A proposal by Delhi University’s prestigious St Stephen’s College to seek autonomy has triggered protests, with both teachers and students of the college gathering outside the principal’s office to demand that they be consulted before any such move is made. Teachers at other colleges affiliated to government universities too have spoken up against the move, which got impetus after the University Grants Commission (UGC) released a new set of guidelines for autonomous colleges in November.
What do the UGC guidelines to grant autonomy to colleges say?
According to the guidelines, the current system, in which many colleges are affiliated to one university and are dependent on it, is “unwieldy”. This is a concern that has been raised periodically by several education administrators, including the former Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University, Dinesh Singh.
The guidelines say that it is becoming difficult for one university to meet the needs of several colleges; also, the colleges do not get any freedom to set syllabi or start new courses.
“The colleges do not have the freedom to modernise their curricula or make them locally relevant. The regulations of the university and its common system, governing all colleges alike, irrespective of their characteristic strengths, weaknesses and locations, have affected the academic development of individual colleges. Colleges that have the potential for offering programmes of a higher standard do not have the freedom to offer them,” says the UGC.
While the university will be the degree-granting body, the degrees will mention the name of the student’s college. Degrees awarded to students of most colleges (that don’t have autonomy) currently contain only the name of the university, and not that of the college.
Which colleges are eligible for autonomy? What will the UGC fund?
Colleges that have been granted at least a ‘B’ ranking by the National Accreditation and Assessment Council are eligible to apply. UGC will also take into account academic achievements of the faculty, infrastructure, and financial resources provided by the management/or state government for development of the institution.
The UGC will give funding for additional needs — such as guest/visiting faculty, orientation and retraining of teachers, redesigning courses, development of teaching/learning material, workshops and seminars, examination reforms, office equipment, teaching aids and laboratory equipment, furniture for office, classrooms, library and laboratories, library equipment, books/journals, expenditure on meetings of the governing body and committees, accreditation (NAAC) fees, and renovation and repairs that do not lead to the construction of a new building.
So is this move for autonomy new?
No, the UGC already has over 575 autonomous colleges in the country. Of these, 167 are government institutions. Premier institutions such as Loyola College, Chennai, and St Xavier’s Colleges in Mumbai and Kolkata have already been granted autonomy. The erstwhile Presidency College in Kolkata has been granted the status of a deemed university.
In Delhi University, the administration has met with college principals and asked them to move an application for autonomy. The university has also handed over application forms to St Stephen’s College, Shri Ram College of Commerce, Hindu College, Hansraj College and PGDAV College.
What will an autonomous college’s relationship with the university be, according to the new guidelines?
Under the new guidelines, the university’s main role will be that of facilitator. It will focus on promoting academic freedom in colleges, help start new courses, and ensure that degrees/diplomas/certificates issued indicate the name of the college.
Autonomous colleges, the guidelines say, will be “free to make use of the expertise of university departments and other institutions to frame their curricula, devise methods of teaching, examination and evaluation”. The university will not have much say in teaching methodology, examination, evaluation and course curriculum.
So why are teachers opposed to the idea?
Teachers have alleged that the push for autonomy is a “sinister” move towards privatisation of education. “Autonomous colleges will be asked to fund part of their expenditure, and this will force colleges to introduce self-financing courses that are geared towards getting jobs. Students who study these courses will be forced to take a loan as these ‘professional’ courses are more expensive. Traditional pure science and humanities courses will be forced to take a backseat,” said Saikat Ghosh, who teaches English at DU.
Others have questioned how DU colleges can be forced to apply for autonomy when the university is governed by the Delhi University Act, which does not have a provision for granting autonomy to colleges.
Concerns have been raised also about the kind of academic and cultural freedom that an autonomous college can give to teachers and students — there’s very little scope to dissent in colleges that have been granted autonomous status, critics say.
“The college management becomes the agency that deals with all the teachers and the service conditions will be defined by them. We might still be employed by the government but what we are allowed to say and to whom, will be heavily curtailed by institutions that want to maintain a ‘good’ image. There are colleges where teachers are officially reprimanded for speaking out against the college administration. Students too will lose the right to raise their voice,” said a teacher who did not want to be named.
An office memorandum of the Finance Ministry on the Seventh Pay Commission released in January says autonomous organisations are expected to meet extra expenditure on their own, and not burden the central exchequer. Teachers have cited this memorandum to argue that funding from UGC will be eventually cut. Delhi University, on the other hand, has cited the various expenses that the UGC will bear for autonomous colleges to project that funding for colleges will actually increase.