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Welcome to Delhi University: admissions open for lab rats

Soumya Shankar | Updated on: 15 June 2015, 22:05 IST

The crisis

  • Delhi University is facing a massive shortage of teachers. 4,000 vacancies yet to be filled.
  • Number of students grew by 54% after Centre passed a law providing reservation for OBCs.
  • Though students have increased, very few teachers have been recruited

The confusion

  • System changed thrice in five years: first the semester system, then the Four Year Undergraduate Programme and now the Choice Based Credit System.
  • University is deliberately preventing recruitment of permanent teachers, alleges the Delhi University Teachers Association.
  • Even when interviews are conducted, procedures aren\'t followed.

The big picture

  • The top-down, rigid approach of the HRD ministry and UGC have added to DU\'s woes.
  • Public institutions like DU are facing stiff competition from a growing private sector in education.
  • Lakhs of students are affected. It will take 7-10 years to fix the mess.

If one needed a definitive symptom of the mess of higher education in India, it is Delhi University (DU).

The country's most premiere university is in the throes of an unprecedented crisis. It has 4,000 missing teachers. And there is no attempt to fill the shortage.

The crisis has been exacerbated by a vice chancellor accused of taking major restructuring decisions in a non-collegial manner.

Three systems in five years

DU has been overhauled thrice in the last five years - first, with the introduction of the semester system, then with the Four Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP) and now the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS).

The first year students will now be studying under the new CBCS, the second year students are already following the semester system and the third year students are under the FYUP model.

The problem with these constant and hasty reforms is the rigid top-down approach the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry and the University Grants Commission (UGC) have adopted.

This year, freshers to study under CBCS, 2nd year under semester system and 3rd year students under FYUP

In 2009, when the semester-system was first introduced in DU, the then Vice Chancellor Deepak Pental had advised that all appointments be put on hold 'till the new system is stabilised'.

By the time the University had begun to get comfortable with the system, the FYUP was introduced in 2013.

"This resulted in a total collapse of teaching models. No less than 60,000 students, enrolled in the years 2013 and 2014, are likely to suffer because of this guinea-pig-experimentation," says Nandita Narain, president, Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA).

Where are the teachers?

In the past five years (2009 to 2014), hardly any permanent appointments were made, with several colleges running on a workforce of mostly ad-hoc teachers. Many teachers view this as a deliberate conspiracy to erode the academic standards of the university.

"This is a case of institutionalised neglect. At this rate, public universities will end up with low education standards and private players in the higher education market will lure bright students," claims Saman Khanna, who teaches English at Kamala Nehru College.

While there is a shortage of teachers in the University, the number of students has increased. The big expansion in the student numbers came in 2007.

The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 decreed a 27% reservation for students from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in all government educational institutions.

The shortage of teachers is so serious that DU will take at least 7 to 10 years to fill the vacancies

This resulted in a 54% increase in the University's total student intake, as it did not want to cut down the seats under the general category. However, the number of teachers have remained the same.

Many say that the DU administration isn't keen on filling the vacancies. Manoj Khanna who was the officiating principal of Bhaskaracharya College of Applied Sciences, says that he wasn't allowed to fill the existing vacancies. He resigned in April 2015 stating that he was not comfortable working with Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh.

Khanna claims that, at this rate, the University cannot fill the glaring gap in teachers' appointments in the next seven to ten years.

Interviews under a cloud

Even for the vacancies the University did decide to fill, there are allegations that the interviews weren't conducted in a proper manner. Applicants -especially for English and History- claim that their published work was not examined and questions irrelevant to their fields were asked. In many cases, interviews were conducted entirely in Hindi.

Jenny Rowena, a Miranda House teacher from Kerala, discovered in an interview that she had to know Hindi to teach English in DU.

"The Pro-VC asked questions in Hindi. When I told him I could not understand the question, he said, 'Aapko samajhna chahiye'. (You should be able to understand Hindi)."

Then there are also allegations of same selection panel members being sent to different colleges for fresh recruitments made by the Department of History.

In December 2014, seven senior professors, including Prof Upinder Singh, daughter of ex-PM Manmohan Singh, wrote to the Vice-Chancellor alleging that the ongoing process of appointments in colleges was being manipulated to suit vested interests.

Having continuously dealt with an acute shortage of teachers and tussles between the VC's office and DUTA, DU is already preparing to be turned over once again by another new system - the controversial CBCS which is slated to be introduced in August this year.

Part of the blame for these hasty reforms is the rigid top-down approach of HRD Ministry and UGC

"We do not know how to conduct admissions, based on the semester system or the new guidelines of CBCS. Also, if thousands of academic positions are lying vacant, on what basis is the ministry of education expecting any deliverance on its hurried plan of introducing CBCS?" asks Abha Dev Habib, executive member, DUTA.

"The ad-hocism and contractual labour rampant in central institutions is part of a larger agenda to throttle organised dissent in public offices," opines Manoj Khanna.

The net result is that the future of lakhs of students and thousands of teachers, who have reposed faith in DU's nearly 100-year-old legacy, is at stake. How Delhi University emerges from this crisis will determine the future of public education in India, which, as it stands today, is under dire threat from a highly competitive private sector.

First published: 10 June 2015, 17:32 IST
Soumya Shankar @shankarmya

An ex Correspondent with Catch, Soumya writes on politics and social issues. She lives in New York and swears undying allegiance to New Delhi.