Autonomy to Universities : Final blow to affordable education

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On 20th March 2018, Minister of Human Resource Development, Prakash Javadekar, held a press conference declaring 62 Universities and 8 colleges (including 5 Central universities like JNU, BHU, HCU etc) autonomous. He said, “Today is a historic day for higher education in India. These quality institutions will get complete autonomy by which they can start new courses….” What he did NOT divulge in the press conference is that these institutions can only start new courses “provided no demand of fund is made from the government” (12 February 2018, Gazette Notification) for the same. This essentially proves that the much-trumpeted ‘autonomy’ is nothing but freedom to the govt. from the responsibility of funding premier institutions and a free hand to the administrations of these institutions to start self-finance courses and increase students’ fees recklessly.

This BJP-led government which came to power promising better future and better opportunities for the youth, is now closing down the doors of the best academic institutions of this country for the vast majority of Indian students who can’t afford to pay for self-financing courses. The Delhi University has already been instructed to generate 30% of its funds from its own. And now under the cover of ‘Autonomy’, the MHRD opens this flood gate for self-financing for the best universities which remained the last few remaining centres of affordable and quality higher education in the country.

The dangerous implications of Javadekar’s ‘AUTONOMY’ model are all too explicit and evident:

  •  Reckless Fee Hike and Self-Financing Courses: As per this policy, ‘Autonomy’ is granted, provided the institutions don’t ask for funds from the government, which means that they will have to generate funds themselves, leading to massive fee hikes in coming years. New courses for which these institutions don’t need approval of the UGC will have to be self-financing courses. The fact is that it is because of the support of public funding that these institutions achieved excellence and remained accessible to students from marginalized social and economic background. The AUTONOMY granted means that the much needed government support for maintaining excellence is now withdrawn. This also means denial of any opportunity to majority of Indian students to study in these institutions.
  • Shrinking the Opportunities of Admission and Faculty Recruitments for Indian Students and Scholars: These institutions can now employ upto 20% foreign faculty over and above the present sanctioned faculty strength. Also, these institutions can take in upto 20% foreign students over and above the sanctioned student strength. In a country where lakhs of Indian youth are denied opportunity of higher education and an entire generation of Indian educated youth are seeking teaching jobs, is this a “HISTORIC” decision for the youth of the country?
  •  Decimation of Reservations and Social Justice: In the name of autonomy, these institutions would now be free to flout reservations and other modes of social justice (like deprivation points) in students admission and faculty recruitment.


Meaning of ‘Autonomy’ Is Being Turned On Its Head: Javadekar & Co. is telling us that the premier universities and colleges are being given ‘Autonomy’ because of their stellar performance in research, teaching and knowledge production! Mr.Javadekar, can there be any denial of the fact that the best universities of the country have achieved academic excellence ONLY because of the support of public funding? To serve whose interest then, Mr. Javadekar, are you using the warped slogan of ‘autonomy’ to stop the public funding for these universities, which lies at the very heart of their excellence? Isn’t it a freedom, then, to the govt appointed VCs of JNU and HCU etc to turn their universities into private teaching shops, where only the rich and the privileged will be allowed to enter? Where, in the name of financial efficiency and profitability, no critical pedagogy will be taught, no ‘unpopular’/unprofitable ideas will be encouraged in research?

Thus the best performing Universities will be converted into private teaching shops, and their hard earned brand value, their academic worth (built on the solid basis of several years of publicly funded education/research and social inclusion) will be bartered away to create brand value for private profit seeking!

Modi Govt.’s Surrender Before WTO Diktats and Global Education Mafia: This AUTONOMY model is nothing but Modi govt.’s SURRENDER to WTO dictated higher education policy in our country. The WTO wants the Indian government to stop funding higher education so that it becomes a tradable service in the world market. And for the benefit of the global education mafia who aspire to set up education-business in India.
The present BJP government has been repeatedly trying to end financial support for research and higher education. In 2015, the same government declared to stop Non-NET fellowship, but was exposed and forced to take back its decision after a huge students’ movement. Since 2016, the the funding for UGC has been slashed by 50%. And they have come back with the same policy, in the name of AUTONOMY.
So this AUTONMOY is nothing but a free-hand for destroying public funding, reservations, social inclusion, transparency and accountability in higher education.
Freedom of the Govt from Funding, Freehand to Govt Appointed VCs to Saffronise and Commercialise the Universities: It is also important to note that this move is nothing but an attempt to enforce centralized control of the MHRD. Remember! The Vice Chancellors are directly appointed by the MHRD. And the present government is known for appointment VCs based on the political loyalty to the ruling party and not on academic and administrative eligibility. Now that the UGCs role is being essentially done away with, the VCs would run these universities as a private shop of the ruling party. The new courses that would be started are bound to be according to the political design of the present government.
Thus AUTONOMY is the new cover saffronisation and commecialisation dictated by the political regime of the day.
Friends, true academic freedom and autonomy can flourish when it is free from the whims and control of the private profiteers and political diktats of the govt. MHRD’s model of ‘Autonomy’, in contrast, instead of giving any of these freedom is actually subordinating our universities and research to the double dictation of private funding and government’s political interference. AISA is committed to build up resistance against the farce declaration of ‘autonomy’ by the MHRD. We call upon students and teachers of all universities to join hand against this move.

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