Autonomy to Colleges

The draft national education policy of 2019 (DNEP-2019) is a comprehensive initiative aimed at revamping the Indian higher education sector, create world class multidisciplinary institutions, and increase the gross enrolment ratio to at least 50% by 2035 to match with China and Brazil. It is presently in public domain for views, opinion and suggestions.

In this write-up, I shall deal only with the policy initiative of DNEP-2019 for creating autonomous colleges removing the concept of an affiliated college from the Indian universities. Removing the burden of affiliation from the universities will set them free to concentrate on teaching and research for their on-campus students rather than as affiliating and examination conducting bodies for the college sector country wide. Therefore, the concept of affiliating universities and affiliated colleges will go from Indian higher education system. Every HEI will be either a full-fledged research or academic university or an independent degree awarding autonomous college. Therefore, there will be no college to be called as affiliated college. All previously affiliated colleges will function as autonomous colleges by 2032 and will be empowered with degree awarding authorities in their own names. There is also the provision that if any college can’t sustain itself as an autonomous college, then it has to merge completely with the current affiliating university and become part of it. However, this will prove quite challenging for the universities to broaden their campus beyond boundary limits particularly for the colleges who lack on multiple fronts.

The policy basically plans for whole institutional restructuring and consolidation of existing 800 universities and 4000 colleges into three types of higher education institutions labelled as type 1 (research universities), type 2 (teaching universities), type 3 (autonomous colleges) with equitable roles in multidisciplinary teaching, research and service. However, what is more surprising is that these type 1 and type 2 universities will also be required to run undergraduate courses across all subjects. It will create confusions among the minds of student community regarding relevance of type 3 institutes. Under this plan the centrally funded HEI’s will automatically transform as type 1 institutions, however, this is also a major drawback as all centrally funded universities are not having quality mandate of excellence in research. Some state institutions have done remarkable progression in teaching and research, therefore, there must be lateral entry for good and quality state institutions to type 1 category also.

In DNEP-2019, the thrust is on faculty autonomy also which is a welcome and laudable initiative, however full of challenges for teaching community. Providing autonomy to faculty will in real sense help and motivate the teachers to use their own and innovative ideas and ways to enrich the curriculum in tune with societal needs, improve teaching methods and pedagogy, developing a healthy and liberal relationship with student community and motivate them towards quality learning. Overall, this initiative will provide teachers scope for continuous improvement of teaching-learning in HEI’s.

Providing academic and administrative autonomy including financial autonomy to HEI’s is a remarkable initiative of DNEP-2019. This will fulfil a long pending demand of granting autonomy to academic institutions to put themselves in the path of imminence or excellence without undue interference in administrative and academic matters from outside and will also prove quite healthy for the efficient work culture, faculty promotions, timely updating of curriculum, introduction of new courses and programmes in tune with institutional vision and mission. The autonomous colleges are expected to emerge as centres of excellence to contribute to the overall development of the Indian higher education sector.

Under a UGC scheme hundreds of colleges are already functioning as an autonomous institutions in India. Pertinently, Islamia College of Science and Commerce, Srinagar also functions as the only UGC autonomous institution in the valley since 2015. Therefore, the functioning of existing autonomous colleges is also expected to get changed and have the every opportunity to get converted as type 2 universities. Similarly, the existing top ranked universities and centrally funded universities will be eligible to move into type 1 universities. However, for that purpose they will have to approach national research foundation (NRF) for funding under the Mission Nalanda and Mission Takshashila.

State governments will have to prepare plans for creation of new institutional architecture and consideration for framing the different types of institutions: one each of type 1, 2, and 3 for 50 lakhs, 5 lakhs, and 2 lakhs of population, respectively with due consideration for geographic boundaries. At least one type of institution will be established for every district the policy reads and that is a healthy initiative to eliminate the concept of parity vis-à-vis imparting quality education with no rural city divide. The matter of concern is however, that whole higher educational system in the state will get revamped and consolidation of existing HEI’s into a fewer number of type 1, 2 & 3 HEI’s will prove an uphill task for policy makers and administrators. States will be required to prepare ten year educational plans and emphasize on using the college campuses effectively for the development of school complexes and extension centres for vocational education, however, this again seems to prove as a messy situation for the states.

The challenging aspect for the state governments is that colleges that fail to develop as type 3 (autonomous colleges) by 2032 will have to be closed by the respective governments and instead will be used as adult education centres, public libraries, vocational educational facilities, etc. by the concerned states. This will definitely put state governments under tremendous pressure to see them converting as autonomous colleges in absence of quality infrastructure, deficit teaching-learning initiatives, incompetent leadership, etc. Therefore, focus of our policy makers must be on strengthening the existing colleges, develop research oriented infrastructure, initiate faculty development and enrichment initiatives, create more physical infrastructure, establish adequate laboratory and library facilities, and enrichment of teaching faculty, adequate funding and state-of-the-art technologies for innovative teaching learning processes to enable them to qualify for type 3 category institutions (autonomous colleges) and sustain as an autonomous institutions.

To conclude, formulating and implementing a policy or a plan is the core of the institutional progress and relies finally on the leadership. Therefore, colleges should get able and competent leadership to enlighten them with the goals of autonomy and prosperity in the coming years to grow as type 3 institutions.