Autonomy –Will it lead to privatization of Education
Philosopher Immanuel Kant held that autonomy is at the root of human dignity and the source of all morality. In academics, autonomy with responsibility and accountability is essential for good governance and financial well-being of institutions . Thus the “historic” declaration of March 20, made public by HRD minister Prakash Javadekar himself, should be a welcome move. The autonomy which the universities were enjoying earlier and was gradually eroded by university grants commission during last few years was a constant point of conflict between teachers and government. It, therefore, should have been considered as victory of teachers struggle. But the Gazette notifications, published in February 2018 titled ‘UGC (Categorization of Universities for Grant of Graded Autonomy) Regulations 2018′ and ‘Conferment of Autonomous Status Upon Colleges) Regulations 2018′ cannot be considered to reflect the idea of autonomy as described earlier.
The essence of the letter of these regulations is on a policy of withholding state funding for the expansion of ‘quality’ higher education. The universities and colleges considered to be excellent and graded into three groups are given different degree of autonomy. But these institutions have to generate resources in order to start and run new courses particularly based on new technologies. The only way universities can generate resources is by self-financing putting burden on the students . Thus poor students will not be able to pursue courses that may be modern and job oriented. There is also a provision to create off-campus centres without approval from the UGC. This may be similar to universities running centres as franchisee allowing them to use their name for money. This money will ultimately be recovered from students. which will make the education costly. The sole purpose of public funded institutions is to provide education to every person at affordable price. The few seats made available to NRI and foreigners has already taken a toll on number of seats available for common people.
Now some clarification has been made by minister HRD and a letter from UGC has been received by universities that 100 % grant will continue including for the payment of the 7th pay commission arrears.
What is important for universities is to have academic freedom to decide about the type of research it want to carry without interference from the government or corporate sector. Much damage to original research in most of the countries dependent on corporate funding can already be seen. The research in pure science has declined at the cost of applied research.
The flaw in present system of universities governing with more autonomy will provide unlimited power to executive council which is exercised by the vice chancellor. If it has to be curbed the executive council of the universities must be made more independent with member from academic communities with fixed term. Presently because of rotation in appointment of deans the term of most of the members is less than one year. Thus the it will be better if thorough revision of the membership of various bodies must be made based on suggestion from the universities. Also at least for category I universities the funding of new courses must come from the government . For category I universities the funding for new courses must also come from the government but a ceiling may be provided. For example every year only one or two new departments may be started.