Real autonomy for universities will come with the freedom to generate and spend funds
If the proposed autonomy from the UGC is to flourish, it will require innovative design and financing patterns which may not be plausible within the boundaries of existing government regulationsanalysis Updated: Apr 16, 2018 17:21 IST
The University Grants Commission (UGC) recently granted autonomy to 60 educational institutions. This includes five Central Universities, 21 state universities, 24 deemed universities, two private universities and eight autonomous colleges. The freedom has been given to start new courses, off-campus centres and new skill development courses. These organisations can now recruit foreign faculty, enrol foreign students and even give incentive-based emoluments to the faculty. They are free to decide their fee structure, syllabus and curriculum.
The Central and the state universities have been set up by Acts of Parliament or the state legislature and are, in fact, already classified as autonomous organisations in government parlance. Autonomous, because they do not depend on the government for day-to-day decisions. They have policy-making bodies such as the general body council, executive and finance committees wherein decisions are taken regarding academic, administrative, finance and other policy matters. In practice, things are different as these universities need approval from the government on virtually every aspect of their functioning and have to regularly report compliance. This time, however, the announcements promise real freedom.
Are the measures enough? Three issues stand out. First is the existing source of funding. The Central and state universities have so far sustained themselves through budgetary grants from the government, academic fee receipts from the students and interest earned from investment of government funds parked in banks. Since they are financed by the government, they are tied to government regulations. They are also subject to rigorous government audit. These regulations often hinder quick decision-making and innovation.
The second issue is that of human resource. The academia in these universities have rarely felt the need for designing curriculum to meet the industry’s needs. The finance officers of these institutions, some of them being government officers themselves on deputation, have hardly dealt with the techniques required in the modern era to raise funds.
The third problem pertains to bureaucracy. The executive and the finance committees which set the tone for the overall functioning of these universities comprise in-house officials and representatives of the government departments. The objective of these committees is to ensure that the institution works in line with the overall framework of the government. Can the existing system, therefore, implement the new autonomy measures?
So, what is the road ahead? If the proposed autonomy is to flourish, it will require innovative design and financing patterns which may not be plausible within the boundaries of existing government regulations. First and foremost, functional autonomy should be accompanied with financial autonomy. Government directives should be restricted to the portion of the aid provided by the government, while any money raised by the institution through its own efforts should be allowed to be spent by the institution concerned as it deems fit. The accountability of these funds should be judged against outcomes. Flexibility in recruitment should be a natural corollary. The government rules should be applicable only for posts that are financed by government aid. Finally, the administrative structure should be made more broad-based to include professionals in the finance and executive committees. This will ensure an alternative line of thinking in the working of these institutions, away from the traditional government line.
Sudeshna Sen is Professor, National Institute of Financial Management (Ministry of Finance) and former secretary, NCERT
The views expressed are personal