Association of Students for Equitable Access to Knowledge (ASEAK) has been formed in the light of increasing restrictions on access to affordable reading material- specifically the lawsuit by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis on Rameshwari Photocopy Services in Delhi University on charges of copyright infringement. The Association has been, among other things, struggling against growing privatisation and commercialisation of higher education. With this perspective, we see the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) as a reform which has been designed to push forward the agenda of serving private commercial interests. And the implementation of such a regressive programme could only have been autocratic, which the events of last few months have demonstrated. Following are the grounds on which ASEAK rejects the FYUP, apart from condemning the absolute high-handed and authoritarian method of its implementation:
# Multiple-exit points and the question of drop-outs: The concept of multiple-exit points in the course, which has been harped upon as promoting students’ freedom to choose and decide, blatantly institutionalises already existing inequities in higher education. Multiple exits in the course accordingly ‘grade’ the course. So clearly, a 2-years course will be less valuable than a 4-year course. And the ‘freedom’ to complete it two years or four is really a question of who has the means to afford it. Higher education for many female students is a struggle, and they will be the first to be asked to take a token degree and discontinue education. Multiple-exit points is simply an exercise in making denial of education a formal system.
Further, the multiple-exit points scheme is being projected as a solution to the high drop-out rate (30%, according to ‘studies’, as the Vice Chancellor claims: there is no systematic study of the matter). That a University doesn’t tackle the reasons why students are forced to drop-out and institutionalises ‘dropping-out’ lays bare their agenda of making education exclusive.
# Availability of reading material: Since this semester, the first batch of students in FYUP have started attending classes and are already dealing with a lack in the availability of reading material. The rash implementation of this programme has meant a severe infrastructural crisis where much of the reading material is simply not available; there is shortage of teachers, classrooms and other resources. And, to cover up the blunder, the University is stepping into a minefield by asking publishers for rights to reproduce work published by them in reading packages. This makes a serious dent in the ongoing case in the High Court of Delhi, where the very same question of rights of reproducing published work is being debated, and in which Delhi University is itself a defendant.
# Course-content: The available content of some of the courses, specially the Foundation Courses, is a dumbing-down exercise. It is disrespectful of students’ desires and capabilities to learn and makes the first two years of the course qualitatively redundant. This goes perfectly well with the Multiple-exit points scheme, so that those who are forced to ‘exit’ gain nothing from the critical faculties of University education.
# Dictation of education by Industry: We see the hurried implementation of the FYUP within the broad spectrum of changes being made to serve interests of private commercial players. Within this is also the mushrooming of private Universities which simply ‘sell’ education and by valourising self-financing, are ensuring the demise of government-funded, subsidised education. A more entrenched effect of private players in higher education is their role in manipulating the production of a class of low-skilled workers who will meet the demands of underdeveloped, service based industry. The four year programme also can be seen in this light, since students passing out with just a 2 years (diploma) degree, the hitherto ‘drop-outs’, will be equipped with barely any skills.
# Stand-alone University: The FYUP, firstly, devalues the degree from School of Open Learning which is going to continue being a three years course. This will institutionalise the already prevalent hierarchy between degrees given from the same University. Further, by forcefully implementing this programme, Delhi University rejects the established 10+2+3 system followed by universities all across the country. This will make transfer and exchange of students between other universities and DU impossible. It shows the arrogance of DU administration in thinking of itself as apart from and superior from the existing system of universities, and openly stops students from pursuing advanced degrees in DU.
The FYUP exemplifies the reversal of the very project of the University, which is to recognise and address the inequalities of access to higher education. The task of a University is to acknowledge and work on the fact that students start from different and unequal platforms. Here, there is the exploitation of that very fact. Higher education plays the role of a leveller, opening up the possibility of transcending existing constraints of socio-economic reality. The FYUP signals a loss of this possibility and a forgoing of such aspirations. It also indicates the changing principles of higher education, where private universities and their profit-based functioning is becoming the ideal.