Graded or de­graded?

The MHRD’S rules and reg­u­la­tions for graded au­ton­omy for uni­ver­si­ties lo­cate au­ton­omy in the fi­nan­cial do­main and the em­pha­sis is on steps to fa­cil­i­tate en­try and op­er­a­tion of cap­i­tal.

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The Uni­ver­si­ties Bill if passed into law, will have the ef­fect of restrict­ing the area of ed­u­ca­tion and com­pletely de­stroy­ing the in­de­pen­dence of the uni­ver­si­ties upon which largely de­pends their ef­fi­ciency and use­ful­ness….” None would be sur­prised if these words came to­day from the lips of a con­tem­po­rary critic of the “New Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy”, or an op­po­nent of the scheme for graded au­ton­omy for uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges that the Min­istry of Hu­man Re­source De­vel­op­ment (MHRD) an­nounced in June 2018.

Ac­tu­ally, these were the words which fell a cen­tury ago from the lips of Suren­dranath Ban­er­jea, the na­tion­al­ist leader, in his speech at the an­nual ses­sion (De­cem­ber 1903) of the In­dian Na­tional Congress in re­ac­tion to Viceroy Lord Cur­zon’s pro­posal to “re­form” the uni­ver­si­ties. About this time, sim­i­lar dec­la­ra­tions were heard from other na­tion­al­ist lead­ers. Gopal Kr­ishna Gokhale in his Minute of Dis­sent in the Im­pe­rial Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil pointed to the hidto den agenda of the Uni­ver­si­ties Bill (1904) to in­crease the num­ber of gov­ern­ment nom­i­nees and to re­duce the num­ber of Se­nate and Syn­di­cate mem­bers “pos­sess­ing the nec­es­sary de­gree of in­de­pen­dence”.

Lala La­j­pat Rai pointed to the inad­e­quacy of gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­ture on univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion be­cause “we, the na­tives of this coun­try, have no voice in ex­pend­ing the money which is raised from us”. (Pro­ceed­ings of In­dian Na­tional Congress, 1903, page 105.) These were some rep­re­sen­ta­tive state­ments made a hun­dred years ago by the po­lit­i­cal thinkers and lead­ers of the In­dian na­tion­al­ist move­ment. That elo­quent defence of the uni­ver­si­ties, their in­de­pen­dence and their right of ac­cess to public funds, re­minds us of a po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tion that we must not al­low to be erased or sup­pressed in our times by a de­part­men­tal view in the MHRD, which re­fuses to see the dif­fer­ence be­tween fi­nan­cial man­age­rial au­ton­omy and aca­demic free­dom of the univer­sity. Let us get the bot­tom “au­ton­omy”.

The word “au­ton­omy” in the min­is­te­rial dis­course re­mains un­de­fined, but the MHRD uses it in the fol­low­ing man­ner: “Whereas UGC [Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion] recog­nises the im­por­tance of grant­ing au­ton­omy to in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion as a way of pro­mot­ing and in­sti­tu­tion­al­is­ing ex­cel­lence; .... Whereas the com­ple­men­tary re­la­tion­ship be­tween reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment and de­gree of au­ton­omy has to be me­di­ated by the rel­a­tive prin­ci­ple of ex­cel­lence in in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion; .... There­fore, the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion hereby makes the fol­low­ing reg­u­la­tions .... ” These words oc­cur in the pre­am­ble to reg­u­la­tions for grant of graded au­ton­omy an­nounced in May 2017. In June 2018, the MHRD re­it­er­ated that state­ment, once again with­out defin­ing “au­ton­omy”. In these state­ments, the de­scrip­tion of the new sys­tem for ob­tain­ing and ex­er­cis­ing au­ton­omy sug­gests that of this is­sue of

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