Why are Mumbai University colleges applying for autonomy?
While some feel power to decide the curricula helps, others say it doesn’t mean much without say in financesUpdated: Apr 08, 2019 00:27 IST
With 17 of its affiliated colleges becoming independent, the academic year 2018-19 turned out to be momentous for the 161-year-old University of Mumbai (MU), one of the oldest and largest in the country.
While seven colleges were granted academic autonomy by the University Grants Commission (UGC), two groups of three colleges each were converted into cluster universities and four colleges became a part of a self-financed or private university.
Although the number is small considering the 800-odd colleges affiliated to the MU, which is spread in the city, suburbs and Konkan, it signifies a shift.
The size of the university – more than seven lakh students are enrolled in various institutes, departments and centres attached to the university – and its centralised structure have often been linked to its poor performance in conducting examinations and research and development activities. In such a scenario, autonomy, cluster and private universities are coming across as feasible ways to decentralise higher education.
In part one of the series, we look at the pros and cons of autonomy.
WHY AUTONOMY WORKS
Compare the two situations – eight years ago, a state government committee, led by former vice-chancellor of Savitribai Phule Pune University, Ram Takwale, had recommended dividing 10 non-agriculture public universities into 35 district campuses. The idea, however, couldn’t materialise owing to the huge financial cost. Cut to 2019, where 27 colleges and five university departments have received autonomy in the past few years.
“Our management, administration and staff prepared for two years. Once the autonomy was granted, we immediately got things in motion,” said Rajpal Hande, principal of SVKM’s Mithibai Autonomous College, Vile Parle, one of the colleges granted autonomy in 2017. “By the time the first round of examination was held, students and parents also saw the difference and were happy with the changes.” Struggling with more than 790 affiliated colleges, the MU encouraged well-managed colleges to seek autonomy in the hope of reducing their administrative burden. The state education department encouraged colleges graded ‘A’ under the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) to apply for autonomy and handed over the reins of academic growth to the institutes themselves.
The UGC, the country’s apex body for higher education, had earlier mentioned that colleges with an “A” grade in three consecutive NAAC cycles should be awarded autonomous status. The new guidelines, referred to as University Grants Commission (Conferment of Autonomous Status upon Colleges and Measures for Maintenance of Standards in Autonomous Colleges) Regulations, 2018, also state that henceforth colleges with a NAAC score of 3.51 and above shall be considered for autonomous status “without on-site visit by the Expert Committee” of UGC.
The idea has caught on. More than 75 colleges in the state, affiliated to different universities, are run under the autonomous status and several other colleges are working on their proposals for the status in the next few months. Helping them in it is the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), by continuously conducting workshops for interested colleges. “Autonomy is the way forward, especially if colleges want to compete with international standards of higher education. Currently, the state is still bearing the financial burden, so eligible colleges should opt for academic independence,” said Pramod Lakhe, joint director, RUSA. He said in the past six months, several workshops on autonomy have been held across state universities, with the latest one held at MU in the last week of March. “The number of college representatives attending the workshops shows great interest,” said Lakhe.
FULL-FLEDGED vs ACADEMIC AUTONOMY
Experts, however, keep underscoring the need for “full-fledged autonomy”, as opposed to academic autonomy. “There are four facets of autonomy — academic, financial, administrative and managerial. Technically, autonomy survives on these four pillars, but what colleges are getting right now is only academic autonomy, which dilutes the power,” said SS Mantha, former director of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
Colleges granted academic autonomy are allowed to design and upgrade their curriculum and conduct examination as per their own schedule.
However, the result is still certified by the university they were formerly affiliated to. “In order to initiate any new project, one needs financial backing. With that important part missing, the growth of the institute is limited,” he said, adding, “The true strength of an institution in terms of what it does academically or otherwise is revealed only when they start giving out their own degree certificate, without the backing of an established university.” A former principal of a reputable Mumbai college said, “Academic autonomy means the staff and college management have to work together not just to teach, but also conduct their own examinations. While many are happy to take on this responsibility, a majority of the colleges still find it convenient to depend on the university, while they focus only on the curriculum.”
First Published: Apr 08, 2019 00:27 IST