With St. Xavier’s College becoming the first autonomous institute in the city, there is more hope for Mumbai to finally house a hub of world-class excellence, especially in the field of liberal arts.
While Kolkata boasts of Presidency College and Delhi of St. Stephen’s, in Mumbai the outdated syllabus and evaluation patterns of the Mumbai University curtail academic growth no matter how good an institution is, say academicians.
“St. Xavier’s has already taken the lead in humanities and now new blood will flow into their courses,” said former vice chancellor Rupa Shah. “It also has the faculty with the drive and dedication to create elite syllabi with an out-of-the-box approach.”
But will mere academic freedom, with the same financial restraints of fees and salary, allow radical change in an institution? “It is definitely a start. All institutions want academic freedom to excel,” said Abhay Pethe, head of the Mumbai University’s economic department, which was the first department to gain autonomy three years ago.
“There are several financial incentives that become easier to access once you get autonomy. For example, you can start new self-financing courses or donations from alumni. Under a university, approving these things take longer,” added Pethe.
The University Grants Commission also encourages autonomy and provides several incentives to autonomous institutes. Since the university method was introduced eons ago, it was meant for fewer affiliations, but now it has become unwieldy. It grants autonomy for six years during which institutes can avail themselves of several grants.
So, why aren’t more city colleges opting for autonomy?
HR College gained autonomy in 2007 but has not yet exercised it.
Ruia College had applied for autonomy in the 1970s and again recently but the application is still with the university. One reason could be a clause about the governing council of an autonomous institute in the Maharashtra Universities Act.
“The 11-member council has only five members from the college management. So, from having total control the management will become a minority,” said an educationist, who did not wish to be named.
Academic autonomy also has its downsides.
“Autonomy is no joke. There is a lot more accountability. You can’t blame the so-called system anymore if the results are delayed or the syllabus is inadequate. But to really exploit autonomy, a lot more colleges should take it up. Then there will be a buyer market for the students with several options,” added Pethe.