Off-campus centres, incentives for faculty and cutting-edge courses are some of the additions planned in the 60 institutions across India granted autonomy by the University Grants Commission (UGC) last month.
The special status was described by human resource development (HRD) minister Prakash Javadekar as a reward for institutions that have maintained high standards, and as a step towards a liberalised education sector.
Among the 60 is Mumbai’s Jai Hind College, which has been preparing and planning for this day for four years. “We can now implement long-pending ideas,” says principal Ashok Wadia. “We formed a board of academics and involved parents and students in 2014, to figure out what changes could be brought about in courses, syllabus and teaching methods.”
Based on feedback from industry and the students, Jai Hind introduced certificate courses in Indian cultural heritage and risk management.
“For the latter, we are involving the multinational accounting company KPMG,” Wadia says. “With autonomy in place, we now expect to turn these certificate courses into full-fledged diploma ones. We have also been working on adding courses in international relations, travel management and software management, which were highly recommended in our meetings.”
Also on the cards is a system of ongoing evaluation that will also take into account a student’s involvement and performance in class. “In evaluation, there will also be a greater stress on skills acquired rather than things memorised,” Wadia says.
While some institutes are looking outward and thinking global, others are seeking to cater to the community in ways that are more relevant that templated streams.
At Vivekanand College, Kolhapur, there are plans for a course in water, soil and food analysis under the ambit of BSc chemistry.
“A graduate could then start a consultancy in the district, be professionally empowered and meet a very real need in the community too,” says principal, SY Hongekar.
Local needs and markets are areas where Mumbai’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, a deemed university, will also be looking to expand its reach. “Autonomy will give us the freedom to take an experimental and unconventional approach,” says Rajan Saxena, vice chancellor of NMIMS.
In Mumbai, there are plans to extend the three-year bachelor programme. “The final year would focus on international markets,” Saxena says.
At the OP Jindal Global University in Sonepat, Haryana, there is excitement about foreign collaborations too.
“With autonomy, we will have freedom to recruit more foreign faculty for up to 20% of our positions and this could be a great boost to our effort for academic excellence and quality research,” says vice-chancellor C Raj Kumar.
There are also plans for new courses in banking and finance, environment and sustainability and science and innovation.
As more institutes are granted autonomy, one area of concern for academicians is affordability. The funds for the new courses, modules and centres has to come from somewhere, and it generally comes from hiked fees.
“Autonomy will raise the cost of education for students because the new courses have to be self-financed,” says Chaman Lal, professor of Hindi at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“This should not be the case. The government has a responsibility when it comes to education, which it is trying to move away from.”
Under this kind of autonomy, all new courses have to be self-financed and a course fee of Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 is likely, adds Rajib Ray, president of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association. “This will also affect the possibility of introducing courses that are not directly market-oriented. A course like philosophy or sociology is unlikely to start in a college that does not have it.”