FYUP does not solve the crisis of funds in basic scientific research
Photo: IIT Delhi
- Some experts have written that the four-year undergraduate program could rekindle India’s dying entrepreneurial spirit.
- FYUP extends the current undergraduate program by three years and allows students to complete the course with a diploma, diploma, or honors.
- But this argument, the authors write, uses FYUP only to cover up the lack of affordable higher education.
An article in The imprint on September 21, lamented that Indian higher education has not contributed significantly to India’s economic progress. Columnist, Dinesh Singh, is a decorated mathematician who served as Vice Chancellor of the University of Delhi (DU) from 2010 to 2015, and was awarded the Padma Shri in 2014.
Singh argues that the National Education Policy (NEP), introduced by the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Center in July 2020, will correct this trend by reinstating the abandoned four-year undergraduate program (FYUP), initiated during its switch to DU. Singh is part of a chorus of voices that hailed the central university’s contested resolution in August 2021 to revive FYUP from the next academic session.
While the problems plaguing Indian scientific research are very real, we do not agree with Singh’s diagnosis. His faith in the home remedies of his time as Vice Chancellor is misplaced. In fact, the prescription can even make the disease worse. Here’s why.
Where is the Cambridge of India?
There is compelling evidence that research-based solutions to complex problems can emerge from academia. Singh cites the case of technology giant Apple’s “Siri” interface, which sprouted in a Cambridge University lab, and Google’s incubation at an Ivy League university, Stanford. . Even among state-funded state universities in the United States, such as Illinois and Houston, their internal evaluations find that they are pumping billions of dollars into their local economies.
In the face of this, according to Singh’s estimate, a big question mark hangs over what our main Indian universities are actually doing.
There is no denying that spending on education leads to economic gains. In addition to the short-term gains resulting from the soaring value of an academic start-up, Blue Skies research with no apparent ‘deliverables’ has also advanced scientific knowledge by leaps and bounds and enabled the innovation that has made everyday life easier. Only universities can feed them. Google itself would never have come to fruition without such a grant from the U.S. government’s National Science Foundation at Stanford, while the discovery of molecular antibodies, which opened up the lucrative field of biotechnology, relied on experiments conducted in the UK Medical Research Council laboratories.
It was the University of Southern California that created the first prototype computer chip, funded by the US Army’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to track the former USSR’s success with Sputnik. In fact, Italian-American economist Mariana Mazzucato has shown how nearly every major component in the iPhone is the product of state-led innovation.
Historically, entrepreneurship has not only been about individuals with big ideas being in the right place at the right time, but, more importantly, planned collective efforts to pursue human curiosity even when no end is in sight. NASA’s ambitious Landsat space exploration program, underwritten by the US taxpayer since 1972, provides much of the real-time data to monitor climate change today. In fact, climatologist James Hansen sparked a great public debate on global warming in 1988 after years of studying greenhouse gases in the atmospheres of Venus and Mars.
Take another example from the world of medicine: before the mass production of penicillin, appendicitis meant that death and pneumonia had a death rate of 30%. Let’s not forget that if pharmaceutical titans like Pfizer were reluctant to tame the mold marketed by biochemists Alexander Fleming, Ernst Chain and Howard Florey, it was only after the US War Production Board’s forced takeover of Private research and manufacturing units that penicillin production could be increased for use in the war against Adolf Hitler’s fascist army.
However, if we look to India and much of the global South, such investment and planning in basic science has been lacking. In 2019, UNESCO reported that just 10 countries accounted for 80% of the $ 1.7 trillion spent globally on advanced research and development – 46.1% in North America and Western Europe versus 0, 8% in sub-Saharan Africa and 0.1% in Central Asia.
Even as the formerly colonized Asian and African nations multiplied the number of graduates and doctorates produced, as early as 1975 UNCTAD signaled the new flight of cheap scientific and technical manpower to economically developed countries. In fact, this “brain drain” has remained proportional to the aid to education levied on developed countries since the mid-1960s.
Despite these failures to advance indigenous knowledge systems or modernize research in the Global South, policymakers continue to prioritize ‘applied research’, as embodied by IITs, over basic sciences. .
This is precisely what the thousands of scientists and academics who have demonstrated every year since 2017 against cuts to advanced research funds have warned. India’s “Walks for Science” pointed out that a meager 0.3% of GDP allocated by the Scientific Research Center has strained the few scholarships for scientists that exist in the Departments of Science and Technology (DST). , biotechnology and the Scientific and Industrial Research Council.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, physics student Aishwarya Reddy at DU’s Lady Shriram College for Women died by suicide after the Union Science Department suspended her DST-INSPIRE scholarship. None of these trends, in which former VC Dinesh Singh himself is an accomplice, appears in his research from the University of Cambridge in India.
FYUP, a golden bullet
The only silver lining for the dying entrepreneurial spirit of India, for Singh, is that NEP 2020 revives the FYUP experiment he started in 2013. He bolsters his endorsement with the example of a “data-driven and math-based start-up that an undergraduates” – within DU’s Cluster Innovation Center – “established in 2013 and which has now received multi-million dollar funding in the United States”.
FYUP extends the current undergraduate program by three years and allows students to leave the course with a Diploma (after two years), Diploma (three years) or Honors Diploma (four years). What was previously considered an “abandonment” due to financial constraints magically becomes an “exit option” under FYUP.
In 2014, the sketchy reform had to be abandoned by the University Scholarships Commission after widespread opposition from students, parents and teachers, including from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s own student wing.
But the attempt to resuscitate FYUP in DU today is framed in “flexible” and “multidisciplinary” learning language – phrases that seem utopian in India’s sclerotic education system. On August 24, the DU academic council ratified the FYUP for adoption next year, along with the multiple entry-exit system and academic credit bank. Read together: Students will only take about 42% of their courses, called ‘core’ courses, from DU and have the option of transferring the rest online, to other public or private universities.
However, we saw in 2013 that students excited about the prospect of exploring multiple areas as part of FYUP quickly discovered that a number of mandatory ‘foundation courses’ – foundational skills such as communication, education, training, etc. IT, etc. – had been forced into their schedules. Someone who comes out with a two-year degree will only get that minimum skill set. As a result, she would suffer in the workforce when competing with those who could bear the extra expense of two more years of study to earn an honors degree.
A report on the NEP 2020 of the student organization ‘COLLECTIVE’ 1 noted that all of a sudden, FYUP had “strengthened the hierarchy between [a] pass the course and [an] Honors bachelor’s degree and also created a lower third level, ‘diploma’ in the name of multidisciplinary learning.
The former VC continues to place his eggs in the FYUP basket and is hopeful about the NEP. More generally, FYUP and NEP supporters have argued that the lack of entrepreneurship is just a cultural malaise specific to state-funded universities. In doing so, they are now filling the lack of affordable higher education which deprives young Indians of the opportunity to develop their capacities and deprives the country of the discovery of many talents.
These experts support the Union government’s magic solutions while calling for the reduction of public investment in education in the name of granting financial autonomy to institutes. But by advancing the golden bullet of privatization as a cure for all diseases, they will sacrifice the head to save the body.
Amartyajyoti Basu and Ankan Barman are associated with COLLECTIVE, a student-youth organization in Delhi.