• Riya Jeph

The Elephant in the Room

There are numerous factors which add on to the overall excellence of any university- good faculty, excellent students, research facilities, to name a few. Delhi University hailed as one the leading destinations of higher education in India is famous for its notoriously high cut-offs, and to make it to the best of its colleges, students work hard to achieve the highest score in exams. It goes uncontested that exams prove to be too narrow a framework to mark anyone’s intelligence or calibre, nonetheless, Delhi University, owing to its name and fame, manages to attract the most hard-working, ambitious and driven lot of students to its fold.

Needless to say that a University’s work only begins here, but for some reason, over the last few years, it seems like the University has entered into lethargy. The only time there’s a hoo-ha centred around DU is when it releases its cut-off(s), and that’s not too good a sign for a university which carries skyrocketing dreams of thousands of its students on its shoulders.

Having spent one year studying at one of the best colleges of DU, and sharing similar experiences with students across the University, I couldn’t help but wonder, the students offer the University with excellent scores and a lot more but what does the university offer, in return? Having said that I’d firstly acknowledge that DU’s reputation is well-earned, and its alumni network is one of the finest in the world. However, the real test is holding onto the glory, and DU seems to be faltering due to many reasons. So, let’s have a fresh look from a student’s perspective.

Despite having well-qualified professors, the learning experience isn’t always great for the students. Being a professor in a public university comes with job security and several other perks; the resultant lax attitude associated with government jobs and the lack of incentives to improve result into a poor quality learning experience for students. Several times some professors take the liberty not to take classes, and then rush with the syllabus in the end or leave it upon the students to handle. On paper, it might be complete, but in reality, it is far from it, and it must be specified that the classes cancelled because of DUTA strikes are not even being counted in the problem mentioned above.

The rolling HOD title where everyone gets to be the HOD is also a major culprit. When a post is shared amongst everyone and overlooks merit and leadership qualities, it is no surprise that the quality of departments suffers. The absence of competition leaves no incentives for professors to be more serious and passionate about their jobs.

The faculty to student ratio is also a big concern. For instance, the batch of 2022, Political Science department, Hindu College has a strength of over ninety students, and that affects the quality of interaction.

“DU in its entirety is the apex example of a paradox. After meeting the unrealistically high cut-offs and going through an intense screening process during admission (which severely lacks organisation on the part of the admin), the students expect the university to be at least equipped with a good faculty and a responsive administration. The reality, on the other hand, is very disappointing. The admin takes ages to listen to the demands of the student. It responds to the students only when its “image” is being questioned in the media or the outer circle. The research/ miscellaneous facilities barely exist and even if they do then it’s always in the dire need of maintenance. The faculty is also intimidated and faces creative restriction by the administration”Ujasha Tripathi, Graduate, Delhi University

If the casual attitude is the issue with permanent faculty, the case is entirely opposite with the non-permanent staff, i.e. the ad-hoc faculty and the guest faculty. The precarious and exploitative nature of their jobs hampers their quality of teaching, which, in turn, affects our learning experience. Ad-hoc professors constitute a large share of over forty per cent even when there are unfilled vacancies, and there is a growing trend of outstanding professors leaving their jobs for offers in private universities. After all, how can we expect these professors to invest in their teaching and professional development when the administration expects them to work just as hard as a regular professor, and then apply fresh after every four months. Sometimes they don’t become permanent even after being in the service for as long as ten years which is outright exploitation of the teaching staff, and in turn, the student community.

“There is a graded hierarchy of implicit teaching and learning process in public universities like Delhi University. The ad-hoc and guest teachers are taken for granted and seen simply as ‘cog in the machine’. While creative liberty is the essence of teaching and learning. Independent initiatives are largely discouraged in such a setup.The precarious conditions of such teachers are rarely taken ‘centrally’ by even the teacher associations. The issues of Ad-hoc and guest teachers are seen as appendages. Without participatory parity the issues of working conditions and vulnerabilities of exploitation results in a situation of perpetual ‘voicelessness’. The only way out of this loop is permanent recruitment, a strong and democratic teachers union.” An Ad-Hoc Professor at Delhi University (anonymous)

The OBE crisis and the blunders made while conducting these exams have exposed the numerous shortcomings of the DU admin and the University Grants Commission, and this calls for a closer examination of many things. A good Vice-Chancellor plays a very crucial role in a university’s growth; however, there are many issues regarding the appointment of VCs. To exemplify this better I’d like to quote a judgement by Madras High Court- “The heads of universities and the most visible symbols of the university system are these days appointed not because they are distinguished academicians, but because they have the right political connections in the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the case of central universities, or appropriate political or caste affiliations in the concerned state – in many cases, they pay huge amounts of money with rates varying from one crore to three crores [INR10 million to INR30 million or US$140,000 to US$421,000] in some states.”

Every other concern is secondary to the top leadership of a university but if that too is flawed, and more than often is in the wrong hands then little can be said about the prospective growth of any university with certainty.

The problem with the Indian higher education system is very complex, and it has many stakeholders; no one factor can be put to blame. These problems pose a dire consequence to the potential development of this country, and we must realise the importance of education and the value of the young, raw talent. The number of resources and money spent on education is deficient; we have no good research facilities; the teaching faculty is unhappy; the education sector still doesn’t get enough share of the government budget; there are not enough classrooms; economically weaker students struggle to find a place of accommodation for themselves, and most surprising of all, the National University cannot even develop a well-functioning website-portal which doesn’t crash all the time because of traffic.

The Research and Development expenditure constitutes a meagre of 0.65% of our GDP, which is one of the lowest amongst emerging economies. Many students realise the incompetence of the Indian higher education system and those who can afford to leave India after an undergraduate degree, go abroad for better prospects. According to various studies and sources, there are over 1,00,000 India-born PhDs in universities around the world, kept away by paltry salaries and inadequate funding.

China managed to solve this problem of brain-drain by attracting Chinese-origin PhDs back home with dollar salaries and monetary incentives for published research. Tsinghua University, for example, designed on the Western model of teaching and research and is even ahead of MIT in terms of published papers.

It is no wonder we don’t hear of Indian Universities paving a way to solve the corona crisis. How can we expect the youth of this country to be of service to the nation when we spend exceedingly more on defence than on education.

“Despite the limelight which the DU Admissions get in the media with each passing year, with cut-offs of all top North Campus Colleges pegging at and above 99% for the most sought courses, I believe that it is only when we enter an institution that we are exposed to its reality. What operates, in reality, is a stark contrast to what is eulogised, especially in terms of academics(exceptions are always there), coupled with the lack of an effective structure of the redressal of academic complaints, the craving for effective and efficient checks and balances, feedback from the students, with the monotonous syllabus being repeated(which is hardly completed on time) without any practical learning, tutorials being visible only in the timetable but not in practice, lack of doubt solving sessions, irregularity in the conduct of lectures, zero answer writing practice sessions and even the callous and lackadaisical attitude of us, the students coupled with the frequency of DUTA strikes are some of the factors plaguing our colleges and other higher educational institutions. Unless we attempt to view both the sides of the same coin, we will continue to rotate in this circle for the worse.” Bhavya Batra, Student, Delhi University

I remember reading an article by Professor Dinesh Singh, former Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University, titled “University of the Future” and it caught my fancy. At last, I’d end it here- How can we expect a university working with outdated policies of the past to be a university of the future when it is struggling to cope up with the challenging needs of the present?

By Riya Jeph riyajeph74@gmail.com

The featured image is courtesy of Tashi Dorjay, IG : @tashidorjay_

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