Don’t let quality slip as Indian sector expands, warns Delhi v-c

‘Slow and steady’ approach can help avoid ‘chaos’ as Indian institutions gain greater autonomy, Yogesh Singh tells THE

October 27, 2021
Flood in market in New Delhi
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The new vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi (DU) has warned that India’s ambitious higher education reforms could collapse if institutions fall short on upholding the quality of degrees.

Approved by the Indian government in July 2020, the National Education Policy seeks to transform higher education providers into large, multidisciplinary universities with several thousand students, with the ultimate goal of lifting the gross enrolment ratio from 26 per cent in 2018 to 50 per cent by 2035.

For universities, the NEP envisages widespread mergers as well as efforts to boost their cross-disciplinary offerings, and lengthening degrees from three to four years. It also means that many more providers will gain the power to award degrees – something that has prompted concern in some quarters.

“If in the process we dilute the quality, the whole experiment will fail,” warned Yogesh Singh, who started as DU vice-chancellor earlier this month.

While expressing enthusiasm for the planned reforms, Dr Singh conceded that in India’s extremely varied higher education landscape, allowing universities to be more independent posed a steep challenge.

“Giving autonomy to India is [like] having 30,000 to 40,000 policies,” he told Times Higher Education.

Still, Dr Singh said he was optimistic that the NEP would be rolled out methodically. He said that top institutions would be the first to benefit from coming changes, while less prestigious universities that “aspire” to perform at a higher standard would earn degree-granting powers in a second phase of the plan.

“We want to implement this slowly and steadily, so that there will not be any chaos in the system,” Dr Singh said.

Ultimately, he said, the reforms would benefit Indian students, moving universities away from long-held practices, such as rote learning, and pushing them to instil more innovative ways of thinking.

But before the NEP can kick in, Indian universities – DU included – will need to focus on a more pressing matter: filling the thousands of vacant or temporary teaching positions.

More than 4,000 instructors currently work for DU on an ad hoc basis, according to the Delhi University Teachers Association, which advocates for teachers’ rights. Many of these scholars have been teaching for nearly a decade now without any job security or salary increases, a professor at the university told THE.

Dr Singh said that filling the posts was the top item on his agenda. The process may take a few months once recruitment begins in December, he said.

“We will start this recruitment for teachers very soon,” he said.

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