Last December after final year students of the Central government-funded Delhi University (DU) wrote their fifth semester exam, the results, under normal circumstances, would have been declared in end January (2020). But owing to a combination of unforeseen circumstances — the national lockdown on March 25 following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, and a prolonged university teachers strike that began on December 4 last year — the exam results haven’t been declared as yet, three months later.
The apprehension of final year university students about losing an entire year is perhaps greater than fear of the novel Coronavirus, which has infected 6,412 citizens countrywide and inflicted 199 fatalities (April 10). Many of these students readying to apply for higher studies abroad haven’t been able to do so because of the delay in declaration of the fifth semester results.
“I have applied to RMIT University, Melbourne. I need to submit my fifth semester results so they can evaluate my academic record. Banks also ask for semester results before sanctioning education loans,” Mukul Upadhyay, a final-year student of Delhi University’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay College, told a news agency.
For these students, an indefinite strike called by the powerful Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) on December 4 last year, which went on for almost three months before it was called off on February 26, was the beginning of their travails. The strike was the union’s response to a university circular that demoted 4,000 adhoc faculty of Delhi University to the status of guest lecturers.
The sticking point is that the remuneration of guest faculty is several notches lower than of ad hoc faculty, some of whom have been teaching in DU for over a decade. The cash strapped university, whose tuition fees have remained frozen for several decades, can’t afford to recruit full- time faculty despite a large number of vacancies because they have to be paid sky-high Seventh Pay Commission prescribed salaries. Therefore it has some 4,000 underpaid ad hoc faculty on its payroll. According to DUTA their demotion to the status of guest lecturers is insulting and unacceptable.
According to university insiders, the duration of the DU teachers strike was prolonged because of a tussle between the HRD ministry and vice chancellor Yogesh Tyagi over the ministry having recommended some appointments in the VC’s office which was resisted by Tyagi. The stalemate led to some critical positions in DU remaining vacant and a period of indecisiveness. With correction of examination papers suspended during the 85-day strike period, students were caught in the crossfire. And their plight was exacerbated by the Covid-19 outbreak which forced educational institutions to shut down before the national lockdown was ordered on March 25. The number of students affected is huge.
DU is India’s largest institution of higher learning and among the largest worldwide. The disruptions in Delhi University’s academic calendar due to the strike and subsequent lockdown have proved to be the last nail in the coffin of final year students. With teachers and university administrators confined to their homes, the prospect of students losing a whole year has become all too real. The new term was to start in January, and a new batch of students will be entering their final year, even before the current batch gets its results.
As of now, the varsity is closed indefinitely. This means students cannot fill examination forms for the last semester because of the delay in fifth semester results, and with colleges and universities under shutdown, there is no administration or appellate authority.
In the circumstances, the consensus of academic opinion is that the right thing to do would be to announce the fifth semester results based on students’ academic performance over the year and teachers’ evaluation reports. But UGC is yet to take a call on this proposal. And if this proposal is not accepted, a huge number of DU final year students may have to repeat their final year, a heavy price to pay for no fault of theirs.
Dilip Bobb (Delhi)