Twenty-six aided colleges had applied for autonomy when the last date for submitting applications expired on October 3.

The Higher Education Department’s decision to grant autonomous status to government and aided colleges in the State seems to have run into rough weather. Teaching and non-teaching staff, cutting across political affiliations in majority of the colleges that have applied for autonomy, are up in arms against the decision.

Twenty-six aided colleges had applied for autonomy when the last date for submitting applications expired on October 3.

Rajan Varghese, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, said the State government order clearly stated that the government would no longer shoulder the financial liability for the new courses introduced in autonomous colleges.

“This is an incentive for managers to opt for autonomy. But this will definitely convert aided colleges into self-financing institutions in the near future. This possibility has drawn the biggest flak from teachers’ organisations,” Prof. Mr. Varghese told The Hindu.

He said the proposal was fraught with pitfalls in terms of academic excellence. These ranged from different syllabi for each college resulting in different sets of standards and tendency of colleges to raise examination results to increased emphasis on more ‘marketable’ courses at the expense of liberal and social sciences and basic research.

“Ironically, the expert committee constituted with the Education Minister as chairman for the implementation of the proposal is teeming with bureaucrats. The slot for the sole Vice-Chancellor is yet to be filled,” Prof. Varghese said.

Tommichan Joseph, State secretary of the Left-oriented All Kerala Private College Teachers’ Association (AKPCTA) and senate member of MG University, alleged that the government aimed at administrative and financial autonomy in the guise of academic autonomy.

“The government has made it clear that autonomous colleges will no longer be awarded aided courses but only self-financing ones,” he said.

AKPCTA has decided to form defence committees comprising teaching, non-teaching staff and students from all 26 colleges that have applied for autonomy.

“With self-financing courses becoming the norm and colleges left to conduct exams on their own, managements will hike fees exorbitantly making education unaffordable for students from a below-average family,” Prof. Joseph said.

Education Minister Abdu Rabb, however, attributed these apprehensions to ignorance.

“We have not said anywhere that only self-financing courses will be allotted to autonomous colleges. The government has only said that autonomous colleges can start courses of their interest,” he said.

The government proposal was not rigid, but was flexible and open to incorporate changes if warranted. “But we will not back out in the face of opposition. There is a tendency in our State to oppose anything new and it is because of that we are backward, especially in higher education,” Mr. Rabb said.

However, the government seems to have failed to convince even the Congress-oriented Kerala Private College Teachers Association (KPCTA) as the union gears up to stage a dharna in front of the secretariat demanding rollback of the government decision on autonomy.

“The N.R Madhava Menon Committee report on autonomy was submitted without undertaking any scientific study. The government also failed to address our apprehensions. Despite the UGC grant, only 441 colleges across the country have opted for autonomy since the UGC introduced the proposal in 2007 for converting at least 10 per cent of the 40,000-odd colleges in the country into autonomous ones,” said K.A. Siraj, State president, KPCTA.

Principals of colleges that applied for autonomy also admitted that apprehensions about the proposal prevailed among their staff.

“The staff are concerned about the non-allocation of aided courses to autonomous colleges and the lack of clarity on whether the teacher posts falling vacant will be filled up under the aided quota, thus ensuring payment of salary directly by the government,” said A. Benny Cherian, principal, UC College, Aluva.

He said academic autonomy that retained affiliations with respective universities, but placed restrictions on the conduct of exams and admissions was desirable.

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