K.N. Panikkar, Vice-Chairman of the State Higher Education Council feels that most of the University Acts have become archaic as they are insensitive to the new trends in the organisation and governance of the universities.
What prompted the Higher Education Council to go for a review of the University Acts?
The academic world has changed since the inception of the universities in the State. The requirements of the universities are no more the same as when the Acts were initially put on the statute book. Yet, but for occasional revision prompted by administrative compulsions, the Acts have not kept up with the changing academic demands.
Needless to say, the Acts deserve a fresh look, as the governance of universities draw upon what the Acts prescribe. But then most of the Acts have by now become archaic as they are insensitive to the new trends in the organisation and governance of the universities. Moreover, like government rules they are more obstructive than enabling, which adversely affect flexibility and initiatives that a university necessarily should have. The present structures and practices of governance stipulated by the Acts, therefore, calls for revision. The relationship between the syndicate, academic council and board of studies is to cite an example. The syndicates often predominate over academic councils in practice, even in academic matters in which academic councils should normally prevail. This is because the Acts are conceived primarily as administrative and not as academic instruments.
How do you plan to address the issue of granting autonomy to colleges while amending these Acts?
Autonomy is a very contentious issue in Kerala, particularly because of the predominance of self-financing and aided system. The fear is that autonomy would result in the tyranny of the management as it prevailed some time back in the schools. Yet, the affiliating system, which is bursting at its seams, needs change. There is no doubt that the universities should be relieved from the excessive administrative burden they now shoulder and some mode of decentralisation is introduced.
One possibility is to set up cluster of colleges and make them autonomous over a period of time. But autonomy should be combined with democratisation which would ensure active participation of both teachers and students in academic and administrative matters.
For all practical purposes the head of the institution should be implementing decisions collectively arrived at. The relationship between universities and colleges requires to be seriously discussed. I feel that as in most other countries autonomy is the order of the future. Only that autonomy should not be a euphemism for authoritarianism of the management.
Why is the council opposed to a common university Act?
The council is not certain about the academic feasibility or administrative viability of a common university Act. University, by its very nature, is a place where different disciplines coexist, interact and engage in the production of knowledge.
Instead of replicating a given pattern in each university, the emphasis should be on the distribution of different disciplines with a view to specialisation.
On the basis of such distribution each university could develop a character of its own, both in terms of its academic interests and administrative arrangements. For doing so the requirements of universities, both academically and administratively, are vastly varied. Instead of providing a uniform structure, the Act should provide for institutionalising the differences. If a university opts for an interdisciplinary programme it should have an Act which would admit of it.
That may not be necessary for a university which strictly follows a departmental system. The common university Act may also inhibit the possibility of the university structure creatively responding to local conditions.
Would the committee consider incorporating the emerging trends in higher education while reviewing the Acts?
There are several [new trends] now crowding the scene. The public-private participation, privatisation and the entry of foreign universities are some of the issues. The committee would take cognizance of them. However, immediate attention is perhaps needed on academically-oriented issues. For instance, the Acts will have to be recast to permit interdisciplinary programmes and to ensure academic freedom. Since the universities are moving in this direction, the existing Acts are likely to be stumbling blocks. Similarly cluster of colleges also would require some amendments in the Acts. If revision takes place, the universities are likely to have Acts which would impart to them a modern and academic ambience. The revision of the Acts is central to the changes in higher education.