A critique of the proposed ‘reforms’ in Delhi University: working class students’ perspective

May 9, 2013

from Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS)

For years we have been demanding changes in the Indian University system to make it egalitarian and just in orientation. Accept for some token measures no significant steps were taken to address our concerns by the Indian state. Now finally when the so called reforms have begun in the Delhi University, we have observed that its purpose is not to ameliorate our condition; far from it, its orientation is such that it will make the plight of the students from the working class and other oppressed sections of the society worse. Through this write-up we have sought to expose this fact and also delineate our differences with the already existing critique of the proposed ‘reforms’.

Most of the critiques that have been put forward are procedural in nature. A lot has been said about the dictatorial attitude of the University administration and the ‘disrespect’ shown to the academia in framing the new curriculum and syllabi, while there are some who have said that there are no drawbacks in the reforms per se, provided that they are implemented at a slower pace and through wider consultations and deliberations. These critiques give the impression that it is not the idea of reform itself but its implementation which is the primary issue. We are yet to come across a systemic critique of these ‘reforms’. Our criticism of these reforms emanates not out of these procedural aspects which we feel are peripheral, but out of our understanding that this move by the state reflects a deep seated class bias in its education policies. It is our humble submission that slogan of ‘campus democracy’ cannot/should not become primary in our campaign against the current set of ‘reforms’. In a society in which 93%of the students who pass-out from high schools are unable to continue to higher education, ‘the campus’ becomes a site of privilege and the effort to protect ‘campus democracy’ becomes an exercise of simply safeguarding the privilege of those who can afford higher education.

It is the understanding of Krantikari Yuva Sangathan(KYS) that unless the campus based movements are connected with the larger picture to put forward a systemic critique of our University system that seeks to safeguard and reproduce privilege, this sort of activism would remain imprisoned within a middle class outlook. It is our opinion that these current set of ‘reforms’ should become an occasion to expose the existing elite oriented education policies which seek to strengthen the hold of the privileged classes in the elite Universities, relegate the lower middle class to second grade regional Universities and keep the working class out of the University system altogether, except when the objective is to train them to be skilled workers for the global market.

Below we have listed 18 reasons why we, the working class youth of this country are critical of the ‘reforms’ that are going to be carried out at the Delhi University from the new academic year (2013-14) onwards:

1. Post Independence our education system has been developed by the Indian state in an uneven manner resulting in the fact that today we have a highly graded University system. There exist numerous mediocre –to- poor universities and a handful of elite universities. As a result every year lakhs of students are forced to migrate to one of the bigger cities to pursue quality education at the elite Universities resulting in the wastage of hundreds of crores of their parents’ hard earned money, who make tremendous sacrifices-sell land, jewellery, mortgage their houses etc to give their children a chance to study and fulfill their dreams. We have been demanding a thorough overhaul of the University system to lessen the gap between mediocre regional and metropolitan elite Universities so that the compulsion to migrate for quality education may end. For very long this drawback in our university system was silently ignored and the thought of reform did not cross the minds of our ruling elite, but now, when finally ‘reforms’ are being carried out, we are alarmed to see that its objective seems to be to further widen the gap between the quality of education at the regional and elite universities. Such a step would completely undermine the limited credibility of the local universities and further induce students to migrate.

2. Lack of reforms in the regional universities would further devalue the degrees offered by them, resulting in lesser and lesser students taking admission in them. While initially this would entail a massive loss of public money as the class rooms would remain empty, at a later stage the government would begin to question the very existence of these universities. These would either be shut down or privatized citing inefficiency. This way, gradually in the course of a few years the entire education apparatus would be privatized. This is a classic example of the conspiratorial manner in which the state has been privatizing public institutions in the recent past; ‘deliberately allow a sector to decay for some years and then later when the infrastructure begins to crumble, make this decay itself an excuse for privatization’.

3. It is due to concerns cited above that the working class youth has been vociferously citing the fact that an overhaul of education policy at the Delhi University has ramifications for the entire University system of the country, and hence, a change here may not be undertaken without broad based public debates and approval of the electorate of the country. 10+2+3 has been the longstanding education policy of the government of India, a change in this policy to 10+2+4 cannot be allowed to be carried out through the hands of a bunch of bureaucrats sitting in the university. Such a step should be taken at least through a debate among the elected representatives of the people, i.e. the parliament.

4. The new 4 year course has a provision for multiple exit points for the students; meaning that students can exit out of the 4 year long bachelor’s course at multiple stages. A student who drops out after the 2nd year would be given an Associate Baccalaureate degree, a third year drop-out Baccalaureate degree and the students who complete all four years of education would be given Baccalaureate with Honours/B.tech. degree in their respective subjects. To some this may seem like a progressive step in favour of those students who are forced to drop out due to financial or other constraints. It is being argued that let the students who drop out have some degree at least instead of the present system in which students either get a full Honours degree or nothing at all. But we the working class students strongly disagree with this line of reasoning. For very long, through protests and memorandums we have been demanding the government of India to take adequate steps to ensure that students from the deprived and vulnerable sections of the society are not forced to drop out for want of financial support but no steps whatsoever were taken to address our concerns. Now, finally when these misguided ‘reforms’ are taking place, the University, instead of addressing the root cause of dropping-out of students, which is mainly financial constraints, is systematizing the system of dropping out ! The message of the government to the working class youth is loud and clear: “We know you cannot study all four years due to your poverty, so take a diploma or a certificate degree and get lost.” The state cannot shirk its responsibility of ensuring universal
access to education, however in the present case it is facilitating dropping-out of the students. Per se, we are not against the idea of multiple exit points, provided, the state takes adequate steps to ensure that no student is pushed to drop out due to want of money.

5. The system of multiple exit points would sabotage the reservations granted to SC/ST and OBC students in the higher education. Because the students belonging to the above categories belong to the weaker, vulnerable and marginalized sections they are most likely to be forced to drop-out/flunk mid-way through the Honours course. This means that though admissions would be granted through reservation at the beginning of the Honours course, at the end of two or even three years, far fewer students from the reserved category would still remain in the course. In effect, this step would translate into shrinking of reservations in the full Honours course.

6. We oppose the four year course for bachelor’s degree because it adds an additional year to the degree that could be attained earlier in three years without adding anything substantial in the curriculum. This means an extra year of financial burden which would hit the working class students the most.

7. The proposed new four year course might be completely devoid of rationale for the majority of the students who belong to the working class, lower middle class and other vulnerable sections of the country, but it is going to benefit a lot, we are told, a minuscule minority of elite background students who would like to pursue their education abroad after the bachelors course. The four year course, we are told, would bring uniformity, that would facilitate enrollment abroad in the masters’ courses. We, the working class students, along with broad sections of the lower middle class and other deprived sections who constitute a vast majority cannot understand why the interests of all of us are being sacrificed to promote the interests of this tiny elite section!

8. This brings us to what we believe, is the real motivation behind replacing the existing three years’ bachelors ‘course with the new four year course. Successive governments have been pursuing elite oriented policies that favour privatization of public services and aim at depriving the working class of whatever few benefits that it has still managed to retain. The longstanding orientation of the government of India has been to invite private investments in higher education. In the past few decades a consensus has been gradually emerging among the major corporations of India and the world, eager to earn profits through investment in education sector, that there ought to be uniformity in the higher education system the world over to facilitate the free flow of private investment. It is as a part of this larger design that beginning with Delhi University, gradually the University system of India would be made uniform with the American University system. What is completely lost in this bid to Americanize our higher education system is the sensitivity to the local problems which cannot be taken into account within a system imitated from abroad. Imitation of the American University system does not inspire us at all, particularly because an ever increasing number of Americans have themselves begun to concede that their University system is in shambles. It is an extremely elite higher education system that only the super rich Americans can afford and the rest are forced to take student loans to finance their education. The total volume of students’ loan in the US reached 1 Trillion dollars in 2011! We are totally shocked and awed.

9. In all probability these ‘reforms’ would increase the burden of fees upon students in the immediate context too. The introduction of semester system last year was accompanied by doubling of fees for all courses. Likewise students have had to shell out ever increasing sums of money for projects, assignments, examinations etc. So our fear that the introductions of these ‘reforms’ too would entail increased burden of fees for students is not lacking in basis.

10. For long we have been demanding a different kind of reform and overhaul of the education sector. For decades public expenditure on education has remained constant at around 2.9 % percent of the GDP, a figure lower than most of the underdeveloped sub-Saharan countries. Now, instead of increasing this expenditure, the state by starting these ‘reforms’ is sabotaging the existing public education system. Attempts are being made to build a new model of education over an infrastructure that is already crumbling. Ideal reforms would have entailed increased expenditure on buildings, facilities, labs and particularly hostels. However, nothing that will truly benefit us are being introduced – no new colleges in DU, no new subsidized hostels, no reforms in the distance education mode, etc. In such a context, like in the absence of adequate hostel facilities, the poorer among students, particularly those from outside Delhi, are and will continue to be forced to shell out exorbitant sums of money as rent to fleecing landlords. Indeed, this is a major cause for the drop out of poorer students.

11. There already is a dearth of adequate number of class rooms and faculty in the colleges. We wonder how without substantially increasing the number of teachers, buildings, labs, and libraries etc the University is going to be able offer an extra year of teaching in all courses, which will substantially increase the number of students enrolled in the University. Probably the University is banking on the hope that a substantial number of students would drop out through the multiple exist points scheme.

12. For admissions to courses offered by University of Delhi there has been a trend for cut-offs to increase every year. The year before last cut-off for admission to B. Com. Honours at SRCC reached as high as 100%. We have been arguing that unless the number of seats are increased the cut-offs would keep increasing for all courses, but, so far the University ‘reforms’ have not talked at all about increasing the number of seats. Now, with the addition of an extra-year of course in the bachelors’ course, given the crumbling and strained infrastructure of the University, the chances of increase in seats have become even dimmer still. It is also inexplicable as to why, when there is such dearth of seats, the number of students studying in the University is being increased in the form of an extra year of education for the students who get admission, instead of increasing the number of seats for the existing three year course so that a bigger number of students gain access to higher education. It is clear that the government is simply pushing forward with the sole objective of ensuring that the upper-class students are given an ever improving standard of education, whereas working-class students denied even the basic graduate level degree.

13. It has been our long standing demand that the University should start remedial coaching for students from the deprived sections of the society. In India we have a highly graded education system, while some go to elite private schools that are equipped with state of the art technology and faculty, the majority goes to run down and neglected government schools that are deliberately allowed to remain in an advanced state of decay by the government. Mostly students from poorer sections of the society study in these schools. Due to poor faculty and infrastructure they manage to acquire lesser number of skills vis-à-vis students who go to posh private schools. Unfortunately the University has been completely neglectful of the special needs of these students and we are disappointed that in the proposed ‘reforms’ too there is no talk about the issue of remedial coaching for students from the deprived sections.

14. We have also been demanding that special attention be paid by the University to the language problems faced by students coming from various parts of the country who pursue school education through Hindi/Vernacular medium. We are not averse to the idea that all students be equipped with English language skill as this would increase their chances of competing in the jobs market. But so far government’s failure in imparting quality English language training at the schools level for even a sizable chunk of students has meant that those with adequate training in the English language constitute a small tribe that excels in University courses that clearly advantage those students who are have good training of the English language. It is for this reason that we have been demanding that University should make adequate arrangements for training in English language for those students who opt for it. But to our disappointment the University ‘reforms’ do not touch upon this problem at all.

15. Compulsory courses in science, mathematics and commerce for humanities students would lead to increased failure and drop-out for students, particularly for those who are poorer and hence study in the government schools. It is a well known fact that very few government schools in Delhi offer Science at the plus two level. There are cut-offs for those willing to study science and only those who manage to score high grades/percentile in mathematics and science in 10th standard board exams are allowed to opt for science. If these students with no background in science/mathematics at the plus two level are forced to study science, mathematics and commerce

16. It is for above mentioned and several other reasons that we feel:

A) The reforms should begin at the school level with special emphasis upon the deprivations faced by the government school students.

B) Thrust of reforms cannot be the interests of the students from elite private schools, as they are already privileged due to the expensive and high quality they received at school and hence are better equipped to compete at the level of higher education and in the job market, vis-à-vis students from government schools who belong to the weaker sections of the society and receive poor education at the school level.

17. It is most unfortunate that the interests of the students of Delhi University pursuing education through the distance learning mode, popularly known as the SOL (School of Open Learning) and Non-Collegiate Women’s Education Board (NCWEB) are always silently ignored by the University administration. Almost 4 lakh students pursue their education through the distance learning mode. This is four times more than the number of students pursuing education through regular courses. Given a chance most of them would like to study regular courses but they are pushed to SOL and NCWEB due to high cut-offs, especially since the number of seats/colleges in the regular courses is too low. These students score low marks at school because the majority of them being from the working class/poorer sections of the society are forced to pursue education through poorly maintained government schools and hence they are unable to compete for seats at the college level with students from more affluent backgrounds who receive education at expensive private schools. So far, the only solace for these students was that they could still pursue the same course through the distance learning. But with the introduction of semester system last year and the four year course next year onward, now there is a qualitative lag between the courses pursued by the SOL and NCWEB students and those studying through regular colleges. We oppose this attempt to further devalue the courses studied by the students from the working class and other poor sections of the society and demand that any such reform that might lead to further marginalization of the already marginalized SOL students be scrapped. We are also upset that the change of syllabus and course duration in the regular colleges would make it impossible for the distance learning students to attend classes and seek migration to the regular colleges which was earlier allowed by some colleges for a limited number of correspondence students.

18. It is our estimate that the Delhi University requires 80 new colleges to ensure regular college education for almost 5 lakh students who are forced to pursue education through the distance learning mode due the lack of seats in the regular colleges. It is shocking that the University has not started any new college in the last two decades despite the rising number of applicants year after year. There is no mention of starting new colleges in the proposed reforms in DU.

19. The University suffers from acute shortage of residential facilities for the out station students. An RTI revealed that out of approx. 2lakh students enrolled in the University just around 6000 get the hostel facility. Lack of hostels is a source of extreme hardships for the outstation students, particularly because house rents have been shooting sky high in Delhi in the past years. The reforms should have focused on building more hostels for students but the well-being of its poorer students seems to be least among the pre-occupations of the University administration and the Indian state that seeks to convert our University system into money minting enterprises. We also demand the University to start cheap canteens, run by students and karamcharis, which may serve sumptuous three meals to the students on no-profit no loss basis.

20. We are deeply shocked to note the callous attitude of the University towards the special needs of the students from the PH (Physically Handicapped) category. For years we have been demanding improvements in infrastructure for the PH category students, but the ‘reforms’ introduced by the University have not just neglected their needs but they are going to make their plight still worse. Everybody (except perhaps the University administration) knows that there are certain courses like Mathematics/Science which are relatively more difficult for the visually challenged students, hence generally they do not opt for them, despite this both Science and Mathematics has been made compulsory by the University for all students in the new course, irrespective of what course they are enrolled in. This is most unfortunate and reflects the insensitive attitude of the University administration.

21. It is very unfortunate that a University that spends crores on plush seminar halls, auditoriums, parks, tiles, plazas, air-conditioners etc remains oblivious to the plight of its less privileged students who frequently loose out because they cannot afford the expensive reading material prescribed by the University. Many of them can neither buy the study material nor afford to photocopy it. We have been demanding that Delhi University must ensure that the study material should be provided by it to all its students but these ‘reforms’ are silent over this issue too.