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DU at 100: A university in decline

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By Sidharth Mishra

Delhi University has rolled on its centenary celebrations. There has been some articles and news reports in the newspapers, mostly half-baked, on the contribution the university has made in the past 100 years of its existence. One is still to come across any serious analysis of the contribution of the hoary institution, which is also this writer’s alma mater.

Whenever an educational institution reaches a milestone of its existence, it’s the opportune time for it to reflect upon its contribution to the society. In the West, it is now established practise to research and write history of an institution during its jubilee celebrations. In India, the practise, however, has been to bring out self-congratulatory volumes in the genre of coffee table books. Which is what the Delhi University has also done.

At major event of the centenary celebrations, attended by the Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on Sunday, the activity involved release of a stamp, release of a coin, release of the coffee table book, release of curriculum for undergraduate programme in Hindi and Sanskrit and the website. The schedule of the events gives us an idea how these celebrations are going to be bereft of any academic exercise.

People may point out that the release of curriculum for undergraduate programme in Hindi and Sanskrit is an academic exercise but that it’s just an exercise in filling the blanks. The outline of the curriculum has been provided by the University Grants Commission as per the guidelines given in the National Education Policy and it’s a matter of debate whether any value has been added at the university level or just pushed through the statutory bodies to meet the event release deadline.

The top honchos of a 100 years old university, which seeks to bask in the contribution of its alumni, should have shown the courage to carry out an audit of the raison de atre of its existence. In an article on history of education, William Bruneau, professor emeritus in the department of educational studies at University of British Columbia, Canada, writes, “The new social history reinvented the history of education as an important scholarly field of historical inquiry.”

Bruneau believes that this may be golden age of university histories. Their success, Bruneau however cautions, depends on who is commissioned to write - a credible author or a safe choice? And the constraints imposed on that person by the powers-that-be. With this description, one can approach the commemorative volume released by the Vice President and examine its worth. 

Delhi University has gone into a decline and the university administration remains in a state of denial. With the coming of the Central University Entrance Test (CUET), its moments of existence in the newspaper headlines would also be now a part of history. With the coming of CUET, the days of screaming newspaper headlines of 100 percent cut off for admissions are over. 

Though no disrespect is meant towards the Vice President, the fact that neither the head of the university – the Visitor, that is the President of India, nor the head of the government that is Prime Minister could find time to grace the occasion, which speaks for the low position today the university enjoys on the brand value index. Ideological parochialism, nepotism, trade unionism have all contributed towards lack of scholarship not being a handicap in becoming a professor in the university.

Ironically in its centenary year, the Delhi University can boast of only professors on its rolls, having promoted every teachers who was eligible to apply, and rest of the faculty being made of ad hoc lecturers. Certainly an ‘achievement’ which university vice chancellor Yogesh Singh would not want to showcase.   


(First Published in The Morning Standard)


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