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The recent UGC move to grant autonomous status to 62 educational institutions have been hailed in various quarters. MHRD has praised it and have equated the move to grant autonomous status to Universities with “New economic policies of 1991”. The new move has been hailed as tectonic shift away from the archaic system, a eureka moment for universities. As per this new move,universities who have been granted autonomous status would now be in a position to launch new programs, design new syllabuses, decide their admission procedure, fee structure, enrol foreign students and faculty members.

What Autonomy Really means?

When we talk about autonomy it encompasses academic, administrative and financial autonomy. Academic autonomy is something which the universities have been craving for long. So it must be welcomed. However, the current move is not so much about academic freedom i.e. teaching, learning and sharing of new ideas rather it is more about giving financial and administrative freedom to educational institutions. Government basically wants to shrug off its responsibility of funding public higher educational institutions. It is basically a step towards privatisation of higher education. The institutions which have been given autonomous status could now launch new courses, design their own syllabuses, open off campus centres, enter into collaborations with foreign universities so long as they are not asking UGC for money.Under the new guidelines, the government has devised a 70/30 formula whereby the central government would be bearing just 70 percent of the total cost incurred after the 7th pay commission is implemented. The rest 30 percent would have to be beard by university themselves. The government have already slashed down the budget for RUSA(RashtriyaUcchtarSikshaAbhiyaan) from Rs 1300 crore to Rs 200 crore. RUSA is a centrally sponsored scheme which was initiated in 2013. It aims to provide strategic funding to higher and technical institutions.JNU, India’s top research university, has seen a massive cut in MPhil and PhD seats by 80 per cent. All these moves clearly signify government’s intentions i.e. “rolling back of state from Higher education” Despite repeatedly being emphasised by various commission’s on education including Kothari Commissionno government till date have spent 6 percent of national income on education.

The freedom to launch new courses, collaboration with foreign universities, generating private funding, enrolling foreign students, appointment of foreign faculty, all these moves apparently look quite rosy but there is flip side to it as well. one need to ponder how it would be done? The answer would be definitely; through promoting the “self-financing mode” for new courses, hiking student’s fees, admitting more foreign students who in turn would be charged more tuition fees, asking teachers to take corporate consultancies, tailor-making courses in a manner so that they are in consonance with the markets etc. All these measures will take a toll on much cherished goals of Indian education system i.e. Access, Equity and Quality.

Accessibility, Equity and Quality

Accessibility, Equity and Quality are the dominant themes that have been reverberating whenever there is debate on education policy in India. Diversity and plurality are considered to be important component of any university. University is considered to be a space where students of different cultures, communities, backgrounds and regions interact. The current UGC move would place these things on the backburner. Gross enrolment ratio in higher education in India is 24.5 percent currently much less than even some of the developing countries. Although, India aims to attain a GER of 30 percent by 2020 but the current UGC move could prove to be a deterrent against enhancing GER  as it would further discourage Indian students especially from marginalised sections to take up higher education with increasing tuition fees. The current UGC move would kill social diversity in public funded institutions. As the government is still not clearly spelt out how in these so called ‘autonomous institutions ‘reservation policies ‘would be implemented.

The biggest defence given in favour of ‘Autonomy’ is quality.  The question that needs to be asked is that: Do all public institutions offer exemplary higher education? No, but neither do all private institutions guarantee the same. However, public institutions trump private ones on grounds of affordability and equality, as they do not cater to the affluent and middle class alone.

It has been argued thatquality of education would improve with the coming of Foreign teachers as students would get global exposure. However, with the Foreign University bill pending in parliament this move could be seen as a backdoor entry for foreign faculties who are not getting a ‘tenured posts’ in their respective countries. A government which is harping so much on nationalism this moves seems very hippocratic because this move will reduce the existing job pool for Indian academicians.

The move is likely to give a fillip to ‘Contractual Appointments’ instead of ‘Regular Appointments’. We have already seen how ‘guest faculties’ and ‘Adhoc teachers’ are exploited. They have no ‘job security’, ‘no increment policy’, they are not entitled for even basic rights like ‘maternity leave’. This in turn would mean teaching profession would no more be considered a viable ‘career option’ by youths.

The current UGC movewill force universities to reorient there courses in line with the demand of market. The impact of the current move would be felt more over disciplines like Social Sciences, Humanities and Basic Sciences as these do not have a direct link with the market. But one needs to remember that these disciplines perform a very important purpose of creating a critical citizenry which in turn is very lifeline of a democratic nation.

The crux of the matter hinges upon a basic fact that how you consider education. If it is considered a tradeable commodity privatisation is not a problem but if it is considered a public good, as a tool to social empowerment and to fight existing inequalities. Then this move is going to a disaster in the long run. This move is going to dilute the very basic principles of Accessibility, Equity and Quality. The current UGC move would prove detrimental to the two biggest stakeholders of any University i.e. Students and Teachers.

Dr Parth Sharma is Senior Assistant Professor in School of Law at University of Petroleum and Energy Studies. He holds a doctorate degree in India-China relations from Aligarh Muslim University. He had published research papers in international and national journals of high repute. He is a gold medalist and has qualified UGC (JRF-NET) in Political Science. He also had participated in various workshops and conferences organized by U.G.C, British high commission and premier think tanks like Centre for Policy Research New Delhi. His area of interest includes International Politics, Strategic Affairs, Political Theory, Politics of Development, Issues concerning Higher Education. etc.

 

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2 Comments

  1. David Kennedy says:

    “Who pays?” is the perennial question in education. “Who benefits?” is another. Is “the market” the best arbiter of the purpose of education? And what of “blues skies” scholarship and research? Does it have intrinsic value that justifies having it funded either from general taxation or from a special tax on business corporations that usually benefit in the long-run from such activities?
    On what basis should a ‘status’ be granted, should it be forever, and should it apply to the entire gamut of knowledge? And how are academic standards to be judged, and by whom? How will customers (students) know they ‘get what they pay for’ and that a minimum standard has been reached by all of these ‘autonomous’ halls of learning? And how is the public to be protected from ‘qualified’ practitioners?
    So many questions, so few answers. And how deceptive the word “freedom” is – almost as deceptive as “quality” which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

  2. K SHESHU BABU says:

    The ‘autonomy ‘ to universities is ‘ financial’ whereby they can charge any amount of fee for studies in higher education. Universities rarely use the term to academic and social freedom. This is a clandestine way to make education for the poor, dalits, marginalised sections, inaccessible. Only upper rich strata of society will be benefited