Impact of Autonomy Status to Higher Education Institutions

By Prof. (Dr.) Parasar Bandyopadhyay, Director, MCKV Institute of Engineering, Liluah, Howrah, W.B




The affiliating system of colleges was originally designed when their number in a university was small and could effectively regulate and oversee the working of the colleges, act as an examining body and award degrees on their behalf. The system has now become unmanageable and it is becoming increasingly difficult for a university to attend to the varied needs of individual colleges. 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. Hence, the Education Commission (1964-66) recommended college autonomy, which, in essence, is the instrument for promoting academic excellence.


Our Prime Minister, Sri Narendra Modi during his address at the 102nd Indian Science Congress in early January 2015 gave a call for giving more autonomy and academic freedom to the Universities. Autonomy is essential for performance of the institution from the perspectives of quality of academics as well as access and equity. Number of universities grew to 677 in 2013-14, which includes private and government funded (Central Government and State government), whereas number of colleges increased exponentially over 37,200 in the same academic year. It was noticed that broadly, Institutions with greater autonomy have delivered better performance consistently. At the same time, with low autonomy, the outcome of the university/ college seems to have gone down, as they lack even basic infrastructure and core resources like teachers.


Issues Affecting Autonomy


Autonomy is linked with the accountability. Freedom must embrace discipline. Success of autonomy is seen when the right balance between autonomy and accountability is exercised. Major issues affecting autonomy of both government-funded and private universities, broadly fall under two categories:

• Restrictions and limitations as per the regulations (Central/ State Govt. Acts and Regulatory Guidelines) and
• Operational decision making.


In government funded universities, major issues include government’s influence on vital aspects like appointment in Key positions in governing the education system, opening of new colleges or grant of affiliation to new colleges.


However, in the case of private universities, most of the issues are with regard to setting up the university, finding out right person to govern the education system as per the requirements of regulatory bodies and sources of funding. As per the current UGC guidelines, a private university can be set up only through a state private university Act and has to be unitary in nature, thereby limiting the scope for expansion. A study of the Private Universities Acts of various states reveals the differences in governing mechanisms as well as operational guidelines, including admission of students. Besides restriction on jurisdiction of the state, there are regulatory restrictions with regard to mode of delivery; like distance education, source of funding, compliance of guidelines of multiple regulatory bodies affects governance of an educational institution.


Can Autonomy by itself lead to Excellence?


Academic autonomy is intended mainly to decentralize decision making and create an enabling environment to improve the teaching-learning-evaluation process. Autonomy alone may not guarantee higher quality, just as non-autonomy need not preclude better performance. The essential ingredients for quality education are the positive attitudes of students towards learning, the commitment of teachers towards educational outcomes and the strength of governance. Autonomy is expected to provide a better framework for fostering these factors. Delegation of authority for the academic, administrative and financial functions is essential for the success of autonomy. However, successful implementation of autonomy requires committed participation of students, teachers and management in the entire education process. A system of academic audit at every step of implementation of the concept of autonomy should be set up. Students’ feedback and its implementation should also be the vital parameters for academic audit. In order to carry out autonomous academic functions like innovation in curricular content, pedagogy, evaluation methods, etc., requires both adequate financial resources and continuous training of teachers. In order to manage the autonomy successfully, academic leaders need to be nurtured and groomed.


Global Studies in Autonomy and Accountability


There is an increasing shift from “state controlled” to “state supervised” systems across the world. The consensus is now among higher education specialists that autonomy can ensure development of institutions that can be responsive and flexible, in line with the changing demands of the industry and society. Developing one set of rules of governance, without examining the contextual factors, may not be able to deliver the right balance of autonomy and accountability. Governments have to evolve alternate mechanisms of accountability, which are outcome based, which may include encouraging Higher Education Institutions (HEI) to prepare strategic plans and monitor outcomes, and signing performance contracts, whereby incentives are provided to high performing institutions.


Experience of Asian Countries with regard to Autonomy in Higher Education


UNESCO did a study in 2014 covering five countries in Asia, focused on institutional autonomy and the role it plays in governance and management of HEIs in enhancing the overall effectiveness of higher education systems. In all these five countries increased autonomy was accompanied by the introduction of new accountability measures, the most common among which was the creation of a quality assurance mechanism at the institutional and national levels, the outcomes of which are linked with industry and society requirements.

The case studies also show that autonomy policies need certain conditions to become successful, which includes need for coherent national policies on higher education. There is no one model for ideal governance reform in general and introduction of autonomy should be in tune with the national context and need to be considered as a continuous process of evaluation.


Miles to Go


UGC need to review the achievements of colleges/ universities in terms of its impact of performance and the challenges faced by them and mentor them by providing an educational expert to help them in scaling a greater height.. A strategic plan, including governing of autonomy linked with accountability is to be prepared by the respective colleges, covering the key functional areas, which is to be monitored by the properly constituted Governing Body/ Senate/ Executive Council in a regular interval and reviewed by the UGC once in a year. UGC should implement various incentive schemes for the higher performing colleges/ universities. Incentives may be in the form of more autonomous power and Government funding. Higher education policies/guidelines adopted by renowned institutes of the world, should be taken as reference for raising the standard of education in our country. Academic leadership should also be encouraged and nurtured as it is very much essential for the sustainability of excellence in education.

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