “Veeeeeeeery Many Future Success”. Don’t heed to unnecessary comments by those who couldn’t introduce this change. Just…..jealous. LOL.

    • There is enough evidence that neither is there widespread support nor will the extra year necessarily result in better jobs. DU does
      have a great reputation, which is why the rest of India cares about what it does, especially when it does things badly and in a rush.

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