|Dinesh Singh, Smriti Irani
New Delhi, June 27: A beleaguered Delhi University today scrapped the four-year undergraduate programme, the government’s hand in browbeating the autonomous institution highlighted by teachers’ bodies rush to congratulate minister Smriti Irani despite her efforts to disown any role.
The stalled admissions are to start from Monday or Tuesday, sources said, bringing relief to the 2.7 lakh student applicants caught up in the standoff between the University Grants Commission and vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh.
A triumphant Delhi University Teachers’ Association, which had been opposing the four-year programme tooth and nail, has intensified its demand for the removal of the vice-chancellor.
Singh announced the rollback “in line with” the commission’s directive, saying: “The University of Delhi recognises the need of the hour. It is of paramount importance to protect the interests of the students by ensuring the start of the admission process.”
Last night, the commission — the higher education regulator — had issued a scathing letter rejecting the university’s plea that a rollback would take time as it would need approval from statutory bodies like the university’s academic and executive councils.
It also turned down the compromise formula suggested by the university, which would have allowed the grant of an honours degree after three years and an “honours by research” degree after an optional fourth year.
The commission said the arguments, articulated in a letter from university registrar Alka Sharma, were self-contradictory.
“On the one hand you have said that the rollback would require statutory approvals and on the other hand, you have talked of a ‘blended model’… which inevitably implies that it would not require any statutory approvals,” said the rejoinder from commission secretary Jaspal Sandhu.
The university now reverts to the old three-year programme. It today formed a committee of 12 principals to suggest a road map for a smooth admission process. The students will probably be asked to approach the colleges of their choice after the cut-off marks are announced instead of having to register themselves with the university first, as they had to last year.
The four-year programme was implemented last year with full support from the UPA government and the regulator, which was headed by its current chairman Ved Prakash then too.
However, the BJP manifesto for last winter’s Delhi polls pledged to scrap the new system and, soon after the party came to power at the Centre, the commission appeared to change its mind.
Union human resource development minister Smriti Irani today tried to distance herself from the latest development.
Irani declined comment on the controversy and said she respected the university’s autonomy.
“There have been persistent attempts (to get) me to speak on a constitutional issue, which is not proper. Kindly do not compel me to breach constitutional propriety,” she said during a visit to Bhopal.
“I respect autonomy of institutions. However, I’m reminded that autonomous institutions were created to serve the people of the nation. My appeal is this, that within the ambit of the law, this is the time for statesmanship, which will lead to a resolution. One should not sacrifice the interest of our students at the altar of prestige.”
However, teachers’ bodies from across the political spectrum tripped over one another to thank the minister.
The Left-leaning Delhi University Teachers’ Association expressed “heartfelt appreciation for the role played by (Irani) in restoring the rule of law and saving a fresh batch of 54,000 students from the same fate (as last year)”.
The BJP-affiliated National Democratic Teachers’ Front wanted to “gratefully acknowledge… the consistent support it received from” Irani and praised the “mature and sophisticated manner” in which she “handled the crisis”.
The Delhi University Teachers’ Association demanded the vice-chancellor’s removal accusing him of systematically crushing dissent through threats and intimidation and of turning statutory bodies into rubber stamps.
It accused him of diverting funds, released by the commission for expansion of facilities to accommodate the 27 per cent Other Backward Classes quota, to distribute laptops in an effort to silence student criticism of the four-year programme.
It alleged that funds meant for development of teaching were diverted to Antardhwani, a festival meant to showcase the four-year programme.
Students’ parents, who have been thronging the campus for the past four days --- the admissions were originally scheduled from June 24 --- heaved a sigh of relief.
“I feel very relaxed. At last some clarity has come. My son may get admission by next week,” said Sunil Kumar Jha, who has come from Deoghar in Jharkhand with his son.
A government employee, Jha has had to get his leave extended. “Staying is too expensive here. I’m paying Rs 1,200 in hotel charges every day in Paharganj apart from food,” he said.
The regulator has set up a 10-member committee to suggest modifications to the course structure for a smooth transition from the four-year programme to a three-year system.
The commission has been arguing that the ordinance implementing the four-year programme was illegal since it was not approved by the university’s Visitor, the President of India.
The university says it had sent the ordinance to the human resource development ministry to get the Visitor’s approval. When it received no response from the Visitor’s office within a month, the university, in keeping with protocol, took the ordinance to have been approved.
However, the ministry says it had sought various clarifications from the university on the ordinance, which it never received. Therefore it did not send the ordinance to the Visitor.
The ministry and the commission have also said that the four-year programme violated the 10+2+3 system suggested by the National Education Policy of 1986.
This has raised questions about the four-year programmes offered by institutions such as the Shiv Nadar University and Ambedkar University. The Ashoka University too appears poised to start a four-year programme this year. “The commission will look into those cases,” a ministry official said.
Sources say the four-year programme was the brainchild of Kapil Sibal when he was at the helm of the human resource development ministry.
When it was implemented, the Delhi University Teachers’ Association had gone on a month’s dharna on the ground that it violated the National Education Policy and that the extra year would hurt students from poor families.
It later criticised the course content and continued its agitation, which was backed by various students’ bodies.
But the ministry and the commission, under UPA rule, defended the new programme saying the “foundation courses” taught under it would broaden the students’ knowledge and help them find jobs.
As late as February 14 this year, commission chairman Ved Prakash had described the four-year programme as excellent.
Today, asked why the commission had been silent for a year after the university implemented the four-year programme, a senior commission official said: “Better late than never.”