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Graded (and not Graceful) Autonomy

New graded autonomy will only lead to further privatisation of education having nothing to do with freedom to teach and learn and engage with ideas

09th August 2018, 04:22 Hrs

Aimed at providing higher autonomy based on quality benchmarks to the Higher Education Institutions, the MHRD on 12th February notified the ‘UGC Categorisation of Universities for Grant of Graded Autonomy Regulations, 2018’. Under these regulations all the Universities based on their NAAC grades are bundled in Categories I through III as per merit and granted Graded Autonomy according to Regulations at different predetermined magnitudes.  

 The industry including their top tier body FICCI welcomed this move, linking autonomy with higher quality as an ‘endeavour to introduce a liberalized regime in the higher education sector’ while the Teachers’ Associations called the decision as ‘misguided pursuit to make education market determined and market dependent’. Prakash Javadekar, the current HRD minister, called the move ‘historic’ remarking that quality institutions will get complete autonomy but in the stingy note slamming the move, Prof Saikat Ghosh in the paper on EPW Vol 53, Issue 13 on 31 Mar, 2018 preferred to call the notification day as a “Black day” in India’s higher education history. This piece of reform though differentiates good quality institutions from those which not meeting the required quality standards, the academia in large see it as a step towards privatisation of public-funded institutes and government’s slow withdrawal from funding higher education.  

 Under these Regulations, Universities having NAAC score of 3.51 or above or those who have received a corresponding score/grade from a reputed accreditation agency empanelled by the UGC or have been ranked among top 500 of reputed world rankings are placed in Category-I. Category-I institutions are now free to start new programmes, departments, schools, and off-campus centres without UGC approval. They will also be exempt from the regulator’s regular inspections, and can collaborate with foreign educational institutions without the UGC’s permission. Their performance will be reviewed on the basis of self-reporting. Universities having NAAC score of 3.26 and above, upto 3.50 are placed in Category-II.  The Universities which do not come under the first two categories are placed in Category-III and continue be the regulated by the UGC without any of the exemptions benefits granted to the former two categories. Among those put in Category-I are Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad Central University, NALSAR, Jadavpur University, Kurukshetra University, Andhra University, TISS, Symbiosis International in Pune, and National Law University in Delhi.

Unfortunately for all of us, the specific definition of ‘autonomy’ finds no place in these regulations but some statements regards the description of the new system for obtaining and exercising autonomy implicitly suggests that autonomy refereed here is in real terms ‘financial autonomy’. The regulations clarify that graded institutions can carry out with academic expansionary plans without approval of the UGC provided “no demand for fund is made from the government”. It is also mentioned that Universities may open research parks, incubation centres, university-society linkage centres, in “self-financing mode”, without approval of Commission” (UGC). It gives freedom (not needing UGC’s approval) to such institutions to “charge fees at will” and open constituent units/off-campus centres within its geographical jurisdiction, provided it is “able to arrange both recurring and non-recurring revenue sources and does not need any assistance for the same from the UGC or the Government”. Similarly the regulation recommends that up to 20% of the faculty may be contracted foreign faculty with variable pay and incentives but “incentives have to be generated by the institutions themselves”. The above regulation thus echoes the voice of the General Financial Rules (GFR) 2017 explicitly requiring all autonomous organisations with no exception to universities, to maximise generation of internal resources to eventually attain self-sufficiency and “raise their user charges” (read fees in case of universities). Thus it is clear that when powers to determine syllabi, hold examination, award degrees and start new programs already vests with the Universities; it is ‘financial autonomy’ that seems to be envisaged through these regulations.

The new regulations thus puts more financial pressure to higher education institutions to garner own fees leading to more of ‘self-financed courses’ against pure sciences, literature, arts and humanities. It is feared that this will lead to an increase in management control in day to day running of institutions coupled with charging high fees, hiring of more contract teachers and increase in teacher work conditions plugging more social economic inequalities. Reducing or scrapping of reservations will be a terrible parody of social justice and the right to education for all. The new graded autonomy will only lead to the further privatisation of education having nothing to do with the freedom to teach and learn and engage with ideas. The new regulations further fail to insist on any qualitative or quantitative inputs that ensure equity, access, and quality in the education. This is in no certain terms ‘Graceful’ autonomy as expected.

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