New Delhi: University Grants Commission (UGC), the regulatory body of 45 central universities in the country, in a letter to the registrars, has asked for rationalisation of courses based on the demand among the students. In his letter, V Talreja, undersecretary UGC, said that the Ministry of Education had observed some departments that central universities started without assessing the number of students interested in such courses. The letter added, “Therefore, it is requested that you may conduct the courses based on the demand of students and number of students in a particular course and do a rationalisation of all departments within the sanctioned number of students and teaching staff aligned with a number of students enrolled in such courses.”
The letter seems to have triggered an uproar among the teaching community across central universities, with many raising concerns about trimming funds and staff cuts in courses in humanities and social sciences. The teachers are also worried about the impact of rationalisation on departments imparting Indian languages in central universities. NewsClick spoke with some teachers to know how they see the notice and its possible implications.
Uma Devi, professor at the Department of Modern Indian Languages and Literary Studies at Delhi University who has been teaching Tamil for the last two decades, said that the letter by the regulator to the central universities is interestingly in contravention of the New Education Policy (NEP) actively pushed by the centre. Talking to NewsClick over the phone, Devi said that the NEP, at least in theory, wants multidisciplinary courses and the Indianisation of the education system. Still, both objectives will be hampered if the letter is implemented in central universities.
She said, “the new education policy talks about the proliferation of Indian languages and should be taught in different universities. The one reason they asked universities for such rationalisation may depend on low enrolment and less demand, but how do you determine the question of demand? The students did not enrol in large numbers because the courses were poorly designed and did not carry much application. For example, only 30 students passed out in a particular MA course in the last 15 years. The UGC and other bodies did not see what was wrong with the courses. The same old textbooks have been recommended without any revisions. In this case, closing down anything is always an easy option.”
Devi added that the notice reeks of colonial mindset where English has been assumed the language of knowledge production and other languages have been completely ignored. “The coronavirus pandemic showed the importance of health systems. Now, most patients are advised to take allopathic medicines, but very few know about the treasure of traditional medicines available locally in Tamil Nadu. If you stop teaching Tamil, how would people, especially medical professionals, learn about it. So, the language should not be seen from the prism of literature alone.”
Munshi Mohammad Yunus, a teacher of Bangla at Zakir Hussain College (Evening), believes that the notice only suggests preliminary discussion among stakeholders over the issue and should not be taken as the final word. He told NewsClick, “the definition of demand in itself is very problematic. The Indian languages courses were introduced in the central universities like Delhi University because the universities are diverse places where multiple cultures meet and learn from each other. Language teaching is crucial for protecting the idea of India and preserving the unity of the country. So, it is much beyond the question of enrolment. Second, a private institution may think about its profit or loss based on the number of enrolled students. We do not see that government institutions should run in this manner. We teach literature and culture here. So, how does UGC quantify the outcome of these courses? It is up to the body to explain the rationale. I think it would be apprised by the various stakeholders about the impact, and UGC will take a positive view of it.”
Another professor, Amitava Chakraborty, who also teaches Bangla at the Department of Modern Indian Languages in DU, said that the UGC should come out with its findings if it undertook any study before suggesting rationalisation. He noted that UGC might suggest the changes, but it should clear test of the pedagogical standards, and it needs not necessary that a single system will only work and others would fail.
He said,” my problem with notice is that the question of enrolment is very vague. Whenever the courses are designed and started in universities, educationists sit and frame syllabus and other policies. I am not aware of any report which UGC consulted and sent the universities such letter. Second, we are witnessing massive changes in the last ten years. The body should understand that multiple systems can work simultaneously, and you need not choose one method over another. For example, when the four-year undergraduate programme was introduced at Delhi University, we told the administration to consider our requirements. The American universities follow a two-semester system, British universities follow a tri-semester system in a year, and Oxford University follows annual examinations systems. Three of the systems produced good students. So, the key remains what suits our interest best, not imported system UGC and Ministry of Education want to replicate.”
Najma Rehmani, Head of Department (Urdu), said that the UGC should develop the formula on which it wants rationalisation. She added that the language brings aesthetics to society and should not see in isolation. She said,” it is an academic debate if science can work without language. However, if we move beyond this question and come to the topic; the UGC suggests that universities employ one teacher for 40 students. Then, it would undoubtedly result in trimming of departments. The universities offer these courses because the students have been demanding them, even though their number was relatively small. If UGC suggests that the department should arrange the funds on their own, then we may find that our department may face problems because we are not that market-linked. “
She added that the spectrum of language is different from sciences. It brings creativity to your expressions. You discuss politics, philosophy, history in it. So one cannot abandon it. It must be taught to preserve your heritage. I hope UGC understands it.”