Why only 2% of colleges in India are autonomous | India News – Times of India

Academic autonomy is under threat. At least in some states of India where the public university and colleges under it seem to be on the warpath over freedom. Of the 45,000-plus colleges across India, only about 995 are autonomous.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has been promoting autonomy for decades. But it has been an arduous long walk to self-rule.For one, autonomy is not uniformly spread across the country: states like Jharkhand, Manipur, Rajasthan and Goa have the lowest count of autonomous colleges with the largest pool in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
Secondly, academic autonomy in its truest sense is still uncommon, even though it is a proven fact that academic autonomy has an impact on performance in higher education. It is supposed to allow colleges to function without undue interference, allowing them to do what they do best: offer courses, alter curricula, innovate in teaching-learning and evaluate smartly. Yet, there are not many takers for it.
Multiple Issues
From political interference and universities unwilling to let go of their powers to a sheer lack of ambition and confidence in going independent, colleges across the country are reluctant or slow to turn autonomous for a variety of reasons. This despite the fact of UGC’s repeated prodding of the states to encourage colleges to embrace independence.

A recent note speaks volumes about what is taking place on the ground. “…Some universities do not allow complete autonomy to the autonomous colleges in the matter of designing syllabus, introduction of new courses, and evolving methods of assessment of students’ performance etc. as per provisions of the regulations. Certain universities ask the colleges to sign a MoU/agreement having terms and conditions against the provisions of the UGC regulations,” it said.
Several principals in Kerala said universities discourage affiliated colleges from becoming autonomous as they “don’t want a high per forming college to move out from their ambit”. Given limited flexibility, colleges are not permitted to start new programmes or change the existing syllabus by more than 20%. Autonomous institutes are also penalised disproportionately for oversights such as misspelt names in result sheets.
Worse still, despite all instructions having been fulfilled, universities often do not give approval to start new programmes or put colleges through a long-winding process that can take years. Several autonomous colleges have now approached Kerala High Court in order to obtain approval for new programmes. But even after HC’s nod, a college will have to pay high fees for getting the syllabus approved. For example, Mahatma Gandhi University charges Rs 57,890 for UG programmes and Rs 1.2 lakh for approving PG programmes from autonomous colleges.
Students At Receiving End
But it is the students that are the real sufferers in a clash of academic institutions. For instance, an autonomous college in north Kerala started five new undergraduate pro grammes in 2022, strictly adhering to UGC regulations of 2018 and submitting all necessary documents to the University of Calicut. Students admitted in those programmes have entered their fourth semester. But the university has yet to take any steps to give affiliation to or recognise these programmes. Since these programmes are not included in the university’s database, the college fears that the students admitted to these courses may be denied degree certificates after completing their course.
Worse still, as the college doesn’t have the university’s certificate of affiliation for the five new programmes, NAAC has now sought a clarification from the college in this matter.
Such examples point to the difficulties inherent in negotiating an autonomous path for colleges. Given the disconnect between university education and the jobs market, innovative courses through industry and sectoral linkages are clearly the need of the day. However, with state-run universities unwilling to ease up on their jurisdictional powers, the process of reform is likely to remain slow.
What hampers autonomy hopes
Though autonomous colleges conduct exams, the degree certificate is awarded by the university. While results of examinations are published and intimated to the universities, there is a delay in issuing provisional and original degree certificates to autonomous colleges, which are penalised for minor mistakes, too. For instance, the university can impose a fine of upto Rs 6,000 if a student’s name is misspelt by a college while the mistake is corrected only after much back and forth. Non-autonomous colleges are fined Rs 50 and the mistake is immediately corrected.
The faculty of an autonomous college is expected to attend the university’s evaluation camps. In case they don’t, an explanation is sought. “Our teachers are also asked to do double duty,” a college in Thrissur district wrote to UGC. It said they have to evaluate papers for the college, and also of university students studying in affiliated colleges that are not autonomous.
Proposal by an autonomous college for a new course that is not offered by the university has to be first presented to the college’s board of studies, which has a university nominee. Then, it is presented before its academic council, which has three university nominees. For final approval, it is presented before the college’s governing body, which has a university nominee and a state govt nominee. Yet, when the revised syllabus is forwarded to the university, there is a reluctance to clear it. One reason being that there is often no university board of studies that can study the proposal, thus leaving the college in limbo.
A university charges a one time affiliation fee/annual affiliation for existing programmes. But Calicut University charges higher fees for self-financing courses. While the fees for self financing courses introduced by autonomous colleges is Rs 1.2 lakh, for govt-aided programmes it is Rs 33,090.

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