Autonomy in Government Colleges. Is it Real?

In India, about one fourth of the total number colleges are Government colleges whereas Tamil Nadu has 67 government colleges including seven colleges of education. The percentage of Government Colleges in Tamil Nadu compared to other colleges in the state-aided and self-financing is very less. But Government has come to consider Government Colleges a burden and has recently legislated for wholesale conversion of these colleges into Constituent Colleges of universities in the regions of their location. The Government colleges are 'owned and managed by the Government so far and the colleges are also 'married by affiliation' to one or other university in whose jurisdiction they lie. This means that the Government Colleges have already 'two husbanding masters'- the Government and the University- to serve! 'Autonomy' in Government Colleges brings in a third master- the University Grants Commission (UGC)- to the scene. Autonomous Government colleges (AGCs herein afterwards) are expected to adhere to UGC guidelines and regulations also- in addition to obeying the locally wedded university and subjecting itself, as always, for control by the authorities of the director-government.

During the late 90s, the Government of Tamil Nadu showed enthusiasm to 'confer autonomous status' to certain Government colleges with a declared aim ' to make through professionals of each and every student to suit the present needs of the society.' To attain this objective, the policy note of the Government promised that, 'the course curriculum will be suitably modified with reference to various subjects of academic study.' At the time of introduction of the scheme of autonomy in Government colleges there was strong resistance from the teacher unions to the move but the Government brushed aside all opposition and went ahead to introduce autonomy in select Government Colleges. Academics interested in innovation and excellence hoped that introduction of autonomy in Government colleges, if carried out in letter and spirit, would usher in decentalization of planning, management and decision- making; greater possibilities for purposeful, newer curriculum, improved methodologies and better evaluation and democratization of the academic system from the outdated and rigidly hierarchical Government system. It was also thought that there would be freedom to explore new grounds to achieve regional relevance, social justice and excellence in education.

It is a fact that the demand for autonomy in Government Colleges did not stem from 'within', but 'came from above'. The thrusting of autonomy in Government colleges 'from above' itself is a fundamental contradiction to the UGC's concept and scheme of autonomy! But the teachers in autonomous Government colleges (AGCs) should be credited for accepting the academic responsibility and for working with best sincerity under great constrains- systemic, local-specific and other. The initial resistance of the teacher unions has also mysteriously faded out though some of the reasons for their earlier opposition still hold good.

The mission of the Government colleges is to cater to the educational needs of those hailing from the poorer, rural, socially, economically and educationally marginalized sections of the society. There is an observation that 'Government colleges are like Government Hospitals'- only the poor and the neglected who can not afford better services go there. (The Hindu, 3 Sep 1986) This observation cannot be ignored. The example of student composition in an AGC situate with in the limits of Tiruchirapalli Corporation would show who the 'clients' are for higher education in Government Colleges. About 46% of the above AGC are from the SC & ST communities; more than 68.6% of the learners have come to its fold from rural and backward areas seeking the benefits of higher education. Further to this, about 73.7% of the boys and girls of the college belong to families of lower and lower-middle income groups. The major attraction of Government colleges for options of students from poor families is the following of rules of reservation in admissions and low fee structure, compared to other categories of colleges.

Matters like location of the college, fee structure for courses, introduction of new/ socially relevant academic programs, filling up of vacancies (teaching and non-teaching), creation of basic infrastructure in respect of Government colleges- whether autonomous or otherwise- are decided 'elsewhere' and the local units (individual Government colleges) have least say in these matters. Manner and measure of flow of funds for individual institutions; tenures of Principal and Staff, conduct rules and regulations governing the staff; powers of local functionaries are set through 'rules', 'directives' and 'proceedings' of the authorities of the higher education department and the directorate of collegiate education. The management of Government colleges is under age-old hierarchical type and so even 'local specific' requirements of individual Government colleges are subject to 'comprehensive', 'overall', 'statewide' decisions at the higher levels and are also dependent on legislative allocation.

The variety and complexity of the tasks of the higher educational institutions demand interdependence among all the constituents- the management, administration, faculty, students, and user-public. The interdependency calls for adequate consultations and communication among these constituents and their involvement in the formulation of joint planning and efforts for implementation. But the situations in Government colleges provide very minimal scope for such efforts. Legislative and executive governmental authorities, at all levels, play deciding roles in making important decisions including academic policies of Government colleges. Diversity and distinctive missions for each institution is not a recognized factor in the Government set up and so such diversities among AGCs have not been encouraged and fostered. Mindless adherence to 'routine', 'precedents', 'unplanned postings and transfers' of Principals and teachers are common in Government colleges. Posting of Principals and staff not exposed to any training or experience in autonomous institutions, even in the middle of the academic year is again part of the 'overall scheme of things'. Due to uncertain tenure of the staff in the institutions, there is visible lack of commitment on the part of the Principals and staff to undertake any long-term project. In an AGC in Tiruchirapalli, 28 Principals have served in 38 years of its existence and the list parades 5 Principals since 1998-99, the year of introduction of autonomy!

Filling up of staff vacancies arising out of retirements, deaths, transfers, promotions etc has become a distant dream in Government Colleges. A recent report (The Hindu, 26 Feb 2003) revealed the existence of about one thousand teacher vacancies in Government colleges in Tamil Nadu. The vacancy is almost one third of staff strength. The Government deserves to be credited for 'equal treatment' of all colleges without showing any ' favored status' to autonomous colleges in vital matters of academic concern. For example, Computer Science courses, at the undergraduate/ post-graduate/postgraduate diploma levels were started very late (compared to the starting of such courses in aided and self-financing colleges) with great fanfare in some Government colleges. But the manpower requirement for these programs in such Government institutions is yet to be met. In a Government college in Tiruchirapalli offering Computer Science courses (at the UG level since 1993-1994 and PGDCA program from1999- 2000), there are only three regular staff members as on date and one of them is a migrant from the mathematics department! The widely prevalent adhochism and unorganized management of the situation (on a fire-fighting mode) through poorly paid guest lecturers reflect another side of the 'poverty situations' under which the Government collegiate teachers have to strive for academic excellence!

Students and teachers' strikes cause frequent derailment of academic progress in Government colleges. Most often student strikes crop up demanding local amenities etc. The Principals have no power and wherewithal to remedy the situation immediately. Staff strikes are 'claimed to be in the nature of demanding rightful benefits from the Government' and there again the Principals have nothing to do in bringing the academic work back to the rails except winking at the 'the farce of compensation classes' after the periods of irreparable breakdown. The teachers appear on the border of becoming 'academic mercenaries'. Another autonomous college, to the teachers, means another opportunity for them to 'grab some positions': question paper setters, examiners, members of boards of studies etc and increased opportunities to 'earn more in black'. Mass exodus of staff for lucrative out side assignments is among other unattended issues that cause academic disruptions in AGCs.

Though the Government colleges are owned and managed by the Government, 'to satisfy the UGC requirements for autonomy', every AGC has bodies grandly named (misnomers!) as Executive Council (EC) and Governing Body (GB). There should also be other bodies like the Academic Council, Boards of Studies, Planning Board, Finance Committee and so on. In AGCs in Tamil Nadu, the EC or GB is simply a nominated, 'nominal body with out any significant power'. Even the constitution of such bodies in AGCs was shrouded in usual 'official secrecy' and was expertly carried out without any healthy process of internal consultations in the respective colleges. At their best, the Government colleges can embark upon academic innovation 'without any additional requirement of staff and facilities' and well within the frameworks already laid by the Government and the university

It is very unfortunate that academic institutions have now become much anxious to obtain (by any means) 'more stars' through NAAC accreditation, as the star-status of the college is sought to be linked with UGC funding. In many colleges, fetish-like desires to cling on to autonomy even in the face of great deficiencies are also guided by 'pecuniary reasons'. Naturally, such colleges adopt very dubious means and practices to satisfy the visiting teams from NAAC, UGC etc. The shocking recent revelations about a college in Palani (Dindigul District, TN) regarding the measures adopted to please the NAAC committee for accreditation is only the tip of the iceberg! It is high time that the visiting teams openly decried un- academic luxuries and shows like star-hotel accommodations, cozy local travel arrangements etc at the cost of institutions, red-carpet welcome, guard of honor salutes to the teams with hired music bands, dance and entertainment programs, kolams, rangolis and festoons etc.

It is a pity that Government institutions have started imitating what greedy private managements do in matters of 'satisfying the visiting teams and keeping them in good humor'. An enthusiastic Principal of an AGC issued an official circular directing the staff 'not to strike any discordant note' during the visit of the autonomy mid-term review committee. He has, thus betrayed his anxiety as well as official intentions to muffle freedom of expression of staff. In one AGC in the Bharathidasan University area, visited by the mid-term autonomy review committee in February this year, the tenures of the members of the EC and GB and other bodies/ committees- constituted to satisfy UGC requirements- have already expired! Certain vital committee like the Planning Board was not constituted at all in that AGC since introduction of autonomy in that college. The mid-term review committee did not have enough time to look into these 'trivial matters' as it was 'carried away' by other shows organized.

'One of the avowed objectives of granting autonomy to colleges is to provide them with freedom and flexibility necessary for making curricular innovations.' In Government colleges everything is done as per the directives, often clothed as 'norms', of the authorities controlling the institutions throughout the state. The AGCs cannot move a millimeter beyond the prescriptions of the Education Department/Directorate of Collegiate Education in any matter. Altering the age-old three-part system of UG courses has not been possible even when justification exists for overhaul. A kind of dominance of staff interests like job security etc in matters like discarding unviable courses misdirect decisions on revamping the 'now irrelevant courses'. Under a rigidly hierarchical system, no great innovation and 'adventure of ideas' gets encouraged. Student-centered education and dynamic methods of teaching is not thought of or supported in the AGCs. Methods of evaluation, percentage between internal and external evaluations, what to evaluate in respect of each subject unit have so far been out of any serious consideration in AGCs..

The grand visions of autonomy and the existing stark realities remain yet unyoked in Government colleges. (Table: 1). Further, the Government autonomous colleges are not anywhere near meeting the criteria for Healthy Practices listed out by NAAC for accreditation of institutions. (Table: 2)


Table 1
Visions of Autonomy
' Academic innovation
' Academic Excellence
' Evaluation- Internalization
' Innovative teaching Methodologies
' Accountability
' Participatory decision-making

Table 2
NAAC List of Healthy Practices
' Credit system, examination reforms and modular curriculum
' Mission statement and goals
' Master plan for institutional growth
' Stakeholder feedback for functional improvement
' Innovations in management and communications
' Quality enhancement strategies
' Complementary systems of education- self-financing/need-based courses
' National / International linkages for teaching and research
' Industry linkages 
' Chairs of excellence
' Teaching and research awards won by faculty


' Structural Constraints created by Government & University
' Absence of commitment, facilities & Regional Relevance
' Apprehensions of credibility; burden of University norms
' Absence of training, initiative, leadership, mechanical requirement of completion of syllabi.
' No norms evolved for fixing responsibility; teachers' evasion
' System hierarchical; Continued alienation of teachers more in Government Colleges
Position in Autonomous Government Colleges (AGC)
Not adopted in many AGCs.
' No perspective plans/ mission statements in AGCs.
' No individual master plan for AGCs.
' Totally absent in AGCs.
' No change in the hierarchical system.

' No specific measure adopted in AGCs
' No need based courses in AGCs. Some Self-financing courses introduced
' Not at all in AGCs! 
' Not attempted at all in AGCs.
' Unknown / not heard of by AGCs.
' If any award etc won by faculty, is not related to autonomy/star status of AGCs.

From what is stated above arises the question: whether autonomy in Government colleges is real? Earlier, autonomous status on select individual Government colleges was thrust from above. Now all the Government colleges are thrust down the throats of universities without the universities asking for, through the recent legislation. No serious prior consultation took place between the universities and the Government in this matter of far-reaching consequences. The legislation for the wholesale conversion of all Government colleges in the state into Constituent Colleges of universities has made matters worse and more confusing. The legislation purports to violate, with impunity, the autonomy of statutory universities. Can there be real autonomy for the poor members of the system-the Government colleges?

Hoping that there would soon be some dawn of wisdom for attaining the objectives of autonomy and making autonomy real in the Government colleges, the following suggestions are presented for serious consideration and sincere trial.


    • Decentalization and Planning
      The framing and execution of long-range institutional plans is one of the most important aspects of institutional growth. It should be a central and continuing concern of each AGC. All AGCs should be asked to formulate detailed, realistic and strategic short term and long-term plans. The staff of each AGC should be actively involved in setting up institutional level and micro level (department wise) targets and chalking out strategies. Decisions regarding existing or prospective physical resources should be in the province of the local managers namely, College Governing Council, the Principal, faculty and students.

    • Funding Policy
      The Government and the Funding Bodies, when allocating funds for development/ expansion of higher education, should give priority to those institutions that have demonstrated a commitment to widening participation and success. As a pilot project, colleges that enroll students from particularly disadvantaged sections of society should be allocated additional funds.

    • Principals
      The Principal is the chief executive and academic head of the college. His dual role requires an ability to convince his superiors and faculty regarding the educational views and concepts formulated internally. Posting of Principals to AGCs should be under a special process within Government's policy of postings and transfers. There should be a willingness on the part of the Government and the 'prospects' to provide / undergo necessary training and exposure in the concepts of autonomy, functioning of academic bodies, budgeting, curriculum development etc., prior to their posting in autonomous colleges. Training to the Principals at maximizing the use of information technology for effective and efficient management should also be given. There should also be fixed minimum tenures for Principals when they are posted to any AGC. Those likely to retire, get shifted/ promoted for a different position within a short period could be given ' paper promotion' and benefits without burdening them with Principalship and management of autonomous institutions.' Principals seeking transfers, for personal reasons, can also be excluded from posting in AGCs.

    • Freedom to Principals
      There is need for the colleges to become financially self-reliant by generating resources. Principals should be free to try measures not only through increase in fees, but also through other means in the form of donations, endowments, sponsorship etc. Forging of effective relationships with industry and organizing new innovative, socially relevant programs should be permitted. There should be enough arm-space for the Principals for greater interaction with the user community - employers and the public- to create need-based programs; to develop greater autonomy in a decentralized structure; to develop a professional management system reflecting true autonomy as well as accountability. It would even be worthwhile to think of forming Local College Welfare Committees for each AGC involving prominent personalities, alumni, academics of repute, management experts, counselors, sports coaches and the like.

    • The heads of departments in colleges
      The head of each department is expected to serve as the chief representative of the department within an institution. He/.She should be capable of providing unit level 'leads' in academic innovations. In Government colleges, the headships of departments, reach the incumbents by mere 'seniority' and sheer 'accidents' like promotion, transfer, retirement, death of the previous incumbent. Such a 'seniority alone' concept characteristic of the hierarchical governmental system often results perennial asylum seekers in the state of status quo; happy dwellers in the marsh of passive resistance for change; ardent affiliates of the 'safe course' to justify inaction; incompetent 'puny' unable to lead by steam of energy and leadership continuing as heads of departments in Government colleges till another 'accident' happens! Sound principles like 'the periodical rotation of headships' to facilitate new creative inputs should be tried in AGCs.

    • Faculty involvement
      Appropriate measures for local grievance redressal and bodies for fuller faculty participation in the government of the college are necessary. The entire faculty in autonomous colleges has primary responsibility for such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction and evaluation The practice of involving all the staff in each department in curriculum making for the courses they offer is not adopted in AGCs. The structure and procedures for faculty participation should be designed, approved, and established by joint action of the components of the institution.

    • Curriculum Development
      Curriculum development requires expertise and prior training. Many staff members in Government Colleges have not received any specific training in curriculum planning even though skills in curriculum development are very much essential for at least those in AGCs. The policy based on 'more of the same' cannot be an option now and there is pressing need for radical thinking and action. Each AGC should establish Curriculum Development Units (CDU) and make them active and vibrant centers of improvements in curriculum, methods of teaching, materials preparation etc. CDUs should offer training to their teachers in these areas to ensure that their staff and students receive appropriate exposure. The CDUs should plan for providing their alumni and other members of the society opportunities ' to renew, update and widen their knowledge and skills throughout life'. The CDUs shall embark on developing good computer-based learning materials and co-ordinate such developments within the network of AGCs. The CDU efforts should lead the AGCs provide for credit transfer between courses and institutions at least amongst AGCs. The AGCs can think of such credit transfers from the distance education streams of parent and other recognized universities also.

    • Examination Reform Cells
      The Scheme of Autonomous Colleges is intended to ensure decentralized 'quality relevance and appropriate assessment of students'. The scheme also envisages teachers in the colleges to decide the curriculum and conduct the evaluation of their students through systems of continuous and end of the course evaluations i.e., more and more of internal evaluation of learners' performance. Apprehensions about credibility and norms of affiliating universities act as burdens on autonomous colleges in the matter of giving increased weightages for internal evaluation. Much thinking has really not gone in the AGCs into the aspects of what to evaluate and in what manner. Teachers teaching the subjects in the autonomous institution may employ certain methodologies for attaining the objectives of the course and they shall be the best judges to evaluate learners' performance through continuous and terminal assessments. But in most of the AGCs, in full neglect of the concepts underlying autonomy, evaluation by outsiders is favored blindly. Examination reform units/cells should be established in each AGC and they should have regular brainstorming for formulation of evaluation schemes, question banks, percentage of internal-external evaluation to be followed, standard practices in evaluation, declaration of results etc.

    • Institution-Industry linkages
      Educational institutions should not stand in isolation from the society ('its service area'). All educational institutions and more particularly the AGCs should strive for meaningful linkages with user-agencies and industries-in their locality and elsewhere. It would even be better if industries/user organizations are involved in designing curriculum and course structure. The AGCs should, identify opportunities to increase work experience/ 'on- the job training' for their learners. In order to help learners gain work experience, the Government could, by working with representative employers and professional organizations, formulate schemes to assist the AGCs to develop such opportunities for students.

    • Representation to Students
      The students are the most important of the constituents in the system. The very system of education exists for them. But the students do not at present have any significant voice in the AGCs (and universities too!). This anomaly should be amended early and ways should be found to permit significant student participation within the limits of attainable effectiveness. With the aim of nursing democratic culture, students' unions with well-defined constitutions should be permitted and their functioning should be regulated in strict adherence to the constitutions. AGCs should not hesitate to offer representation for students in decision-making bodies like the Academic Council, Boards of Studies etc (at least on invitee status, to begin with).

    • Participation of all constituents
      Involvement of all key stakeholders of higher educational institutions in decision-making is recognized as imperative and so arrangements to ensure decision-making participation of all the institutional components including representatives of parents should be ensured in AGCs.
      ' Ensuring Academic Progress: The Principals and staff make liberal use of provisions for 'on other duty' (OD), leaves of all kinds, for assignments as external examiners, contact classes of different universities and to go hunting for more earning slots everywhere. Many such Principals and staff appear as 'visiting professors' in the Government institutions they serve! In AGCs, the Principal should be able to ensure that regular academic work is not disrupted by frequent, department wise, mass exodus for paper corrections and other lucrative university assignments- not only in the parent university but also outside the state. There should be an accepted formula governing the maximum permissible number of teachers at a time in each department who could be permitted to avail of OD with earning potentials. Exemptions could be given only for participation in academic seminars, workshops, trainings, refreshers etc.

    • The Library and Library Committee
      The Library in AGCs is often treated as a mere stock house of printed material. Libraries should serve as real central resource for all academic activities- from planning to implementation of curriculum in the AGCs. Library Committees in these colleges should (be constituted wherever non existing) assess the needs with reference to existing resources, emerging needs and potentials of the institution for suggesting a planned and methodical procurement of books, journals, CDs and educational films. The prevalent practice of distress purchase at the last minute of the financial year for exhausting funds should be totally given up. All 'idling, dormant facilities' in departments should be brought to a general pool at the institutional level for effective use and benefit of the learners and teachers. The Library in the AGC can also take up audio-visual education- with all equipments, gadgets, CDs, films etc- as an added part of its functioning.

    • Alumni Contribution: It is true that Government colleges cater to the needs of poor sections. At the same time it would not be out of place to think of and develop a mechanism for graduates in work to make a flat rate contribution to their alma mater. The rate of such contribution could be worked out on the basis of the divided average cost of education, tuition fee waivers enjoyed etc, through an 'income contingent mechanism'.

    • Council of Autonomous Colleges in Affiliating Universities
      There should be a separate statutory body/council in affiliating universities for Autonomous Colleges (Name it: Council of Autonomous Colleges) to discuss issues relating to autonomous institutions and the university. The council could also be the forum for sharing and pooling of information and outcomes of experience between autonomous colleges in each affiliating university. A state level forum of Autonomous colleges could also be thought of.

To achieve real autonomy in Government Colleges, there should be real willingness from Government to relax hierarchy; visible initiatives for real academic freedom and flexibility; recognition of diversity among AGCs; preparedness of institutions to meet challenges through democratization of the process of internal consultation and participation of all the constituents. Havoc would have been already done to higher education and social justice, if we have to wait too long for such a happening.


More by :  Prof. Raja Mutthirulandi

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Views: 3312      Comments: 1

Comment In Tamilnadu all the autonomous engineering colleges classifies a student having passed in first class if they had completed the BE degree within ten semesters except Thiagarajar college of Engineering, Madurai (TCE). TCE rule says that a BE student must have completed the BE course within eight semesters in order to get first class, otherwise only second class is awarded. Anna University and NIT, Tiruchy also give extra sems to complete the course and award first class. How is then TCE's rule is justified.

28-Sep-2011 07:04 AM

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