During my high school days, the practical sessions on Biology were a mixed bag. The human skeleton display to understand the system gave me a scary learning experience that was doubled as I took the scalpel to cut open the pinned rat under the influence of chloroform to understand human anatomy. I will never forget the rat I got for my final exams which I termed as a ‘rasgulla with a tail’. Not sure if I would be able to successfully dissect it to pass my final exam, I requested for a rat-change. “You cannot choose your question paper (rat) but only answer the one you have, as I do not have any autonomy to change exam rules.” My lab mark for anatomy was trapped by a lack of exam autonomy. I am reminded of this as I think about university autonomy.
Autonomy in Indian higher education needs a trinocular vision. The MHRD is moving away from a traditional regimental approach with a new wave of positive dynamism ushering new hope of progressive autonomy. The Institutions of Eminence (IoE) for Global, Graded University Autonomy Regulations for National and the formation of a separate Ministry for Skill Development & Entrepreneurship to leverage local competitiveness is proof of that. Skill-based institutions can over a period of time become world-class vocational universities and Category 1 Universities are also candidates for IoE. The success lies in the six-packed agenda presented below.
•Public IoEs must be conditionally supported by priority access to Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) to securitise their infrastructure growth. A portion of funds must be earmarked for performance-based global collaborative research and faculty mobility to both public and private institutions.
•IoEs need to develop a composite university culture. The hallmark of successful world class universities is their comprehensive and pervasive academic ecosystem.
•In the spirit of competitive encouragement, Category 1 Universities under the graded autonomy regulations that are progressing need to be elevated to IoE status if they retain their Category 1 status and erring institutions need to be demoted.
•Category 1 Universities be allowed to offer open and distance education and online programmes for non-professional degree programmes without the need to obtain approval from the UGC or other statutory bodies.
•Category 1 Universities and autonomous institutions be allowed to award diploma/vocational degrees to engineering and non-engineering programme drop-outs subject to their meeting certain credit requirements. This shall support the growing requirement of skilled workforce and increase employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
•The convergence of human desirability, technical feasibility and economic viability leads to innovative entrepreneurship which needs to be nurtured by a tripartite coherent synergy.
This anatomy of higher education has fertile brain, fresh blood and flexible bone to provide a proteinous diet for a six-pack academic autonomy.
Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University