The question of University Autonomy

Greater Kashmir

Over the years there has been a considerable increase in the number of Universities. At present there are more then 280 Universities in India. Some Universities are in their infancy, some are in youth and some have acquired maturity. Some Universities are run by retired judges, diplomats, politicians, bureaucrats, former Army Generals and some by academicians. University, as we know is a place where heterogeneous collection of students of many interests gathers for intellectual pursuits along with their teachers. In other words it is a company of scholars and learners who are continuously engaged in solving the problems of the society through contemplation, research and providing an opportunity for the overall development. Besides, the University contributes to the improvement of life, revival of values, culture and creates social awareness.
 In University set-up, Autonomy attaches great importance (Dr. Gagendragdkar Committee report 1971) on the governance of Universities. Autonomy means self “governance” or functional freedom without any fetters and it implies “‘Management by internals” without any interference and checks. In the field of higher Education in general and Universities in particular, this connotes a teacher oriented system. This is a concept which is clearly espoused and closely guarded by teachers and administrators alike with the argument that this alone can ensure the healthy growth and consolidation of their system. Ideal self governance promotes the free and full exercise of intellectual and academic pursuits whereas outside political or bureaucratic interference or checks may impede the efforts which otherwise get encouraged in the course of exercise of the autonomy. Our University system which owes its lineage to the British Pattern of Universities leans heavily on the ideals which maintain highest standards of academic growth guaranteed through autonomy. No doubt autonomy for a University can not be a matter of fundamental right, as it were, but is a condition for its efficient functioning to achieve true ideals and aims of the University. A University needs Autonomy if it to function properly and fulfill its obligations to the Society and play an effective part in the development and progress. Dr. Gagendradkhar in his report of the committee continued to point out that “In order that the Universities may perform their functions properly, their Autonomy should be scrupulously respected by the legislatures and Executive….” At the same time administrative level autonomy may not mean total lack of outside participation and functioning under the policy of Lassies-fair. But outside participation should be supportive enough to sustain educational endeavourer in the Universities. At no stage it suits to dominate or overawe the academic system. Its role has to be that of catalyst, a facilitator and promoter of all academic designs. While its presence has to promote all that is required for its healthy sustenance. The University   Community at times do not tolerate its interference. This may result in renaissance of indiscipline and subordination in our Universities.
 Each University swears by autonomy and zealously propagates it at all possible operation levels. Observed through empirical survey that while a few Universities enjoy complete autonomy there are others where decision making bodies stand heavily loaded with bureaucrats and politicians rather than academics of standing and scholars of repute. Thus making autonomy a victim, where the Universities may be autonomous both in administrative and academic functioning any fight or confrontation between the two can tell upon the health of entire system with students and society suffering the most. There are many causes responsible, as observed through my survey within and abroad for erosion of University autonomy.
 The possible causes can be lack of work culture, lobbies in the Institution, infighting among academics, indifferent attitude of supporting agencies in respect of finances, lack of sound infrastructure, teacher tended to be an administrator, politicians tended to be a teacher, decisions – devoid of vision, decisions on the basis of consideration than merit and lack of sound academic leadership.
 In J&K we have about a half dozen Universities. Some are grown up and some are in their infancy. Everywhere there seems interference owing to obvious reasons. In some Institutions interference is at a high degree and in some institutions interference is of low degree. Kashmir University is a premier institution of higher learning which has made great strides in various fields. But Kashmir University is also prey to some extent to bureaucratic interference whereas in Jammu University scholars and faculty members feel proud to have links with politicians. This is not good for the growth of the Institution. This may ultimately create instability on the campus. Politics has ruined many institutions and is more dangerous than any other sort of interference in the affairs of the university.
(The author is a retired Cultural Officer. He has worked in University of Kashmir in various capacities. He has authored/edited about a half a dozen books on different topics).