Hany Babu & Jenny Rowena
There have been enraged debates against the proposed Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) of the Delhi University that is to be introduced from the next Academic session. A large number of teachers and students have already come out in open protest. However, the Union Ministry for HRD has come to the defense of the FYUP by claiming that it meets the "needs and challenges of the modern society and the nation". It was also claimed that FYUP "blends practical application with high-end knowledge, facilitating the students either to seek jobs, or become entrepreneurs or to undertake high end research". Many who oppose FYUP disagree strongly and talk about the dilution of courses, the hasty manner in which they are being introduced, and bemoan the impending "death" of a prestigious university.
As OBC teachers who have confronted and struggled against the extremely bad track record of Delhi University in the implementation of reservations, we are concerned about the impact of this new policy on the OBC and other marginalized students. A point that we would like to foreground right at the outset is that a major structural change like the FYUP is ushered in at a juncture when Delhi University has been finally forced to implement the provisions of reservation as made mandatory by the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admissions) Act of 2006 following a series of agitations by various groups of students and teachers and interventions by the Courts. As the result of this, a typical classroom now is supposed to hold almost 50% students from the reserved categories, thereby majorly changing the constitution of the previously upper-caste dominated classrooms.
What we find alarming is that the structure of Courses in the FYUP and the exit points together create an inbuilt mechanism that is going to have a calamitous effect on the interest of underprivileged students by forcing them to exit with degrees of lesser value, nullifying the battles won on the front of the implementation of reservation. With the help of these exit points, the FYUP ushers in a stratified structure of three kinds of degrees, which will not have the same value. Apart from this, we also argue that factors like the enforcement of a set of Foundation Courses which are not designed to give adequate grasp of any discipline and the extra cost that the FYUP entails are also detrimental to the interests of the students from weaker sections.
A three-tier system
In the existing scheme, the undergraduate studies at the Delhi University has two streams-- the Honours degrees and the Programme degrees -- that automatically create a hierarchy as the courses in the Honours and the Programme stream are designed in such a way that they do not have the same content, difficulty or expected learning outcome. Given this, the BA programme held an inferior status while the Honours courses were the most sought after in the University. Many students who came from underprivileged backgrounds often did not have the required marks for admission to the Honours degree and were forced to make do with the BA/BSc programmes. This legitimized an unequal system and created two kinds of students within the University.
After the implementation of the FYUP, these two streams will disappear. Every student will get enrolled for a set of Discipline Courses in two disciplines (DC-1 and DC-2). Apart from the Discipline Courses, they will also study a set of Foundation Courses and Applied Courses. The full degree awarded on the successful completion of four years is named "Baccalaureate with Honours". A student has the option of taking an exit at the end of two years with an "Associate Baccalaureate Degree" or at the end of three years with a "Baccalaureate Degree". Such students who exit midway also have the option of joining back and completing the degree within a given time frame. Thus instead of having two streams like BA (Honours) and BA (Programme), we will have a three tier-system with an Associate Baccalaureate, Baccalaureate, and a Baccalaureate with Honours. This three-tier system, we argue, is highly undesirable as it is loaded against the marginalized students.
Notwithstanding the repugnant inequality created by the Honours and the Programme streams, both the Honours degree and the Programme degree were counted as recognized Bachelors' Degrees, and a student was eligible to get admission to the Master's programme in a subject, regardless of whether she came from the Honours or the Programme stream. In place of these two different streams which had an iota of equalizing effect, the FYUP is going to usher in a rigid three-tier system, where students who have an Associate or a simple Baccalaureate degree are never going to be on an equal footing with the students with an Honours degree as there is a difference in the number of years that they have put in.
In fact, the inequality in the new system actually starts right from the process of admission. Every student aspiring to study a discipline will now have to compete with those who come with marks that would fetch admission to the Honours programme. The outcome of this is that students with lower marks will be left without much option other than opting for a discipline that is less competitive. This will directly lead to the denial of opportunity to study the subjects of their choice to a large section of students. In the existing system, a student who does not have marks to study Economics Honours can choose to study Economics Programme courses. In the new scheme, if a student cannot get marks to compete with students who take Economics Honours, then she is forced to take some other discipline.
Moreover, since the Honours degree will continue to be the degree that gives the students a passport to further studies, the Masters' degree and research degrees will remain outside the reach of the new group of students who exit after the second or the third year. Thus, even as it does away with the discriminatory system of having two streams like Honours and Programme, the proposed system introduces an even more unequal and discriminatory three-tier structure. We argue that the proposed exit points in the FYUP will act as sieves that will ensure that only a group of privileged students will reach the topmost tier, that is the Baccalaureate with Honours and push the rest to leave with a two-year or a three-year degree, thereby replicating and cementing existing social inequalities.
Exit Points as Sieves
The irony of the FYUP is that whether students will exit with an Associate, Baccalaureate or Honours degree is presented as a choice that students can willingly make keeping their interests in mind. However, given that a highly alienating and often hostile atmosphere awaits most students from underprivileged background in Delhi University, one wonders whether it would be mere individual interest and free choice, that would lead to a student opting to exit. In fact, it would be social factors like caste, religious status, class and gender that would play a significant role in making a student exit. Thus, a large number of students from marginalized communities will now legitimately exit the system, allowing the most privileged students to continue to have perfect monopoly over all its resources. In other words, the exit points will function as a sieve that filters out the underprivileged students from doing an Honours degree.
If the improper implementation of reservations had once kept away marginalized students from the field of higher education, now exit points will carry out the same function. More importantly, underprivileged students will not only be forced to exit the field of higher education midway, but they would also be leaving with degrees of lesser worth and value. There should be no doubt about the lowered worth of these degrees because those who would exit at the second year would have mainly studied a set of Foundation Courses. These Foundation Courses cover a wide set of disciplines. However, they would not offer any substantial knowledge as they are pitched at such a level that even students who have not studied those disciplines in their Higher Secondary should be able to tackle them. Thus, students who enter with the help of reservation will now be forced to go out with a second rate or a third rate degree.
Many supporters of the FYUP claim that these exit points will help the dropouts find jobs as they have a certificate to show. The fact there is no clearly demarcated level of proficiency or performance at the exit points for the Discipline Courses (as they have not been envisaged as terminal Courses) makes the claim about the employability of those who pass with a lesser degree than the Honours more illusory than real. No one will be able to claim to have better employability by just waving a "dropout certificate". It is also not clear how the Foundation Courses are going to help them find jobs, and their knowledge in the discipline will also be only half-baked in the absence of any clear statement about the expected learning outcome.
We are afraid that a set of students will continue to drop out at various points due to a variety of reasons and another set (of mostly students from underprivileged background) will be forced to exit or "legitimately" dropout at the end of the second and third year. A scheme that seriously addresses the problem of dropouts should allow a process of deregistering from the programme with the provision that those who deregister can come and complete the programme at a later stage. The most student friendly system would indeed be the one that awards to the dropout a certificate based on the number of successfully completed semesters. Since the FYUP does neither of these, we can only conclude that its main outcome will be that of legitimizing forced exit of underprivileged students.
Opposition to the FYUP
The FYUP, therefore, has to be opposed not only for the reasons that are already being talked about. It should be clearly recognized that the FYUP is an attempt to make an already elitist university with unequal opportunities to marginalized sections, much more elitist and exclusionary. As has been argued elsewhere, the FYUP would lead to an increase in the cost of education by around 33% -- a fact that is surely going to make the Honours degree beyond the reach of the underprivileged. Eventually, the mandatory percentages of reservation attained at the entry level will be systematically decimated, and the Honours will be a course that is pursued in only the so-called elite colleges and the classrooms may be devoid of students from SC/ST/OBC. The FYUP, therefore, has to be opposed in the name of social justice.
(Both Hany Babu and Jenny Rowena are English teachers at the University of Delhi. Hany Babu teaches at the Department of English and Jenny Rowena at Miranda House. They are both part of the Alliance for Social Justice, which is a front that includes students, teachers, administrative staff, and organizations of SC, ST, OBC, and Minority Communities from Delhi University and outside.)