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Liberate higher education

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UGC's grant of autonomy to chosen ones is a step in the right direction to liberate the higher education sector. It must be extended to other institutions who meet the criteria

In March this year, Union  Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar announced at a media briefing that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has decided to grant autonomy to 60 educational institutions, including a few private institutions across the country.

It will be pertinent to recollect that in the 1960s, the Indian Institutes of Management and the Indian Institutes of Technology were created outside the Indian university system to allow them freedom and autonomy which was not quite possible under the university system then.

Which means, instead of reforming the university system at that time, the then Government created these independent institutions; giving them full autonomy and kept them outside the purview  of higher education regulator. And, therefore, reforming the university system got by-passed.

UGC’s grant of autonomy will mean more freedom for the institutes to start their own courses, create new syllabi, launch new research programmes, hire foreign faculty, enroll foreign students and set their fees.

This in effect will mean negligible dependence on the regulator in seeking permission for various academic initiatives, including decisions on fees.

Autonomy must also be closely linked with accountability, lest it degenerates into laxity and no performance, particularly for public institutions. Thus, accountability must be defined in performance metrics to ensure that obligations of these institutions are not miscarried.

Even though academics from public universities vehemently opposed this move — reflects their concerns with accountability issues — this initiative otherwise is a very apt to liberate the higher education sector.

Both public as well as private institutions stand to gain on a long-term perspective. Such autonomy should also be extended to other institutions who meet the criteria to ensure positive and constructive changes that are affected at Indian-level on a sustained basis. Further, the Government should take specific pro-active steps to encourage participation of good quality private sector players in strengthening India’s higher education.

Quality education can come in only as a ‘pull’ mechanism; it cannot be ‘pushed’, for a faculty cannot be forced to deliver quality. A comparison and contrast of private versus public institutions will help us develop a framework of regulation that aims at catapulting the higher education quality to the next level in an Indian perspective rather than Government institutions’ perspective.

Understandably, as more bureaucratic hurdles are put in place, private players will only becoming more cautious in their investments and involvement.

If criteria-based autonomy is uniformly provided to public and private institutions, there is no doubt that in a few years, public institutions may get tough competition from private institutions, as is seen in the industry sector, primarily due to a difference in their efficiency delivery capacity.

Providing funds and autonomy to selected few institutions who may not have the real intent to excel must not become a case of feeding those who are not hungry; and starving those who are already famished.

(The writer is Director, FORE School of management, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal)




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