Subject since its inception to an abiding public controversy, the issue of the implementation of the semester system in Delhi University remains highly contentious with its barebones still shrouded in mystery. This is of note, for the contention is not just in its alleged “autocratic” implementation but also the manner in which the entire project was conceived and then, soon after, opposed by sections of the academic fraternity. Both betray disturbing trends in our policies for and politics of higher education in India.
Cleared by the University’s Academic Council last year, the semester system promises to radically alter our entire experience of education. Putting aside considerations of nostalgia and for tradition – which in a welfare state committed to holistic well being of its citizens should be of no mean significance – the most important question here is why change. Let this by no means be considered an invective against change: to do so would be naïve and against the current urgent need for inclusive socio-economic development retrograde. What is being asked instead is why change for the sake of change or, perhaps worse, for the sake of a top-heavy international model?
Indeed, not a little of the onus in this matter seems to be to bring our system at par with so-called international models of excellence. That what is international is more often than not Western is common knowledge. What we need to ask ourselves is whether we want to blindly exult in imitation of these models or combine these examples with our legacies and resources to create models of excellence – and excellence not as a superiority to be attained but as a quality specific to milieu – suited for our needs.
The answers need to come from all quarters. In voicing dissent DUTA does not represent all; it silences within even as it protests against autocracy from the top. Yes, the concerns it raises are for the most just, but the tone is too often of irritation at the prospect of increased workload – not, as one would’ve expected, regarding the quality of education. Of course the two are linked, but for that matter the administrative staff – or their union, for individual voices are seldom heard – have till now maintained a studied silence regarding the obvious increase in their workload. What is of greater concern, however, is the disquieting silence of DUSU and other student organisations on the matter. The University, at least ostensibly, is meant for students and not vice versa and in claiming to be their representatives these bodies should address all issues carrying the potential of impacting their education and training in a major way.
What is needed, therefore, is that we move away from a top-heavy, exclusive framework which institutionalises agency to and for a few functionaries to an inclusive and consensual model which takes into account all possible shareholders. The role of surveys and of direct interaction between shareholders in open debates is of no mean importance in this. Students’ Unions too need to be rejuvenated and herein those who claim to be liberals must engender and maintain a sustained campaign for giving student politics a pertinence which as of now it seems to be completely devoid of. Of course this will be no mean task and miracles cannot be expected, but still, given our current biases it has become imperative to make democracy more democratic. To do otherwise would only be to further a policy of estrangement and conflict.