The University Grants Commission (UGC) is learnt to have received an adverse legal opinion on the application for autonomy filed by St Stephen’s College.
According to sources, the higher education regulator has been advised by its lawyers that no institution affiliated to Delhi University (DU) can be granted autonomy unless the university Act is amended. Clause (9A) of the DU Act states that the university can only permit its colleges to conduct “courses of study in the Faculties of Medicine, Technology, Music or Fine Arts, as autonomous colleges”. In other words, for anything apart from the above disciplines, the law has to be amended.
The legal opinion has dimmed St Stephen’s chances of gaining autonomy any time soon. A team from the UGC had visited the college for inspection in May, and filed a positive report recommending autonomy for the institution. The Commission was expected to formally approve the team’s recommendation in a meeting scheduled on May 24.
However, protests by students and teachers forced HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar to call for a meeting with representatives of Hindu College and St Stephen’s College on May 22. They claimed that process to apply for autonomy was initiated by the college without holding consultations with stakeholders. Teachers also said it is a move towards privatisation of education.
As first reported by The Indian Express on May 23, the HRD Ministry advised UGC to seek legal opinion before processing St Stephen’s College application for autonomy after the May 22 meeting — which was also attended by UGC chairman DP Singh and DU V-C Yogesh Tyagi.
During the meeting, representatives of Hindu College had pointed out that no institution affiliated to DU can become autonomous unless the university Act is amended. In wake of the legal infirmities highlighted, the ministry asked UGC to seek legal opinion and the matter was dropped from the agenda of the Commission’s May 24 meeting.
Autonomous colleges have the freedom to design their own syllabus and start new courses. The biggest concern expressed by teachers about autonomy is that colleges will be allowed to start self-financing courses, which will later result in fee hike.