The Cabinet endorsement of autonomous status for select government and aided colleges seems to have evoked mixed reactions among the stakeholders.
Supporters of the decision to grant autonomy are elated. They said it would usher in academic freedom on the campuses. The opponents warn that the autonomy given to the management may ultimately lead to total privatisation of the institution.
Pointing out that the proposal for autonomous colleges only strengthens autocratic governance of higher education, Rajan Varughese, former Pro-Vice Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, said there was no provision for elected representation on the board of governance.
“Nominated representation on the basis of seniority and rotation are repugnant to the philosophy of democratic education, which they cherish. The privately managed colleges will misuse autonomy. Transfer policy of the teachers adopted by the State government for teachers of government colleges and corporate management colleges may be completely upset by the introduction of the scheme of autonomous colleges,” he said.
As per the interim report of the N.R. Madhava Menon committee on autonomy, constituted by the Kerala State Higher Education Council, the college management will be allowed to nominate nine of the 12 members of the governing body of an autonomous college as per the UGC guidelines on autonomous colleges.
Expressing fears that the managements may indulge in various kinds of malpractices in appointments, promotions and work distribution, Prof. Varughese said there existed an unstated fear that teachers in autonomous colleges would be treated like bonded laborers and will be overworked by their zealous masters.
“They have to devise curricula, prescribe textbooks and supplementary reading material, set question papers, hold examinations and prepare result sheets. Thus all the hassles that are currently taken care of by an affiliating university would fall on their head,” he said.
Welcoming the Cabinet decision, Fr. Prasant Palakkapillil, Principal of Sacred Heart College in Thevara, said autonomy would provide immense scope for introducing innovative courses and combinations.
“It will enhance academic interactions with the industry and boost linkages with international institutions. Autonomous colleges will have the freedom and flexibility to review the curriculum in tune with the changes emerging in various subjects,” he said.
Explaining that autonomy was essential considering the fact that the universities had turned into clerical institutions involved mainly in conduct of examinations and evaluation, Dr. Palakkapillil said examination work and evaluation consume at least 20 to 30 days out of the stipulated 90 days in a semester.
“Moreover, the Board of Studies, which has the role of framing the syllabus, is not functioning effectively, with curriculum revision process facing an inordinate delay. Autonomous colleges should be given the freedom to review the curriculum,” he said.
Lopus Mathew, convener of the committee on autonomous colleges of the State Higher Education Council, said that colleges applying for autonomous status should have functioned for minimum of ten years, demonstrating academic and administrative excellence. It should have ‘A’ grade accreditation from NAAC. One-third of the teachers should have M. Phil, PhD or higher qualifications, he said.