Autonomy to an institution means that the institute will carry out all its functions while being governed by its Board of Governors (BOG). Total autonomy of an institution implies academic, financial, and managerial autonomy, so that the institute can function efficiently, effectively, and promptly through its BOG, Head of the Institution, (normally Director/ Vice Chancellor), its faculty, and staff without any interference from external bodies.
It is strongly believed that an institution will not become a Center of Excellence and responsive to change unless given real autonomy. In return, the institution should accept total responsibility, accountability, quality, and transparency to its sponsors, clientele, and multiple expectations of the society. Too much regulation, too many restrictions, short-term policies and external pressures will prevent institutions from becoming proactive and entrepreneurial, a requirement in the knowledge society. Main objective of total autonomy is to take all decisions internally for superior governance and management of the institution. This includes organizational structure, policies, systems and processes, selection of leaders, faculty, students, staff, study programs and degrees offered.
Autonomy and academic freedom actually go hand-in-hand. The institutions are expected to operate with full academic freedom, decentralized decision making, and rapid adaptation to changing environment for drawing the best out of its faculty and students, as well as for efficient management. It is relevant to quote here what the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) committee on Autonomy of Higher Educational Institutions in their report in 2005 said, “Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions is a pre-requisite for enabling them to achieve their goals and objectives. An honest exercise of autonomy – academic, administrative and financial – will lead to making these Institutions as centers of innovation, excellence and development….. Institutions need to be insulated from internal and external pressures of all kinds, may be bureaucratic, political and other groups…..” (1).
The IITs have been enjoying considerable autonomy over the years in most of their functions, especially academic and managerial functions with President of India as the Visitor. The IIT Council is the highest Governing Body with HRD Minister as its Chairman, and Officer of HRD Ministry as its Secretary. The Chairmen and Directors of all the IITs with representatives of the Central Government, Parliament, Indian Institute of Science, UGC and others are the members of IIT Council. The IIT council in 2010, decided that it was time that each BOG (Board of Governors) should be well-represented in experts from the field of science, engineering and education, as well as, have local industrialists and alumni on the Board. Also the chairman of each Board will nominate a panel and the IIT council will finally appoint members of each IIT BOG.
IITs have been operated with this Governance model since their inception, and I believe it is time to move from the centralized model to a distributed model with total autonomy to each IIT and let the BOG of each IIT govern the Institution, keeping in focus the National requirements of equal opportunity to all its citizenry, without compromising on merit. Currently each IIT by and large operates independently in matters connected with academics and management. It is best to allow them to govern themselves with funding from the Government with transparency in accounting and audit. The selection of Board members would be the responsibility of each IIT through a search committee comprising of, for example, outgoing chairman, two members of Board, three distinguished alumni, director/ VC, and two Professors.
The autonomy situation is substantially different for a large number of engineering colleges, mostly private as they are affiliated to a university (affiliated colleges model). They have to abide by the university academic programs, assessment systems, admission procedures, rules and regulations, etc., whether good or bad. These affiliated colleges have neither independence nor autonomy to experiment and develop superior academic and administrative systems. They need to be freed from over-regulation and micro-management by the Universities. The result of this system is well known to be elaborated here.
It is time that the affiliated college system is replaced by converting several of these deserving government and private colleges into autonomous institutions with well-defined norms, systems and processes, proper hand holding, and guidance. The central body necessary for this purpose should be efficient, effective, and transparent. The current system of giving ‘recognition’ to these institutions should be scrapped or substantially modified to bring in transparency and accountability, as has been emphasized by National Knowledge Commission (2,3), Prof. Yash Pal committee(4), Kudchadker et al. (5), and several respected professionals.
My own suggestion for the accreditation body is a non-governmental professional body, formed by the Indian professional engineering bodies + national academy of engineering + national academy of sciences. The model could be like the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology (ABET), USA (6) or superior.
Once the autonomy issue is taken care of, one can focus on other important issues such as quality faculty, curriculum, infrastructure and facilities, etc. We can then provide high quality education and learning and produce quality graduates with substantial skill-sets and problem solving abilities. Hence instead of only 20% of our graduates that are employable, we should shoot for 100% employable graduates and see to it that they get gainful employment.
The implementation of several policies on Higher Education is moving too slow for comfort. The Government of India appears to have the right ideas and therefore should withdraw itself from running higher educational institutions (no need of IIT Council as stated above; this will require amendment of IIT Act, 1961), while blessing them to do their best. While I am on this subject, I would like to add that faculty salary structure including the Director in the Government financed institutions, the IIT Director included, should be delinked from the Government Secretary salary as the basis, if it has not been done already! More on this coming soon in a future post!
- “Report of Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) Committee on Autonomy of Higher Education Institutions, 2005”: http://www.teindia.nic.in/files/reports/ccr/cabe/ahei.pdf.
- “National Knowledge Commission: Innovation in India, 2007”: http://knowledgecommission.gov.in/downloads/documents/NKC_Innovation.pdf.
- “National Knowledge Commission: PhDs in India, Letter to PM, 2008”: https://nationalknowledgecommission.wordpress.com/2008/11/17/recommendations-on-more-quality-phds/
- “Yash Pal Committee Report on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, 2009”: academics-india.com/Yashpal-committee-report.htm.
- Arvind P. Kudchadker, Anjan Bose, Ashok Soota, K. VijayRaghavan, K. P. Madhavan, Milind Rajadhyaksha, and Uday Agarwal, PANIIT Perspectives – Research & Innovation Ecosystem, 2010: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B4tTTW7Cu7zjZWFlMjFiZjEtYWIxMS00ZWUwLWJkYjMtZTExYzk4N2FkYTE1&hl=en
- “Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology (ABET)”: abet.org/.