Issue :   
May 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         May 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:May' 2018


Big challenges ahead

M. R. Dua

Right now, according to the HRD ministry, 52 universities – five central and 21 state universities, 24 deemed universities and two private universities, figure among the 60 higher educational institutions and universities that will benefit from this gradation.

Reforming higher education has been one of the top priorities of the Indian establishment for long. A plethora of commissions and committees have come up with umpteen recommendations and innumerable proposals, but without any material change in ameliorating the educational scenario.
While the search goes on for reforms, Union Human Resource Minister Prakash Javadekar recently announced two proposals: graded autonomy for universities and, graded autonomy for colleges. All central, state-deemed and private universities and colleges, funded by the Centre or states or privately-owned, are graded by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) on the basis of performances of their students, faculty's national and international academic merits or research-based attainments.
Right now, according to the HRD ministry, 52 universities – five central and 21 state universities, 24 deemed universities and two private universities, figure among the 60 higher educational institutions and universities will benefit from this gradation. Incidentally, two most prominent central universities in Grade One are: New Delhi-based JNU, and the University of Hyderabad. In Grade Two are AMU and BHU. In addition, 12 state universities have also been granted 'complete' autonomous status. JNU and UoH enjoy unlimited autonomy in all areas of campus environments— students' and teachers' conduct in classrooms and outside.
Still, many educationists and educational administrators believe that university autonomy in India in the current ruling scenario is a myth. For, any amount of reforms for autonomous status in our faultridden failing higher education system can't help them to compete on global standards.
They cannot even meet the nation's most cherished needs for generating innovations or creating knowledge.
It'll be relevant to recall here that even the 1964 Kothari Commission report on education and national development in India had recommended that 'autonomy' was a sort of acme for academic excellence. The report spelled out that the 'university autonomy lies principally in three fields.' 1. Selection of students; 2.Appointments and, 3.
Determination of courses of study, methods of teaching, and selection of area and problems of research.
The fact is that during the past 50 years, the concepts and paradigms of education and development have undergone incredible revolutionary transformation in their practical applications on campuses. Also, the concept of 'university autonomy' has completely changed in today's context.
What have not changed, as the commission affirmed, are the 'commitment to truth… passion for truth' in education. The case for autonomy of universities, as the commission opined, rests on

the 'fundamental functions of teaching, research and service to the community.' For, it's only the autonomous institutions that are 'free from regimentation of ideas and pressure of party or power politics, can pursue truth fearlessly and build up in its teachers and students habits of independent thinking and a spirit of inquiry, unfettered by the limitations and prejudices….'
Spelling out in real terms, autonomy in university means autonomy of departments, colleges, teachers and students vis-à-vis university in its totality.
In addition, total autonomy is also integral for a university's smooth functioning for building up future generation of intellectuals, innovators, researchers, technologists and scientists.
It's an open question as to how far we can go in today's measure of autonomy. Among many prerequisites seminal to autonomy are financial freedom to allot and procure funds for universities only to usher in academic excellence.
All academic institutions need a reasonable amount of independence in their relations with the regulators and determinants of academic curricula and research standards and finance providers, such as UGC, MHRD's departments, AICTE – operating at the central or state levels. Absence of autonomy at any level will seriously hamper universities' academic goals.

The moot question is : will the graded levels of autonomy make universities compete globally? Then, what includes autonomy? It means: freedom in launching and initiating new and innovative academic programmes; new schools; new departments; new centers, or off-campus courses. Permission or consent from the UGC in this regard has been dispensed with; and there will be no UGC inspection. Grade Two institution, however, would be subject to fewer conditions in this context.

However, to begin with, the MHRD is considering 'soulful' financial packages to make credible start for those institutions that will be bestowed autonomous status. Also, a new scheme, 'Enhancing Quality and Excellence' in some select state universities and colleges will receive special incentives for improving quality of education.
All in all, the government seems resolved to tackle falling educational standards. Money and resources will not be problems in promoting and achieving scholarly heights.

India's autonomous universities will be expected to cultivate among teachers, scholars and students hunger, passion and love to achieve excellence and scale new heights. In fact, accountability is the name of the game. That is why British or American universities win the largest number of Nobels year after year. In our case, the pity is we're still fighting for reservations on caste, region and religion basis.
Therefore, the success of autonomous status will hinge on ample liberal funding. Autonomous institutions should have the liberty to appoint their own top executives-- VCs, registrars, foreign faculty, members of academic bodies.
The bureaucracy should have the least role in any academic matters.
Flexibility, regard for quality and innovation should be the hallmark of the new educational era. Let's make sure autonomy and accountability go hand in hand. If assured of such environments on campuses, good results can be achieved in a decade or so. If India's educators and learners can leave indelible marks in Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Stanford, they can rise to meet the challenge in their own country. Let's trust them.