Greater academic role

Colleges bestowed with autonomy would provide healthy competition and much needed leadership to be emulated by others.

The recent protests by some sections of the faculty in a few colleges in Delhi against the move to make these colleges autonomous have opened up a nationwide debate on the very efficacy of such an autonomy for the under graduate colleges.

While the universities are accorded autonomy in matters of introducing courses, framing syllabus, formulating academic calendar, conducting of examinations and publishing results besides its day to day administration, the concept of granting autonomy to the colleges is a recent phenomenon.

Autonomous status in a limited way is given by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to some select colleges within the preview of university system so as to encourage academic freedom in core areas like the need-based course selection, innovative methods in teaching, improvements in evaluating methods etc. It is estimated that about 550 under graduate colleges in the country are with autonomous status now and the number is constantly on the rise every year.

With engineering, medical and management colleges making steep rise in their numbers in recent decades, greater focus is bestowed on such professional colleges. But these under graduate colleges where courses in sciences, humanities and social sciences are taught, suffer a general neglect as these courses are said to lack employability.

Even pure sciences like physics, botany and chemistry are not sought after if those courses are not to be pursued at the post-graduate level. Literature, philosophy, history and other social sciences are only at the bottom of the students’ choices.

A number of colleges therefore have in recent times, started introducing tailor-made new and innovative courses at the under graduate level for the sustenance. Courses in computer applications, bio-technology, dairy technology, tourism, journalism and a host of other job-oriented courses are thus being offered to attract the students.

With the Union Public Service Commission and state-level administrative services offering lucrative openings, students in considerable number are coming forward and opting social sciences and humanities, though not for their intrinsic values. There is also a considerable number of students interested in pursuing such subjects at the university level with a view to take up advanced research or making a career in those subjects. Therefore, everything seems to be not lost with colleges dealing with under graduate courses.

Autonomous colleges seem to be a silver lining to infuse credibility by providing quality education at under graduate level and to win back, to an extent, the lost ground for these courses.

The UGC, in its recent guidelines for autonomous colleges, has stated that its endeavour is to increase the number of such autonomous colleges to spread the culture of autonomy and to make at least 10% of the eligible colleges to become autonomous in the country.

The availability of infrastructural facilities like the buildings, libraries, equipment and laboratories, playgrounds, hostels besides quality teaching, performance in results, its alumni and a host of other parameters are considered for evaluating the profile of a college for the purpose of according such autonomy.

There are national agencies like National Assessment and Accreditation Council to evaluate the colleges that apply for such accreditation to be autonomous and there is also an in-built mechanism to monitor the progress of such colleges under autonomy.

The autonomous colleges as institutes of excellence are primarily meant to take the lead and serve as examples to other neighbourhood colleges in their own right. Therefore, it is not enough if they could become just islands of excellence.

A pre-condition for a college to become autonomous should be its sound fiscal status for stable maintenance and smooth functioning. Emphasis rests on the distinguished faculty and quality instruction as everything else is next only to academic excellence.

Introduction of viable courses, imaginative structure of course content, use of modern tools of educational technology with higher standards, innovative methods in teaching through activity-based student participation, establishing a community linked extension with activities like seminars, workshops etc, will go a long way in achieving the objectives of an autonomous institution besides increasing its academic profile.
The faculty in such autonomous colleges are to be insulated from frequent transfers as that would only dislocate the ongoing academic programmes and bring uncertainty.

Conducting exams
As the autonomous colleges are bestowed with the task of conducting examinations and publishing results, they have an added responsibility that hitherto was the prerogative of only the universities. Since such colleges have to be engaged in the system of ‘continuous assessment’ where the academic prog­ress of the student is constantly under the surveillance of the concerned teachers on a regular basis, there is greater scope for proper evaluation than in the conventional system of annual exams.

Internal assessment with components like assignments, seminars, tests, viva voce etc, will keep both the teacher and the taught in constant interaction leading to healthy progression.

As the semester system is generally adopted in the autonomous colleges, there is also the reduction of wastage of working hours/days in the college schedule. Personal supervision of the teachers on the progress of their wards is said to be the greatest benefit the autonomous colleges could yield.

However, the success or otherwise of the system of autonomous colleges to a large extent depends on the proactive involvement of the student, the teacher and the management as it means extra work and greater involvement of all the above chief stakeholders.

If the teachers and students are willing to invite on to themselves the extra academic rigor and responsibilities that is imperative in this system, there seems to be nothing that stops the growing number of autonomous colleges in the country. Colleges bestowed with autonomy would do well by providing healthy competition and much needed leadership to be emulated by other colleges.

(The writer is retired professor of History, University of Hyderabad)

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