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Education Plus    Kerala   

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A for Autonomy, but not in Kerala

The concept of autonomy for colleges is yet to become acceptable to the required extent in Kerala for it to become a reality. Abdul Latheef Naha examines the lie of the road to autonomy.

AT A CROSSROADS: At Maharaja's College, Ernakulam.

When the University Grants Commission (UGC) deadline for applications from colleges seeking proposals for conferment of autonomy status elapsed last month, it made little impact in Kerala. Not because the higher education scenario in Kerala was inane, but because the orientation of the system was, and still is, towards affiliation.

No college in Kerala could apply, because all colleges were chained to one university or another. No university in Kerala could recommend to the UGC the granting of autonomy, because the word autonomy is yet to find a place in our university statutes.

None of the 400-odd autonomous colleges functioning in the country with UGC support is from Kerala. This indicates the position of the State with regard to autonomy.

Signal of change

Signals of a change are, however, visible in Kerala. The State Government set the ball rolling in March this year by amending the University Acts to herald the concept of autonomy to some of the well-managed and reputed institutions in Kerala. "And now," says the Education Minister, E.T. Mohammed Basheer, "it is up to the universities to decide."

The Inter-University Consultative Committee (IUCC) has directed all universities to initiate steps towards autonomy. The universities in the State have to amend their statutes to give academic freedom to colleges. Most universities are understood to have agreed in principle to introduce the autonomy regime in colleges. The respective Syndicates have to take final decisions.

Unenthusiastic response

But, according to senior academics, it will be a different thing when the matter comes up for discussion in Syndicates, where the teaching community rules the roost. The initial response of the teaching community in Kerala to autonomy has been unenthusiastic.

During a chat with The Hindu-Educationplus, Mr. Basheer has been unequivocal about the matter. "Teachers do not have to worry at all," he says. The Government, he says, will soon hold discussions with teachers to allay their fears and to convince them of the need to raise the bar in higher education.

Fears of burden

Though none goes on record, many teachers and principals agree that teachers are afraid of autonomy because it will burden them further. If a college gets autonomy, its teachers will be involved in the formulation and implementation of an independent academic curriculum for that college. The concern of the teachers is natural.

According to former UGC chairman Arun Nigawekar, fears that autonomy will make jobs of teachers vulnerable and that favouritism will creep in are baseless. He says autonomy will only bring about innovation in education. However, he believes the State Government has a mere technical role to play in this.

The State Government has recommended about a dozen colleges in the State for granting of autonomy in the initial phase. However, the respective universities, once they amend their statutes, will be free to decide whether to consider those institutions or no.

List of colleges

The colleges recommended by the Government are University College, Mar Ivanios College, Government Engineering College and Government Women's College in Thiruvananthapuram; Maharaja's College, Sacred Heart College and St. Teresa's College in Kochi; S.B. College, Changanassery; S.N. College, Kollam; Government Victoria College, Palakkad; Farook College, Feroke; Zamorin's Guruvayurappan College, Kozhikode; and Brennen College, Thalassery.

Last year, the Government had announced granting of university status to four heritage colleges. But nothing else has happened to University College, Thiruvananthapuram; Maharaja's College, Kochi; Government Victoria College, Palakkad; and Brennen College, Thalassery. The Government has conveniently tucked that suggestion under the recent recommendations for autonomy.

Central university

Meanwhile, the Parent-Teacher association of Maharaja's College has sought a central university status for the 130-year-old college. Maharaja's, the biggest college in the State with 48 faculties and a vast heritage building, can soar in higher education with direct funding by the Centre, if its dream comes true.

"We want something to happen," says Augustine A. Thomas, principal of Maharaja's. A staunch advocate of autonomy, Mr. Thomas says what is required at local level should be decided at the local level. "This will be possible only if the institution gets freedom in academic, financial and administrative matters," he says. Autonomy is good, but up to what extent? That will be one of the questions to be debated at an international education conference to be held in Kochi in February next year.

Extent of autonomy

The State Government favours complete autonomy in academic matters but has reservations on administrative and financial autonomy. The Minister says limited autonomy should be given to colleges in administration and financial management. "But freedom should be ensured to raise internal funds," he says.

The Government has begun steps to give UGC's Inflibnet connectivity to 200 colleges across the State. The availability of such a facility and academic autonomy of a campus will complement each other, according to higher education officials.

CABE report

In its report submitted to the Union Government a few months ago, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) Committee on Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions found that autonomy a pre-requisite for enabling colleges to achieve their goals and objectives.

An honest exercise of autonomy - academic administrative and financial - will lead to making the institutions as centres of innovation, excellence and development, says the CABE panel. It says that autonomy of a higher education institution goes hand in hand with its accountability. So the delegation and devolution of power and authority concomitant with responsibility should flow not only from the external environment but should be given at different levels within the institution itself.

V.N. Rajasekharan Pillai, the acting chairman of UGC, has sought the opinion of higher education institutions and academics about the recommendations of the CABE panel headed by Kanti Biswas, Education Minister of West Bengal. The last date to respond on the recommendations is December 20.

De-linking colleges

The UGC document on the 10th Plan profile of higher education in India states that the best way to improve the quality of undergraduate education in the country is to de-link most of the colleges from the affiliating structure. Colleges with academic and operative freedom are doing better and have more credibility. The UGC has set a target of making 10 per cent of the colleges autonomous by the end of the Plan.

The affiliating system of colleges was originally designed when their number in a university was small. The university could then effectively oversee the working of the colleges, act as an examining body and award degrees on their behalf.

The system, according to UGC, has now become unwieldy and it is becoming increasingly difficult for a university to attend to the varied needs of individual colleges.

Lack of freedom

The colleges do not have the freedom to modernise their curricula or make them locally relevant. The regulations of the university and its common system, governing all colleges alike, irrespective of their characteristic strengths, weaknesses and locations, have affected the academic development of individual colleges. Colleges that have the potential for offering programmes of a higher standard do not have the freedom to offer them.

The Education Commission way back in 1966 had recommended college autonomy as an instrument for promoting academic excellence.

As per the UGC norms, an autonomous college will be free to choose a curriculum that suits its needs.

It can prescribe rules for admission by observing the State's reservation policy. It can evolve methods of student assessment and conduct of examinations. It will also be free to innovate in academic matters.

Autonomous colleges are also free to make use of the expertise of university departments and other institutions to frame their curricula, devise methods of teaching, examination and evaluation.

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