Saturday, May 04, 2013

The New 4-Year Bachelors Program at the Delhi University

Our Institute, the Indian Institute of Science, started a 4-year BS degree program in 2011, the same year in which IIT-K dumped the 5-year integrated MSc program in favour of the 4-year BS (though the MSc program survives in the form of a BS-MSc combo for those who opt to spend an extra year). Bangalore University's also started its 4-year bachelors program around that time.

The Delhi University is starting, this July, its own version of a 4-year bachelors program, not just in the sciences, but in all fields. Unlike the earlier episodes in which discussions on the new program were confined to the institutions themselves, the DU initiative is being debated openly in many public forums; see, for example:

[Aside: Though the authors don't mention the 4-year degree course, I read this December op-ed entitled Wanted: intellectual leaders, not CEOsop-ed by Apoorvanand and Satish Deshpande as at least partly informed by the way this issue was being handled by the DU vice chancellor.]

On the practical side, I am not persuaded by the "things are getting implemented in haste" argument. I have seen quite a few episodes in recent years when new things -- right from creation of new institutions such as IISERs, IITs, IIMs, and new Central Universities, to OBC reservation in centrally funded institutions, to "doing something about entrance exams" ;-) -- got implemented after some debate, but with seriously inadequate preparation. Let's face it: if the leadership wants a certain change, and if it feels the time is ripe, it will get it done immediately.

It is important that answers be found for practical questions such as "Does the UGC recognize the BS degree?", "Will the BS graduates need a one-year or two-year masters to be treated as equivalent to the MSc graduates?", "What about those who leave with a diploma-type certificate after two years?". But we should be careful not to overstate their importance. The key, I think, is that these questions raised by the critics can be answered over the next 2 to 4 years, during which UGC can be made to take a call on these and other similar questions [If the IITs, IISc and DU cannot manage this, I don't know what will].

Similarly, incremental solutions, including mid-course corrections to address the curriculum-related issues highlighted by the St. Stephen's faculty, over the next several years will see DU through to its new equilibrium.

For outsiders like us, the more relevant part of the debate is about whether this transition from a 3-year BSc to a 4-year BS program is good and desirable. I answered yes to this question a long time ago; one of the reasons being it brings science and arts students on par with engineering students who get their degree in 4-years (in our current wretched system, only MSc degree holders are treated as equivalent to BE/BTech graduates). I also like the way DU's program offers exit options at the end of the 2nd year (with a diploma-like certificate) or the 3rd year (with a BSc degree).

All this is not to deny the distinct impression that the DU administration has made serious missteps. The final product appears not to have much to do with the big ideas which were used to sell the program to the constituent colleges and their teachers; for example, the inflexible curriculum is a cruel blow, especially since the entire 4-year program was sold using flexibility as a central feature.

While these missteps need not be deal-breakers, any corrective measures (in the medium and long term) to improve the program will require the DU administration to listen to the critics with an open mind; what the current debate shows is that it lacks this crucial skill.


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    Thanks for the links. To begin with it was not clear to me that it was a bad idea. These links will help to learn some more about the issues involved. Thanks.

  2. Amber Habib said...

    You have argued in the abstract. There is no attempt to consider the reality of DU - who takes admission, how many, the state of the infrastructure, the faculty shortage in the colleges. The 4 year program by keeping students in DU longer, adds further strain to an already stretched system. The strains in an IISER or IIT or IISc sre entirely trivial by comparison.