The higher education in India today faces many challenges like low rates of enrollment, unequal access, poor quality of infrastructure and lack of relevance. The University Grants Commission’s decision to grant graded autonomy to 60 institutions of higher education is to bring reforms in this sector to ensure quality education.

Rationale behind new regulations:

  • The challenge in the Indian higher education ecosystem originates from the diversity across all layers. To address this complex diversity, a global guiding model that touches on each layer in fair measure is needed. This can be the starting point for the proposed graded autonomy.
  • A liberalised regime in the education sector and autonomy would mean facilitating the quality of the Indian education.
  • The stumbling block in basic reforms has been UGC and AICTE, the regulators. They would issue circulars after finding something was wrong. But rules must be in a graded fashion. The best institutes must be given more freedom of action and more autonomy.
  • Indian higher education system requires a calibrated model providing space for policy makers, education providers, learners and consumers to operate in participative unison depending on the institutional character. There needs to be a prescriptive mix for different types of institutions, and the UGC proposal for graded autonomy is a welcome move in this direction.

Pros of graded autonomy :

  • It will ensure the universities to become free from interference and focus on quality of education.
  • Graded autonomy gives institutions the freedom to start new courses, new departments, off-campus centres, research parks, appoint foreign faculty, admit foreign students, pay variable incentive packages to their teachers and enter into academic collaboration with the top 500 universities of the world without seeking the UGC’s permission.

Cons of graded autonomy :

  • This is considered as a step towards privatisation and commercialisation of public-funded institutes and government’s slow withdrawal from funding higher education.
  • Many teachers and academicians are calling it merely “financial autonomy”.
  • Many have also expressed concerns that the move will make higher education more expensive in country and departure from public accountability.
  • Autonomy from regulations also means that there will be no check on the quality and adequacy of infrastructure (classrooms, labs, faculty, student-teacher ratio etc), leading to an inevitable and certain fall in overall standards of all institutions.
  • The problem is that a lot of states already have a deficit budget, so there’s always a shortage of funds in state universities and colleges. And with failing infrastructures they can’t meet the enrolment targets, which means that their RUSA grants will also be reduced. So it creates a vicious cycle.
  • With no funds pouring in from the Centre, the newly-minted autonomous colleges and universities will result in hiring of more teaching staff on a contractual basis.

Suggestions :

  • New initiatives like Hackathon, curriculum reform, anytime anywhere learning through SWAYAM, teacher training are all aimed at improving quality. These need to be effectively implemented.
  • As India wants to transform its universities into world class institutions, it must safeguard the interests of young researchers and thousands of temporary faculty members by expediting the permanent appointments in a time-bound framework and transparent manner.
  • Research cannot be improved merely by regulating universities, instead they need efforts to create enabling atmosphere for which it is imperative to grant more autonomy, better funding and new instruments to regulate work ethic.
  • Establish world-class multidisciplinary research universities.
  • Each state must establish an integrated higher education master plan to provide an excellent education for all its residents.
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