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.
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