Published: 26th March 2018
From funkier courses to foreign profs, here’s what red-tape free autonomy means to varsities
A professor from one of the private universities that received autonomy from the UGC last week, talks about what it means to a varsity to be 'set free'
The world of Indian Higher Education is abuzz with the word ‘autonomy’ and the potential benefits it could bring to both the university and society. Being given more autonomy in curriculum, financial practices, internal decision making, and staffing allows universities to nurture graduates with better skills more prepared to understand and shape the world. Many of the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) recent announcements have emphasised the need to shape India’s aspiration to build world-class universities that meet and surpass international practices and standards.
Choking on red tape no more
Countries differ substantially when it comes to how they delivery higher education, especially when it comes to how much funding is provided to students and how much autonomy institutions are granted to freely develop. Often, the structure of a University is shaped directly by government policy, which can set limits on the curriculum, how resources are organised and distributed, and how decisions are made. The effects of these restrictions are immense. Students in such institutions are forced to choose between a few inflexible, rigidly-construed degree programmes that do nothing to stimulate student insights and creativity.
Such institutions with restricted funding often charge high admissions fees, discouraging promising potential students from pursuing higher education. Increased university autonomy and enhanced financial support are the first essential ingredients towards the creation of international institutions.
What does autonomy mean to private universities?
The autonomy status now granted to Universities will give such fortunate institutions the freedom to created dynamic new courses and departments, freely enter into rich international collaborations, create off-campus centres and research parks, appoint distinguished foreign faculty, admit foreign students, and pay competitive incentive packages — all without needing to receive the UGC’s permission.
Access to high-quality education and a range of excellent degree programmes will be available to everyone regardless of geography and background. As one of the two private universities granted such status, OP Jindal Global University plans to enter into new academic collaborations and hire more global talent to further strengthen our faculty, which will create high-quality educational experiences.
Beyond pay cheques and cushy jobs
Students often value higher education because it is seen as a necessary step towards a higher salary and good career prospects. We cannot deny that higher education usually leads to higher earnings and more employment opportunities. But merely defining higher education by pay cheques and job titles misses the point that highly-educated graduates also bring about positive social, political, and cultural progress as well. In a culture that encourages life-long learning, graduates have the insights to shape their reality and become fully alive to the endless possibilities of the future
Academics and Universities with autonomy can now embrace holistic learning where a theoretical education is deeply integrated with experiential and practical learning. Students from such places have the confidence and tools to critically engage with and deconstruct the world given to them, and to face the myriad challenges of the twenty-first-century head-on. Autonomy ultimately puts the power of education into the hands of institutions, faculty, and students who together will create thriving academic communities. Such institutions of higher education will serve as a catalyst for change, ignite the spark of inspiration and innovation that will continue to illuminate the path forward for all.
(Sean P Bala is the Director of Admissions and Outreach at OP Jindal Global University and is an Assistant Professor at the Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities whose research focuses on religion, culture and society)