How autonomous colleges are breaking India's rigid degree system


Arvind Panagariya & B Venkatesh Kumar

On the recommendation of a NITI Aayog Committee, on which the authors were privileged to serve (as chair and as a member), the human resource development (HRD) ministry and the University Grants Commission (UGC) initiated an important reform in higher education in February 2018.

Under the reform, colleges receiving scores of 3.51 or higher on a scale of 0 to 4 from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), or accredited by the National Accreditation Board (NAB) in three or more programmes with scores of 750 or more in each programme, automatically become eligible for autonomy.

The reform also opens the door to autonomy to somewhat lesser performing colleges. But the procedure for it is more elaborate rather than automatic. The experience with the implementation of autonomy, to date, offers an interesting window to the difficulty of reform within the command and control system with multiple power centres that has remained undisturbed in higher education.

Without determination and persistence on the part of actors and entities piloting reforms, odds are in favour of the survival of status quo. With autonomy, a college gains full control of its destiny. Academically, it is free to introduce new courses and programmes and review, restructure and redesign the existing ones. Administratively, it can constitute its own governing bodies, including the academic council, board of studies and finance committee.

And, on the financial front, it has full freedom to fix its tuition fees. Other than a nominal upfront fee at the time of grant of autonomy, it owes no affiliation fee to its affiliating university. To date, 59 colleges have received autonomy under the new rules, with another 100-plus at various stages of the process. Remarkably, only one of these 59 colleges — Government VYT Post-Graduate College in Chhattisgarh — is owned and run by the government.

READ  IndiGo launches Delhi-Istanbul flight; plans for wider global expansion

All others are government-aided private institutions. Our laws being what they are, UGC cannot automatically confer autonomy on colleges. Instead, the eligible college must apply for it to its affiliating university and the government of the state in which it is located.

In several cases, the first hurdle the reform faced was at the level of the college: its administration was hesitant to apply lest it leads to discontinuation of government funding. It took repeated assurances directly and through the state governments to bring the colleges on board.

Autonomous Resources
With 59 colleges finally declared autonomous, other colleges are beginning to appreciate that autonomy brings more, not less, resources. For, autonomous colleges become eligible for a substantial grant from GoI under its Rashtriya Uchchtar Shiksha Abhiyan.

Colleges affiliated to Delhi University, which became eligible for autonomy, have faced an altogether different hurdle: Delhi University Act explicitly forbids autonomy to the university’s affiliated colleges. A willing UGC has proved insufficient to grant autonomy to colleges in this case.

Such is the rigidity of our system that it requires an amendment of the Delhi University Act. In the case of Patna Women’s College, the only college in the entire eastern and northeastern region to score 3.51 or higher in NAAC assessment, implementation of autonomy faced obstacles from as many as three power centres: faculty, University of Patna and the state government.

The faculty feared an increase in workload while the university and state government were apprehensive about the loss of control over the college. The university denied the college’s application for autonomy twice. But, eventually, there was a happy ending, with the college acquiring control of its own destiny.

READ  Rupee payment for Venezuelan oil under consideration

Eligible colleges from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh uniformly ran into obstacles. The hurdles included buy-in by faculty, procedural rigidities and multi-layered approval processes of university bodies, and resistance by state governments. Even after the grant of autonomy, the states have failed to pass on GoI grants to which colleges are entitled.

In Andhra Pradesh, autonomous colleges continue to have to comply with state government norms. In two states, West Bengal and Maharashtra, autonomy had a smooth sail. In both states, affiliating universities as well as state governments played a supportive role.

Minimal procedural friction was particularly important in the case of Maharashtra, since it accounted for as many as 25 out of 59 colleges receiving autonomy. Good news in all this is that much excitement can be seen in newly autonomous colleges. They are already capitalising on their newfound freedom.

Mumbai’s Jai Hind College has begun numerous certificate courses in subjects such as film production, theatre, photography, digital marketing and wine tourism. Ahmedabad’s St Xavier’s College has introduced MSc in big data analytics and diploma in bioinformatics. Ramnarain Ruia Autonomous College is offering certificate courses in Heritage of Mumbai and food science and quality control.

A New Chapter

Autonomous colleges are also breaking the traditional rigid degree requirements by permitting students to take courses outside their normally prescribed curriculum. Maharashtra is forming an Autonomous Institutions’ Consortium, which would allow students from one autonomous college to take courses in another autonomous college with full credit given.

The consortium will also serve as the vehicle for sharing resources and best practices among autonomous colleges. Change is finally afoot in India’s colleges. The new government must accelerate this process. Panagariya is professor, Columbia University, US, and Kumar is professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

READ  Ford launches Aspire Blu, price starts at Rs 7.51 lakh





READ SOURCE

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here