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Autonomy and accountability

Recently, NITI Ayog mooted regulations for graded autonomy of universities. The idea is to give greater academic freedom to universities. Many believe that it gives disproportionate managerial powers to cut costs, raise student fees, and start courses in the self-financing mode. This policy is a move towards the privatisation of higher education.
So these 52 universities and eight colleges will be freed from rules and standards that had hitherto enforced some public accountability. These institutions will continue to receive federal funds but are soon to implement a revenue-generation model that will make them operate as commercial entities. This will impact student fees, student-teacher ratios, the nature decision-making and the content and quality of new courses.
The University Grants Commission’s New Regulation does not insist on any qualitative or quantitative inputs that will ensure equity, access and excellence in the education provided. It introduces a three-tiered system of graded autonomy for universities and colleges, based on their National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) scores and ranks.

The two-fold classification

For Tier-I (universities and colleges with a NAAC score of 3.51 and above), all courses will have to be run in a self-financing mode. These institutions can charge fees at will and ‘open constituent units/off-campus’ centres within its geographical jurisdiction, without the approval of the UGC. Additionally, the Rules recommend the intensive use of digital information and communication technology (ICT) to enroll, teach and evaluate students. Massive online courses (MOOCs) are recommended. The regulation suggests that up to 20 per cent of the faculty may have contracted foreign faculty with variable pay and incentives. Similarly, it indicates that up to 20 per cent of seats be reserved for international students.
For Tier-II institutions (NAAC score of 3.26 to 3.50), much of the same is repeated; the only exception is a required periodicity of peer review and assessment through an assessing agency approved by the UGC.
The ‘autonomy’ granted is the opposite of freedom for the millions of students aspiring towards higher education, in a country where barely a fourth of the college-aged population goes to college. The term ‘autonomy’ is generally associated with positive, progressive, empowering connotations. But in this case, autonomy primarily means ‘self-financing.’ Meanwhile, the government regulations and checks on quality would be curtailed. The agenda is to make higher education profit-oriented while the government withdraws from its responsibilities to the country’s youth.

Full blown freedom

According to the UGC regulations, these universities will no longer need UGC’s permission to start a new course, programmes, departments as long as they do not ask for funds from the government. This will not only lead to a steep increase in student fees but will propel the universities to start commercial courses.
Category-I universities can open research parks, incubation centres, university society linkage centres without the approval of the government. Since building this kind of infrastructure is prohibitively costly, universities will be forced to turn to the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode. Universities have been asked to develop an ‘incentive structure to attract talented faculty’ but ‘with the condition that the incentive structure shall have to be paid from their own revenue sources.’
Universities are also, effectively, being asked to introduce up to 20 per cent reservation for foreign faculty ‘over and above their sanctioned strength on tenure/contract basis,’ as well as 20 per cent reservation for foreign students ‘over and above the strength of their domestic students.’ As for foreign students, universities will be free to fix and charge any fees they please without restrictions.

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