The Delhi University is going out of its way to push colleges towards becoming autonomous institutions. Over the past month, university officials have met the governing body chairpersons of six colleges — St Stephen’s College, Hindu College, Shri Ram College of Commerce, Hansraj College, Sri Venkateswara College and PGDAV College, and handed over forms to apply to the University Grants Commission (UGC) for the status of an autonomous college.
The move comes after UGC had framed new guidelines for autonomous colleges in November, 2016, and encouraged colleges to apply.
“Ideally, colleges should be coming to us but we are approaching them and asking them to fill out forms because we think it is a good idea. These colleges will still be a part of Delhi University but will get more administrative and academic freedom. I held a meeting with principals of all colleges last month and spoke to them about it. They will get back to us,” said DU dean of colleges, Devesh Sinha.
Colleges which got an A grade in the NAAC accreditation are being considered for autonomy as of now. Sinha said the autonomous tag will bring more grants to colleges from UGC. “It will also mean that colleges get the freedom to decide their own course structure and teachers get more academic freedom,” he said.
St Stephen’s College has already called a meeting of its governing body on Saturday to discuss the proposal. DU teachers, however, staunchly oppose the idea. “The governing body meeting has not been called with ample notice. The letter was sent on Thursday and the meeting is scheduled for Saturday. The move has far-reaching consequences for teachers, students and non-teaching staff. This needs proper consultation with all stakeholders, which has not been done yet,” said Nandita Narain, a teacher at St Stephen’s College, who is also a governing body member.
The Delhi University Teachers’ Association will hold a protest on Saturday morning. This is not the first time that the autonomous colleges tag has created panic among teachers and students.
In 2012, Lady Shri Ram College for Women had mentioned on its website that it was an ‘affiliated and autonomous’ college. The change in its status from a constituent college to an affiliated one created enough of a stir for teachers to issue a statement against the move. The college promptly removed the change from the website.
In 2013 again, there were murmurs that St Stephen’s college, SRCC and LSR would be granted autonomy and would even be allowed to open new campuses. This too was met with staunch resistance from teachers then. “We are happy with an autonomous university, not autonomous colleges. How can the university even think about these proposals without bringing forth the plan for approval in the Academic and Executive Councils? There is no provision in the Delhi University Act to grant autonomy to constituent colleges,” said AK Bhagi, from the BJP-backed National Democratic Teachers’ Front.
The biggest fears, teachers said, is that once colleges are given autonomy, the space for democratic dissent will shrink. The service conditions of employees in Delhi University give teachers the freedom, to speak their mind.
“We have seen examples of colleges such as Loyola College where the space to dissent disappeared when it was granted autonomy,” Narain said. Teachers also said fees could go up manifold and academic rigour could be affected because of the decision.