Autonomous colleges: A job half done

Autonomous colleges: A job half done

After a gap, the ''Bangalore-360 Degrees'' package series is being relaunched in a fresh avatar, complete with in-depth reportage, interactive inputs and defining, illustrative facts and figures. Week after week, the series will now engage you Bangaloreans on matters close to your everyday life. Look out for the new package, rechristened as Campus 360, Care 360, Civic 360, Commuter 360, Consumer 360 and Crime 360. Beginning with “Campus 360 Degrees,” we take a comprehensive look at the affiliation and autonomous systems under Bangalore University, and explore how the two have worked (or not worked!).   

Sangeetha B K

Has the coveted 'autonomous' status conferred on many private colleges by Bangalore Univer- sity, almost three years ago, made any difference to the quality of degree education? Alas, apart from declaring examination results early, autonomy has achieved only cosmetic improvement over courses offered by these colleges.

The autonomous status was designed to give more academic and administrative freedom to colleges with good credentials. With the new status, these institutions were empowered to frame their own syllabi, introduce cutting edge undergraduate and postgraduate courses linked to market requirements and much more. Three years after gaining autonomy, the colleges in general have not really achieved the excellence expected from them.

Here’s a glimpse of what ails these institutions: Many of the colleges are bogged down by paucity of quality lecturers. Their teachers are not equipped to teach some of the newly introduced courses that are based on market requirements. Now, without a monitoring system and parameters to gauge how good or bad such autonomous institutions are, accountability of these colleges also come under question.

It was reportedly this lack of accountability that forced Bangalore University to disaffiliate 11 autonomous colleges in 2008. Incidentally, the autonomous status does not imply that the colleges automatically become unitary institutions. At least for the first five years, their progress has to be reviewed by the University through regular inspections.

In effect, they remain affiliated to the university with only academic and administrative autonomy.

Non-compliance with the University’s rules and regulations were cited as reasons for the disaffiliation. “Autonomous colleges are conceptually good but lack accountability,” opines Prof M I Savadatti, former vice-chancellor, Mangalore University.
Savadatti was a former member of the University Grants Commission (UGC), and was actively involved in inspection of autonomous institutions across the country for nearly two decades.

“The common problem is that there are no parameters to measure how good or bad the teaching and the learning process are at the autonomous institutes. Teaching is self-motivated and cannot be acquired by obtaining the higher status like autonomy, that attract students by the institution’s inherent business-minded objective,” Savadatti points out.

The autonomy system is anything but perfect. Savadatti contends that there are many grey areas here, including the absence of a monitoring body and parameters to measure the effectiveness of these institutions. “Autonomous institutes should be able to award degrees, which makes them accountable for the output,” he notes.

Stressing the need for checks and balances is Dr M R Srinivasan, former chairman, Atomic Energy Commission who recently headed the Higher Education Task Force. According to him, the autonomous status should be awarded to institutions with good academic record so that such institutes will propel towards becoming ‘centres of excellence’.

“Regulatory checks and balances should be in place so that institutions will not become money driven. Some courses framed by institutions may attract a higher fee but care should be taken that profiteering is not favoured in the process,” cautions Dr Srinivasan.

Shortage of faculty is another grey area. He says, “Institutions which acquire the freedom to frame new courses, and conduct examinations should ensure that adequate faculty is available for doing so. The concept of autonomy is effective only with well performing colleges who possess well established faculty.”

Keeping students occupied

Seminars, project presentations, compulsory attendance, internal assessments, semester examinations and more. Students of autonomous colleges are on their toes throughout the year. The college managements are convinced that is the way to keep the students confident, responsible and independent.

Smriti Jain, student, from one of the nine autonomous colleges under Bangalore University, Jyothi Nivas College, has this to say: “The compulsory credits and marks to be obtained makes us work hard to present the seminars and projects effectively. It is a different experience to be studying in an autonomous college compared to regular colleges. Autonomous institution gives students the confidence of fair evaluation and announcement of results on time without delay”. 

Christopher J Solomon, student, St Joseph’s College of Commerce believes that lecturers who teach a set of students have to evaluate them based on the overall development rather than just annual examination. “It is ridiculous that the faculty from one college teaches us, somebody else from another college sets the question paper, another person evaluates it and someone else announces the results. It is a known fact the declaration of result by the varsity has always been delayed and autonomous colleges keep students away from these fears and worries” points out Christopher. 

Students allocate less time for extra curricular activities and concentrate on academics under this system, says Sister Juanita, vice principal, Mount Carmel College (autonomous).

Affiliation system an invitation  to corrupt practices, say experts

Kaushik Chakravarthy

Affiliation’ has increasingly become a cliche among educationists and academicians in the State. With corruption having a parasitic hold over the system of affiliation to conventional universities, there are renewed calls to do away with the system.

And leading the pack is former vice-chancellor of Bangalore University Dr M S Thimmappa, whose own experience with the system has convinced him that affiliation is an unnecessary evil on all counts.

For academicians who have worked both within and outside the system of affiliation, the flaws extend even beyond the scope of corruption. The Pro-Chancellor of Christ University Father Abraham has the experience of working both under the Bangalore University and now as part of a deemed university. He says, “We have the freedom to set our own time-table and frame our syllabus. When you are functioning under a university there is very little scope for the syllabus to be dynamic.”

But for some, the bane of the affiliation system continues to be corruption and the politicisation of conventional universities. According to an academician from a city college, political elements in the system are not at all concerned about the academic aspirations or quality of an institution. She says, on condition of anonymity, “From examinations and results to Local Inquiry Committees (LIC) and policies that are framed, every strand is politicised.”

She adds that LIC members and syndicate members are the worst, often choking the life blood out of the system. “They hold even the best institutions to ransom. They find faults where there are none and overlook obvious flaws depending upon the flow of money into their accounts,” she says.

But former Bangalore University Academic Council member K G Lokesh offers a divergent opinion and insists that affiliation is the only system that can guarantee accountability of institutions. “The UGC itself is not happy with autonomy and the Yashpal report has raised questions on deemed universities. But within the current affiliation system, LIC members must be given autonomy and an independent body must constantly review affiliation,” he says.

The functioning of deemed universities is going out of control, he adds. “Besides rocketing fees with each passing year, deemed universities start courses according to their own whims and fancies,” Lokesh says. He also gives the example of a degree course in ‘Chemistry in daily life’ started by one deemed university.

But Thimmappa strongly disagrees and says the biggest casualty in the affiliation system is quality. The former VC says, “For people who dispute autonomy, they just need to have a thorough look at the IITs, IIMs or even the Law school in Bangalore and the quality of education provided.”

However, he says that decisions of autonomous institutions should be backed by research. “Give autonomy to institutions and insist on research for every major decision, academic or otherwise,” Thimmappa says.

According to him, if the system gives an opportunity to be corrupt, people will be corrupt.

Therefore, the only solution is to change the system.

Point, Counter-Point

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