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UGC Autonomous Guidelines

UGC Autonomous Guidelines 2018 – Boon or Bane?

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UGC Autonomous Universities – Cause and Effect.

On 20th March, the Indian Central government announced that it was setting 60 universities and colleges for free. Granting various levels of autonomy from the University Grants Commission, the chief funding and regulating agency for institutions of higher education.

The list includes five central universities, 24 state universities, 21 deemed to be universities and eight colleges. Prakash Javadekar, the human resource development minister, called it a “historic decision”.

What does the UGC autonomy guidelines mean?

Autonomy allows a university to exercise independent control over its day-to-day operations and curriculum. These institutions could evolve their course structure and syllabi to adapt to labor market needs and requirements. Autonomy is the first step towards developing small universities. A cluster can develop around an autonomous college, which could later evolve into a university. Large university systems face structural deficiencies and slow decision-making. Every decision goes through layers of administrative setups.

In India’s case before; institutions faced bottlenecks in their growth due to the affiliation system of one university to the other. Delays and non-approval of new programmes. Besides the regulatory mechanism of the university system. And the obtrusiveness of hierarchy held institutes back from further progress.

How is the UGC autonomy guidelines being implemented in Indian institutes?

UGC’s 2018 regulation on ‘Categorisation of Universities for Grant of Graded Autonomy’, aims at providing more freedom to institutions under three categories, based on their NAAC accreditation score. The State Government would grant financial and administrative autonomy only to select colleges. Hence better the colleges improved teaching quality the higher would be its grade. All institutes must be UGC approved.

Universities and colleges with grades over 3.51 out of four will be classified as Category I and get most autonomy. They can start new courses, centres, campuses and research parks, enter into collaborations with other universities, recruit foreign scholars (up to of 20% of staff capacity) and admit foreign students (up to 20% of student strength) without having to seek permission from the University Grants Commission “provided no demand for fund is made by the government”. For “external review”, they need only send reports to the commission. Category II institutions, with accreditation scores from 3.26 to 3.5, will enjoy much the same freedoms but, if required, will be reviewed by representatives from Category I institutions. Meanwhile, those having scores below 3.26 were placed in Category III but none of them were granted autonomy.

“Any autonomy to the apparatus of a university or higher education system is good, provided its leadership can make use of it.”-SS Mantha, former chairperson, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

How will this affect colleges in India?

Universities will be free to hire foreign staff, offer admission to foreign students, start new courses, off-campus centers, skill development courses, research parks, and other academic programs as long as they do not ask for funds from the government.

This brings us to the other side of the coin. It’s a fact that universities are stymied by under the rigid control of the UGC act. Autonomy would be the best thing universities could have, but that is not what is being proposed. The commission would still remain in overall control granting only financial autonomy. Under this guise, universities are being forced to generate their own resources through self-financed courses. Propelling universities and colleges to start commercial courses, solely for the sake of financing. This will eventually end with the state shedding its responsibility of subsidizing education or treating it as a public good or service, rather than as a commodity. However, HRD minister Prakash Javadekar reassures us that a hike in fees wouldn’t happen with regard to existing courses.

A report on The Wire shows that the government is not short of funds in ensuring better quality and infrastructure in public institutions. Which begs us to question the move for financial autonomy.

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The ever-increasing price of higher education is commonly associated with autonomous universities.

With no funds pouring in from the Centre, new autonomous colleges and universities will feel the pinch, likely resulting in hiring more teaching staff on a contractual basis. After all, contractual hires come with no strings attached – no pensions and no run-ins with the administration for academic rights such as an improved library or classroom infrastructure. This case is highlighted in the case of Kimberly in the following video:

“So as the students blame the colleges and colleges blame the students, the main actor that is the state is suddenly nowhere in the scene” – source

What this means for the diversified masses is that a steady steep increase in student fees. Thus making higher education an elitist and strictly upper-middle-class social norm. Especially for new technical courses aimed at current economic and labor demands.

Lastly, the new guidelines pivot solely on the point that existing universities are leading examples of democratic administration. Which if you were to ask any faculty or student, you’d know they aren’t. Hence one is skeptical of administration gaining autonomy.

Is this new to India?

The concept of autonomy to colleges is not new. First formulated in the National Education Policy of 1992 it was later developed by the Jnanam committee, appointed by the UGC. There are 383 autonomous institutes currently in the country. The new rules and plans, however, have not come forth without controversy. From the protest at Delhi university organized by the DUTA to JNU’s student, teacher vehemently opposed to the plan. Higher education administrators in states such as Kerala have expressed their doubts as well.

Benefits of UGC’s 2018 autonomous guidelines. 

Institutes tend to outgrow prevailing standards and seek accreditations from international bodies, including SAQS (South Asian Quality Assurance System), EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System) and AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). The revamping of the accreditation process would aid in this process.

How has autonomy fared in other parts of the world?

In the U.S University autonomy had led to an increase in pricing of tuition fees. Similarly, in the U.K, the government moved to allow “better universities” with “improved teaching quality” to increase pricing. Sound familiar?

The result of increased tuition fees has led to the student debt crisis which has taken over the west. This explains the numerous raised eyebrows regarding the new financial autonomy regulations.

So what is your view? Is University Autonomy a boon or a bane? Would it result in making higher education a privilege rather than an equalizer? Let us know in the comments below.

If you’d like to read a little further on this topic here are a few go-to links:

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  1. July 16, 2018

    […] Grants Commission (UGC) has made headlines and have been receiving a lot of flak about their approved list of Journals. The UGC had asked academic institutions to recommend names of Journals abiding by the given […]

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  1. […] Grants Commission (UGC) has made headlines and have been receiving a lot of flak about their approved list of Journals. The UGC had asked academic institutions to recommend names of Journals abiding by the given […]

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