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Updated: July 12, 2010 15:47 IST

Are universities ceding autonomy to regulatory bodies?

R. Krishnamoorthy
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STRONG GOVERNANCE: Institutes such as the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, do not face impediments from regulatory bodies. Photo: K.Gopinathan
The Hindu
STRONG GOVERNANCE: Institutes such as the Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, do not face impediments from regulatory bodies. Photo: K.Gopinathan

How effective have regulatory bodies been in enhancing the standards of professional education? What ought to be their actual role? Are they impinging on autonomy in universities?

Barring the Medical Council of India (MCI) that existed before Independence, the University Grants Commission that came into existence in 1956, and the Bar Council of India (BCI), a statutory body constituted under Advocates Act, 1961, most of the other regulatory agencies including the All India Council for Technical Education, National Council for Teacher Education, Nursing Council of India, Rehabilitation Council of India, and Pharmacy Council of India have their origin in the National Policy on Education, 1986, meant to serve the purpose of coordination and determination of standards for a common benchmark.

However, of late, due to their apparent dominance over universities, which are the actual custodians of quality and standard, the regulatory bodies have invited criticism from academics. Since the regulatory bodies have been created by Acts of Parliament, there arises a natural tendency in them to appropriate the powers vested with State universities, and undermine their autonomy, academics point out. They have little doubt that the ‘licence raj' perpetuated by the regulatory bodies breeds corruption. At the outset, the question whether regulatory bodies are exceeding their brief warrants a close scrutiny, academics reason out.

“For instance, a decision on whether or not to accord approval for medical colleges can be taken only by the university concerned. MCI approval is not at all a pre-requisite for starting a medical college,” explains P.S. Manisundaram, the first vice-chancellor of Bharathidasan University. “The MCI comes into picture only at a later stage to carry out inspections and determine if the college affiliated by the university conforms to its common benchmark norms. The MCI only has to recognise and register the medical degree. Technically, a regulatory body has no role in de-recognising a college affiliated by a university,” he points out.

“University autonomy is paramount. None can control university except the Syndicate.” Assertive leadership in universities is the need of the hour, he says, citing the instance of Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) and Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) being in a position to accept or overlook Central Government directives owing to their strong systems of governance. Likewise, the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, is free from the fetters of government or regulatory agencies, he says. However, the practice in universities is contrary to what has been actually envisaged. Technical universities, in fact, are required to send reports to the AICTE and wait for its directives for disaffiliating a college. The AICTE cannot by itself monitor every individual institution. Monitoring and determining of the eligibility of a college for affiliation is the sole role of the university, he says.

C. Thangamuthu, chairman, Southern Regional Committee of National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), Bangalore, agrees that a case could be made for revisiting the Acts under which the regulatory councils were created, reasoning out that compartmentalisation has led the higher education nowhere. Multiple controls by regulatory authorities have dealt a blow to university autonomy. Constraints created by regulatory bodies leave little scope for universities to offer innovative programmes, he says, stressing that universities are originally meant to possess a composite character.

Prof. Thangamuthu strongly believes that the proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) as an overarching body would break the compartmentalisation and pave the way for innovations in higher education and research. The body envisaged to confine itself to issuing guidelines has been designed to restore to universities their autonomy, he says.

The standpoint of S. Vaidyasubramaniam, Dean of Planning and Development, SASTRA University, Thanjavur, is also the same. In areas where there is no statutory provision, universities, according to him, have the liberty to start programmes without having to obtain approval of the regulatory bodies. The role of regulatory bodies must be confined to constantly monitoring adherence to norms and standards.

“The insistence on UGC clearance for starting innovative programmes is understandable. But if universities are made to made to wait inordinately for approval from the regulatory bodies for other usual programmes, how different will they (universities) be from colleges,” he wonders.

Non-government universities would certainly welcome the NCHER, provided issues pertaining to off-campus centres and vice-chancellor appointment are sorted out, he says.




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