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Should autonomous colleges be allowed to grant degrees?

Experts say such a move is long overdue, but HRD ministry and UGC have to exercise caution and set out clear guidelines for the institutes

education Updated: Dec 02, 2015 17:33 IST
Gauri Kohli
UGC
Till April 2015, there were 526 autonomous colleges from 97 universities in 25 states in the country and allowing them to grant degrees would definitely improve standards of education in the country.(Agencies)

Grant of degrees by autonomous colleges has been a much debated issue. Though the human resource development (HRD) ministry and the University Grants Commission (UGC) and other stakeholders, including autonomous colleges and universities, have been discussing the matter for some time, nothing has been done about it as yet.

Education experts want the colleges to be allowed to grant degrees, but feel UGC and MHRD should exercise caution and set clear guidelines for the same.

As per the 12th Five Year Plan guidelines, once an institute attains the status of an autonomous college, it is entitled to certain privileges such as the freedom to determine and prescribe its own courses of study and syllabi; restructure and redesign the courses to suit local needs; prescribe rules for admission; evolve methods of assessment of students’ performance, conduct examinations and notify results, etc.

Till April 2015, there were 526 autonomous colleges from 97 universities in 25 states in the country and allowing them to grant degrees would definitely improve standards of education in the country. According to Ashok Thakur, former secretary to the government of India, department of higher education, HRD ministry, “Such a move is long overdue. However, in order to do this, it is essential that we upgrade them to universities/deemed universities or declare them Institutions of National Importance. Under our Constitution, only the universities and Institutions of National Importance created through an Act of Parliament or state legislature or a deemed university created under the UGC Act can grant degrees. These autonomous colleges, therefore, cannot grant degrees unless it’s done through the legislative process.

The easiest way out would be to amend the UGC Act and create a special channel for autonomous colleges on the lines of deemed universities based on their track record in teaching and research and accreditation status. Even this one will have to go before the Parliament.”

The UGC and HRD ministry jointly decided during September-October 2013 to amend the UGC Act, but there was no clear decision from them. Besides the issue of degree-granting powers it is also important to accept and put into action the entire concept of autonomous colleges and ending the affiliation system, says Thakur.

Institutions are granted autonomy based on factors such as academic reputation, previous performance in university examinations, its academic/co-curricular activities in the past; academic/extension achievements of the faculty; quality and merit in the selection of students and teachers, adequacy of infrastructure; quality of institutional management; National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) ‘A’ grade; and financial resources provided by the management/state government for the development of the institution.

MM Ansari, former member, UGC, says that such institutions may be given the power of granting degrees in the disciplines in which they have promoted excellence in education and research. “However, many universities are neither accredited by NAAC nor do they produce graduates who are employable in the knowledge economy, but despite all that are legally allowed to award degrees. The affiliated colleges cannot award degrees because of a legal bar. And, the Central government has not envisaged bringing any such legislation in this regard,” he says.

Pitching for autonomy: How it works

Institutes get certain privileges once they attain the status of autonomous colleges

Guidelines: As per the 12th Five Year Plan guidelines, once an institute attains the status of an autonomous college, it is entitled to certain privileges such as the freedom to determine and prescribe its own courses of study and syllabi; restructure and redesign the courses to suit local needs; prescribe rules for admission; evolve methods of assessment of students’ performance, conduct examinations and notify results, etc

Standards: Till April 2015, there were 526 autonomous colleges from 97 universities in 25 states in the country. Experts say that allowing them to grant degrees would improve standards of education in the country

Change in status: To be allowed to grant degrees autonomous institutes have to be upgraded to universities/deemed universities or be declared as Institutions of National Importance .

Autonomy issue needs to be reviewed afresh

The idea of autonomous colleges was mooted more than 30 years ago, when the education policy of 1986 was implemented. Now there is a need for fresh guidelines, say experts. “Only about 10% colleges have been granted autonomy in the last three decades. The government and UGC have also not enforced the policy, which is why none of the colleges of Delhi have been granted autonomous status. The present guidelines have, therefore, outlived their utility,” says MM Ansari, former member, UGC.

The Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) scheme lays strong emphasis on autonomous colleges and to reduce the role of the affiliation system.

During the 12th Plan period (2012-2017), 80 new universities were to be created by converting autonomous colleges in a cluster to state universities. Institutes getting university status were to get funding of up to Rs. 55 crore each as per RUSA.

Newer guidelines will work well for universities such as those with more than 800 affiliated colleges, which are bogged down by routine administrative tasks and do not get enough room for research and innovation. This could be done by upgrading the autonomous colleges with ‘A’ NAAC accreditation (46 out of 441 colleges were ‘A’ grade), granting them the status of deemed university, state university or just giving them degree-granting powers by amending the UGC Act.

“According to Section 2(f) and 12(b) of the UGC Act, any affiliated college can be granted academic autonomy. It was started in the ’80s but could not gain much momentum. The concept of an autonomous college needs to be reinvented with funding support,” says Professor Harivansh Chaturvedi, alternate president, Education Promotion Society of India, an association of private B-schools.