New Delhi: Come admission season, Delhi University (DU) invariably makes headlines for its sky-high cut-offs. Even so, it remains one of the most popular choices for fresh school graduates.
This year, over 4 lakh students will compete for DU’s 70,000 seats.
But what is it that makes DU — one of 40 central universities, 16 of them set up in 2009 — such a big draw for students from across India?
Could it be the history — DU dates back to 1922, with its South Campus coming up in 1973? Or the range of courses on offer — DU has 80 academic departments and as many colleges. Is it the location in the national capital?
According to professors and academic experts, it’s a little bit of everything. To many experts, the rush for DU symbolises the lack of opportunities offered by other central and state universities across the country.
DU has by far the largest pool of seats to offer — Mumbai University, a Maharashtra state institution — is probably the closest with 40,000 seats. Its research facilities and infrastructure are described as the best, and its offering of courses the most diverse.
Some of them also point out that the 16 universities set up in 2009 to address this exact problem have locations that put off prospective students.
Twelve central universities conduct admissions through the Central University Common Entrance Test, launched in 2007 with an aim to “provide a single-window opportunity” to students for admissions to participating institutions.
These are: the Assam University, besides the central universities of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar and Tamil Nadu.
The Banaras Hindu University, the Aligarh Muslim University, and the Jamia Milia Islamia University conduct their own entrance exams.
Most undergraduate courses at DU offer admissions on merit basis, but some are based on a test.
Other universities don’t record the kind of rush witnessed for DU seats. Data provided by the University of Hyderabad, which offers undergraduate education as part of integrated courses (Bachelor’s + Master’s), indicates that there were 5,595 applicants in 2020.
“The University of Hyderabad was formed at a time when the need for research in higher education in the country was felt. There are enough institutes providing undergraduate education in the state,” said university spokesperson Professor Kanchan Mallik.
At Central University of Karnataka, the number of applicants was 59,914 in 2019, of which 800 were admitted. The university has 360 seats plus an additional 50 for EWS students across 10 undergraduate programmes.
At BHU, which has a total of 8,500 seats for 35 undergraduate programmes, there were 3,66,094 applications in 2020. A total of 9,161 were admitted.
Among notable state universities, Mumbai University saw 5.38 lakh students apply in 2021. It offers 40,000 seats across 195 undergraduate courses. BA cut-off has hit 100 per cent at Jai Hind College.
Some of the humanities and science courses offered by DU are the most sought-after in the country, and other central universities do not have the same range.
The Jawaharlal Nehru University offers 9 courses for undergraduate students, all of which are international languages.
The BHU has 9 music-related 3-year undergraduate programmes and 7 others for subjects including arts, law, commerce, maths and biology.
The Central University of Kerala only has a bachelor’s course in international relations.
Also, colleges of Delhi University have consistently been at the top of the Union Education Ministry’s National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF).
In 2021, in the ‘college’ category, Miranda House in Delhi ranked as the top college, followed by Lady Shri Ram College. These were followed by two private institutes, Chennai’s Loyola College and St Xavier’s College in Kolkata. There are three other DU colleges in the top 10: St Stephen’s, Hindu and Shri Ram College of Commerce.
Students aspiring for admissions in DU say it offers much better opportunities than other government institutes. Gurmeher Kaur, a 17-year-old student from Delhi who scored 92 per cent in Class 12, said she would either study in DU or resort to open schools.
“I have applied in three colleges for Political Science honours in DU. But now I am starting to think that my marks are not enough. If I don’t get an admission in DU then I will take admission in an open college,” she added.
“I cannot afford private institutes and I don’t think any other government university provides the quality of education that DU does.”
Asked about DU’s popularity, professors point to its location, and say it provides better research facilities and infrastructure than other central and state universities.
“Delhi is the melting point of culture, history and politics in the country. This gives students a vast potential of exposure,” said Subodh Kumar, faculty member at Maharaja Agrasen College in DU, who is part of the institute’s admission committee.
“The reason why students are flocking to DU is because of the lack of research and infrastructural facilities in their state and central universities. Most central universities are located in such far-off areas that parents feel hesitant in sending their wards to such locations.”
He said certain central universities are also in “poor shape”. “Take the example of Mahendragarh University (Central University of Haryana). Although the location is there (in Mahendragarh), the colleges are functioning from Gurugram. In 6-7 years, the central government has not paid enough attention to central universities to aid their development. As a matter of fact, even DU is suffering due to lack of funds but we have managed to sustain somehow,” he added.
Professor Ali Raza Moosvi, the dean of the Department of Earth Sciences at Central University of Karnataka, blames the university’s location for poor student turnout.
“All the 16 central universities created by the 2009 Act of Parliament have been set up in remote rural locations, or what we refer to as the ‘back of beyond’. This would make students not want to come to rural areas for higher education,” said Moosvi, who has worked with three central universities.
“Moreover, it’s quite natural that students living in rural or semi-urban areas would like to study in a big city for their higher education. The location of a university is very important and decides factors like infrastructure, quality of student life and the quality of education.”
Infrastructure, he added, “is not just limited to buildings but also to facilities like food, internet, campus life, access to communication and transport”.
Quality was a concern also highlighted by Dr Amit Kumar, Assistant Professor at the Patliputra University, who said the condition of state universities in Bihar is poor.
Citing a low student-teacher ratio in state colleges, Kumar, a former officer with the Bihar Administrative Service, said, “There are 25 teachers for Hindi faculty this year but there are more than 20 colleges that teach the subject. The process of hiring has been extremely slow, there is no system of ad hoc or guest faculty, increasing the burden on existing professors.”
He said even the two central universities in Bihar were located at Motihari and Gaya, “where no student from another city will want to study”.
“Naam ko building bana diya hai par uska use kya hai agar books ya lab nahi hain (they have made a building in name, but what will it do without books and labs). Appropriate books are not made available, nor are labs in several universities equipped properly.”
Former University Grants Commission Vice-Chairman Bhushan Patwardhan said, more than geographical location, it is important to create UG courses that make the students job-ready.
“The reason why DU is so sought-after is because of the quality of education and ecosystem for career growth that it provides. What is happening right now is that students are seeking universities that help them with career development and get a placement. Although education should not be placement-driven, it should be so well-rounded in its nature that it prepares students for what comes after… Private institutes like Manipal and BITS Pilani are in remote locations, yet a favourite among students,” he said.
“Our job is not over simply once a building for the university is set up, it needs to go beyond this,” Patwardhan added.
A student, enrolled at Bihar’s Central University, agreed. Not wishing to be named, he said he is preparing for banking examinations since “undergraduate education is not enough”.
“I know I will not get a job after my BCom since there is no placement facility in my institute,” he added. “Whatever education I am receiving is so basic that it will not help me get a job anywhere.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)