Like Oliver, the managements want more

Like Oliver, the managements want more

Issues such as the teaching standards, level of academic freedom, accountability to the university, the need for a scrupulous monitoring agency and the requirement of a flexible fee structure, et al continue to be discussed among academicians and education experts. In contrast, college managements yearn for more freedom and free will.

“Devising the syllabi and updating it in tune with the requirements of the industry are very difficult unless colleges have more freedom. Academic freedom is the most integral element of an autonomous system. We can educate the students about the latest developments in a specific discipline. Holistic methods in teaching practices can also be employed. But, the available academic freedom is insufficient,” says Vijayalakshmi Viswanath, Vice Principal of Jyothi Nivas College, an autonomous institution.
The concept of autonomy was introduced by the University Grants Commission (UGC) to improve the quality of undergraduate education. The core objective of de-linking colleges from the university was to improve the quality of learning. The UGC has vested numerous powers with colleges like framing the syllabi and devising methods of teaching, examination and evaluation.

With the proposed National Council of Higher Education and Research which will subsume central educational regulators such as UGC and AICTE likely to come up soon as a super oversight agency, many feel that the autonomous institutions would have their freedom curtailed.

Designing the courses
Many institutes claim that they design their courses in consultation with numerous experts and educationalists of other universities. “The fixed structure provided by the university, however, often curbs the academic freedom,” says an educationalist associated with a prominent autonomous college in the City.

There are 10 institutions in the City that enjoy autonomy. The level of academic and administrative freedom granted to autonomous colleges is a tricky question. According to some experts, granting 'absolute' autonomy may backfire and there needs to be a tab on the level of freedom an autonomous should have.

R M Ranganath, Registrar (Administration), Bangalore University, says that barring issuance of degree certificates, autonomous colleges have almost all other liberties.
“BU issues only the degree certificates. Apart from that, it hardly has any say in running the college. Institutes need not even take permission from us to start new courses or make changes in the syllabi. They just have to inform us,” he said.

In cold storage
The status of autonomy is not granted permanently. Rather, the college has to strive constantly to earn it. According to UGC rules, the status is granted initially for six years. In order to renew or deny it, reviews are to be undertaken twice during this period: once after first four years, and later, on the expiry of the term. The first review, however, is yet to take off. According to sources in Bangalore University, this mandatory review of autonomous colleges in the City has been lying in the “cold storage” for some unknown reasons. 

Financial support from the state government is a key element in the development of autonomous colleges, according to the managements. “Autonomous colleges face numerous challenges from the non-autonomous. Some include updating the syllabi and offering courses of international standards. And we need more grants from the State Government to fulfil our objectives,” says Ambrose Pinto, Principal of St Joseph's College of Arts and Science.

Students’ view
In contrast, students of autonomous colleges aren't too satisfied. “Each time the college constructs a new building, it increases our fees. But, thanks to lack of any construction activity for the time being, the fees for undergraduate programmes are lesser,” says a student of Mount Carmel College.

But, according to students of the National College, Basavanagudi, the autonomous status is a “gift” to them.

“Unlike non-autonomous colleges, failed students don't have to wait for a year to appear for the exam. But, they can write the supplementary exam within a month and thus save a full year,” says Anand N, a BA final year student of the college.

The college has a dedicated language laboratory which helps in boosting the communication skills of the students. Further, results are declared promptly. Students have a good interface with the teachers as they are easily accessible, Anand added.
Shaikh Shah Wali who has completed BCA from the college agrees. He says that the college had started new courses like NET and MCSE giving an edge to the students. Reddappa, a student of BSc (Electronics) also concurs. “The syllabus is completed on time, so we don't have to jostle for taking tuitions,” he said.

Some teachers claim that the faculty of these institutes are not skilled enough to handle the newly introduced courses. “Although the intake of our college has increased drastically, the ratio of teachers has not increased proportionately. It's pertinent that skilled teachers should also be recruited,” says a lecturer of a prominent college.

Experts, on the other hand, say that granting autonomy based on political affiliations has a bad impact on the system. “There are numerous autonomous colleges with good track record. The bigger question is about identifying the deserving colleges for granting autonomy. Problems creep in the system when autonomy is granted on the basis of political affiliation,” says M S Thimmappa, former Vice-Chancellor, Bangalore University.
M K Sridhar of Karnataka Knowledge Commission notes that the concept of affiliation to a specific university is outdated. “Affiliation system is almost outdated, but a few countries like India still follow it. The colleges and smaller universities should be given more academic autonomy. This will promote innovation and experimentation in the sector,” says Sridhar. The Commission has recommended universities of Karnataka and Mysore as knowledge centres.

Pros and cons
The coveted autonomous status has its own share of pros and cons. According to R M Ranganath, Registrar (Evaluation), Bangalore University, however, the system is largely a boon, both for the university and for the colleges.

Pros
Conferring the status signifies that a college's proven and credible academic record has been recognised. “Autonomy means the colleges will have a say in what they should do and what they shouldn't. That is to say, it heralds the system of self-rule for a college liberating it from the clutches of the university,” Ranganath said.
The scheme acts as a blessing for introducing new courses, he adds. “Starting new courses becomes much easier in an autonomous college which doesn't have to wait for years to let the university take the initiative. Further, it lessens the university's burden and provides for a healthy and vigorous competition among colleges,” Ranganath says.
Another plus point of the scheme is the choice-based credit system and a stronger, robust structure of assessment.

Cons
The demerits of the system are less and don't overshadow the merits, says Ranganath. Freedom in academic and operative matters may give the colleges a feel of immunity and invulnerability. Lack of
accountability about the standard of teaching, fee structure, research and creativity output are minuses.

Numerous agencies monitoring the activities of the colleges should act as facilitators. Academic freedom is an integral element of autonomy. Relevant course content and job-oriented courses are available in the new system. The colleges need more academic freedom.”
Vijayalakshmi Viswanath, Vice-principal
Jyoti Nivas College (Autonomous)

Some good features of the college like placement records are not due to the autonomous
status. Efficient semester system is something that many students like about
the system. Finding a balance between academic and non-academic activites under the new system is not so easy.”
Pooja S
student, Mount Carmel College

I like the autonomous system. The curriculum for science courses is constantly updated. The evaluation system is also very efficient. We don't have to chase university officials for marksheets.”
Maithri Shekar, former student, Jyoti Nivas College

Studying at an autonomous college is much stressful than studying at a non-autonomous system. Tests, assignments and projects keep you occupied all the time.”
Shabnam Afrin,
student 
Jyothi Nivas College

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