Knowl­edge and free­dom

Graded au­ton­omy is the way for­ward for higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions

Governance Now - - EDUCATION - Vedanta Dhamija

Re­ly­ing on its hu­man cap­i­tal, in­dia has fast emerged as a knowl­edge-based ser­vicedriven econ­omy. among other fac­tors, this suc­cess has been mainly at­trib­uted to im­prove­ments in in­dia’s higher ed­u­ca­tion land­scape due to the piv­otal role of ed­u­ca­tion in realising an econ­omy’s po­ten­tial for growth. With the surge in de­mo­graphic div­i­dend hold­ing a plethora of op­por­tu­ni­ties in the years to come, it is im­per­a­tive that we stay ahead of the curve in en­abling aca­demic ex­cel­lence in the coun­try.

The rapid ex­pan­sion of higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions (Heis) around the globe has posed chal­lenges for their ef­fec­tive man­age­ment. While build­ing an ef­fec­tive, high qual­ity aca­demic sys­tem is a ne­ces­sity and has been given due em­pha­sis so far, it is im­por­tant to now shift fo­cus to­wards pro­mot­ing ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance within th­ese Heis, through changes in in­sti­tu­tional ar­range­ments and fund­ing av­enues, among other things. Heis in in­dia are sub­ject to ex­traor­di­nary con­trol im­posed by the reg­u­lat­ing agen­cies such as the univer­sity grants com­mis­sion (ugc) or by the uni­ver­si­ties they are af­fil­i­ated to, and of­ten have limited scope for au­ton­o­mous de­ci­sion mak­ing. The col­lege af­fil­i­at­ing sys­tem is los­ing sig­nif­i­cance in the present day; more so in in­dia, as the num­ber of col­leges has been briskly ex­pand­ing, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for uni­ver­si­ties to ef­fec­tively over­see their work­ing. This one-size-fits-all ap­proach of af­fil­i­a­tion is prov­ing detri­men­tal as the uni­form univer­sity reg­u­la­tions do not ap­pre­ci­ate the vari­a­tion in strengths and weaknesses of in­di­vid­ual col­leges, and have ham­pered their growth and po­ten­tial for aca­demic ex­cel­lence.

glob­ally, there has been a shift to­wards grant­ing au­ton­omy to uni­ver­si­ties, cou­pled with an in­crease in ac­count­abil­ity. against this back­drop, this ar­ti­cle ex­am­ines the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of au­ton­omy to Heis as well as the cur­rent na­tional frame­work for grant of au­ton­omy, and makes a case for tread­ing down the road of ‘graded au­ton­omy’.

Is au­ton­omy de­sir­able?

There are sev­eral ben­e­fits of in­creased au­ton­omy to Heis. Through en­hanc­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive ef­fi­ciency of HEIS by link­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing more closely to the point of ac­tion, au­ton­omy saves the ef­fort of com­pli­ance to cum­ber­some re­quire­ments (of reg­u­la­tors in case of uni­ver­si­ties, and of uni­ver­si­ties in case of col­leges), thus re­leas­ing time for pur­suits of aca­demic ex­cel­lence. au­ton­omy al­lows free­dom to make the cur­ric­ula more ger­mane to re­gional needs, which en­hances the rel­e­vance of aca­demic pro­grammes, widens the aca­demic of­fer and im­proves em­ploy­a­bil­ity. au­ton­omy strength­ens the qual­ity of re­search by fa­cil­i­tat­ing prospects of seam­less in­ter­ac­tion be­tween other uni­ver­si­ties, as well as lo­cal, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional in­dus­tries. Fi­nally, in­creased au­ton­omy can also lead to grad­ual di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of fund­ing sources by Heis by cre­at­ing sup­ple­men­tary in­come through re­search and con­sult­ing pro­jects by the fac­ulty and build­ing part­ner­ships with the in­dus­try.

How­ever, au­ton­omy in Heis could be ac­com­pa­nied with some con­cerns as well. De­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of de­ci­sion­mak­ing could in­crease work­load for the aca­demic staff as they may have to take over sup­ple­men­tary ad­min­is­tra­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as well. ex­ter­nal com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties for the ad­min­is­tra­tive as well as the aca­demic staff that usu­ally ac­com­pa­nies in­creased au­ton­omy could lead to di­ver­sion from core aca­demic ac­tiv­i­ties of the staff. This could ham­per the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion pro­vided to the stu­dents and in the long run cre­ate an in­com­pe­tent work­force. Mak­ing the cur­ric­ula lo­cally rel­e­vant through ex­er­cise of au­ton­omy could be my­opic and cause ne­glect of na­tional pri­or­i­ties of themes in ed­u­ca­tion. lack of uni­for­mity in syl­labi of the uni­ver­si­ties that may emerge through this could lead to re­gion­ally un­bal­anced em­ploy­a­bil­ity prospects for the grad­u­at­ing stu­dents. in­creased au­ton­omy could also lead to an im­bal­ance be­tween re­source al­lo­ca­tions across de­part­ments. in a mar­ket-driven en­vi­ron­ment, in­sti­tu­tions might fo­cus more on pro­vid­ing for de­part­ments

Au­ton­omy is not an end in it­self, but is sim­ply a means to achiev­ing aca­demic ex­cel­lence in HEIS. There­fore, it is im­per­a­tive that au­ton­omy is in­tro­duced in line with ex­ist­ing ca­pac­i­ties, which need to be pro­gres­sively de­vel­oped so that HEIS can fully em­brace its ben­e­fits.

that promise high pay­ing jobs and charge high tu­ition fee while ig­nor­ing re­search prospects that are some­times not fi­nan­cially lu­cra­tive.

To sum­marise, while there are ben­e­fits to pro­vid­ing au­ton­omy to HEIS, there are some clear costs in­volved as well. There­fore, it is best that this au­ton­omy is linked to ac­count­abil­ity to the var­i­ous stake­hold­ers in­volved and the stan­dards of qual­ity are strictly main­tained.

Au­ton­omy to HEIS

The con­cept of col­lege au­ton­omy in in­dia is at least half a cen­tury old, when the ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sion (1964-66) made a case for the same as an in­stru­ment to pro­mote aca­demic ex­cel­lence in the coun­try. The com­mis­sion noted that ex­er­cise of aca­demic free­dom by the fac­ulty is piv­otal to in­tel­lec­tual de­vel­op­ment in the coun­try, and stu­dents, teach­ers and man­age­ment should work as co-part­ners in rais­ing the qual­ity of higher ed­u­ca­tion. The first au­ton­o­mous col­lege in in­dia dates back to 1985-86, and as of 31 March, 2017, au­ton­o­mous sta­tus has been given to 602 col­leges spread over 104 uni­ver­si­ties of 24 states (ugc an­nual re­port 2016-17).

ugc has dis­played com­mit­ment to grant au­ton­omy to uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges that meet cer­tain stan­dards of qual­ity as re­flected by their ac­cred­i­ta­tion scores awarded by na­tional assess­ment and ac­cred­i­ta­tion coun­cil (naac) and/or na­tional Board of ac­cred­i­ta­tion (NBA). This has been no­ti­fied through the ugc (con­fer­ment of au­ton­o­mous sta­tus upon col­leges and Mea­sures for Main­te­nance of stan­dards in au­ton­o­mous col­leges) reg­u­la­tions, 2018 and ugc [cat­e­go­riza­tion of uni­ver­si­ties (only) For grant of graded au­ton­omy] reg­u­la­tions, 2018. The for­mer al­lows el­i­gi­ble col­leges to seek au­ton­omy at the in­sti­tu­tional level, that is, it will cover pro­grammes at all lev­els such as un­der­grad­u­ate, post­grad­u­ate and doc­tor­ate of­fered by the col­lege. The lat­ter set of reg­u­la­tions di­vides uni­ver­si­ties into cat­e­gory i, ii and iii uni­ver­si­ties, with cat­e­gory i be­ing the high­est and com­men­su­rate with ut­most au­ton­omy.

act­ing on th­ese reg­u­la­tions few months back, ugc has granted ‘graded au­ton­omy’ to 62 Heis in in­dia which in­cludes five cen­tral uni­ver­si­ties, 21 state uni­ver­si­ties, 24 deemed-to-be uni­ver­si­ties, two pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties and 10 col­leges. This au­ton­omy al­lows th­ese in­sti­tu­tions to in­de­pen­dently start new cour­ses in self-fi­nanc­ing mode, hire for­eign fac­ulty and en­rol for­eign stu­dents, de­sign in­cen­tive-based pay struc­tures for the fac­ulty, and set up re­search parks and off-cam­pus cen­tres, among other things. This gives th­ese in­sti­tu­tions more free­dom to em­bark on re­search and ed­u­ca­tional ini­tia­tives to pur­sue aca­demic ex­cel­lence and aim for rise in global stature. Par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant is that this au­ton­omy does not in any way change the ini­tial sys­tem of fund­ing, as the Heis will con­tinue to re­ceive funds as be­fore th­ese reg­u­la­tions came into ef­fect.

au­ton­omy is not an end in it­self, but is sim­ply a means to achiev­ing aca­demic ex­cel­lence in Heis. There­fore, it is im­per­a­tive that au­ton­omy is in­tro­duced in line with ex­ist­ing ca­pac­i­ties, which need to be pro­gres­sively de­vel­oped so that Heis can fully em­brace its ben­e­fits. Given the cur­rent state of data about ca­pac­i­ties of Heis in in­dia, naac ac­cred­i­ta­tion per­for­mance is a suit­able in­di­ca­tor for de­ci­sion of award of de­cen­tralised gov­er­nance to th­ese in­sti­tu­tions. another pro­posal by the ugc which al­lows third party pri­vate ac­cred­i­ta­tion agen­cies (in ad­di­tion to naac and nba), pro­vided they are reg­is­tered as sec­tion 8 com­pa­nies or so­ci­eties, would de­crease the con­cen­tra­tion in the ac­cred­i­ta­tion sphere and fur­ther strengthen the cause of es­tab­lish­ing qual­ity in Heis.

it is also worth not­ing that through a sep­a­rate scheme, ugc has been cor­re­spond­ingly work­ing to­wards en­hanc­ing trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity of Heis through the ‘Higher ed­u­ca­tion statis­tics & Pub­lic in­for­ma­tion sys­tem (He­spis)’. also, the re­cent pro­posal to cre­ate a Higher ed­u­ca­tion com­mis­sion of in­dia (Heci) in place of ugc, to look solely at aca­demic stan­dards and qual­ity in in­sti­tu­tions with­out any role in pe­cu­niary con­cerns, could bring out a valu­able dis­union be­tween reg­u­la­tory and fi­nan­cial pow­ers. Con­jointly, th­ese set of in­ter­ven­tions would build a culture of trust be­tween Heis and the so­ci­ety, and also act as checks against mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of free­dom.

given this back­drop, the re­cent reg­u­la­tion by ugc on frame­work for ‘graded au­ton­omy’ is a step in the right di­rec­tion. Men­tor­ship from Heci to im­prove aca­demic qual­ity in Heis will al­low in­sti­tu­tions to grad­u­ally move out its reg­u­la­tory am­bit, and in­cline to­wards greater sovereignty. im­ple­ment­ing au­ton­omy in this phased man­ner duly linked with qual­ity and ac­count­abil­ity, would un­leash com­pet­i­tive forces mo­ti­vat­ing Heis to im­prove their out­comes, and would pave the way for gen­er­al­is­ing it suc­cess­fully across ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions in the coun­try.

Dhamija is a Young Pro­fes­sional with the Eco­nomic Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil to the PM. The views ex­pressed are per­sonal.

Creative Com­mons

Univer­sity of Delhi

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