Nurturing Autonomy In India's Higher Education System

NEP 2020 also states that an autonomous degree-granting college will refer to a large multidisciplinary institution of higher learning that grants undergraduate degrees and is primarily focused on undergraduate teaching.

St. John’s Medical college, Bangalore

Quality universities and colleges are the vision of the Higher education system. It is stated in the NEP policy that quality higher education must aim to develop good, thoughtful, well-rounded, and creative individuals. NEP 2020 envisions a complete overhaul and re-energising of the higher education system to overcome the challenges and deliver high-quality higher education with equity and inclusion. It recommends establishing multidisciplinary universities and higher education clusters, and autonomous colleges. It states to move towards faculty and institutional autonomy. It states that governance of HEIs will be done by highly qualified and independent boards having academic and administrative autonomy.

NEP 2020 also states that an autonomous degree-granting college will refer to a large multidisciplinary institution of higher learning that grants undergraduate degrees and is primarily focused on undergraduate teaching. However, it would not be restricted to that; it need not be limited to that and would generally be smaller than a typical university. It also states that a stage-wise mechanism for granting graded autonomy to colleges will be established through a transparent system of graded accreditation. Colleges will be encouraged, mentored, supported, and incentivised to gradually attain the minimum benchmarks required for each accreditation or ranking level. Over time, it is envisaged that every college would develop into either an Autonomous degree-granting College or a constituent university of a university - in the latter case, it would be fully a part of the university. With appropriate ranking or accreditations, Autonomous degree-granting Colleges could evolve into Research-intensive or Teaching-intensive Universities if they aspire. By attaining suitable rankings or accreditations, all HEIs will gradually achieve full academic and administrative autonomy to enable this vibrant culture.

Autonomy is used to provide quality education, satisfy the needs and expectations of the stakeholders, and it is the power to make our own decisions to achieve the institute’s vision, missions and goals, harnessing the full potential of internal and external stakeholders for implementing the decisions. In operational terminology, autonomy is the authority to make decisions in areas such as academia, administration, finance, governance and management of the institute. Autonomy is closely associated with accountability. Technical institutions are facing the challenge of providing quality education. At the same time, they have to be financially sound. They are expected to function under rules and regulations which restrict them from satisfying the expectations of external and internal stakeholders.

Research Studies have shown that autonomous institutes have greater responsibility and offer flexibility in academic curricula. Autonomous colleges must energise themselves in curricular aspects, teaching-learning, research, consultancy and collaboration, providing full learning resources, student support and progression, and adopting the best innovative practices. Technical institutions especially need greater autonomy to improve curricula, recruit faculty, students, and staff, and financial matters, including alumni and industry funding and administrative issues.

Policies on Autonomy

Previous Education policies like Yashpal Committee suggested many recommendations for autonomy. These recommendations showed that the project could succeed fully if the central and state governments work hand-in-hand with utmost cooperation by treating education as a national issue. The percentage of successful implementation of educational reforms lies with well-equipped, motivated, and dedicated teachers. HEIs have to rise to the occasion urgently and reorient their system to be vibrant, competitive, meaningful, and purposeful; besides, there is no substitute for higher education quality.

The percentage of successful implementation of educational reforms lies with well-equipped, motivated, and dedicated teachers.

Currently, there are more than six organisations, like UGC, NAAC, AICTE, NBA, MHRD, Parent Universities etc., that control the autonomy of colleges through various rules and regulations; this goes against the spirit of experimentation, innovation, and co-thinking of the teacher and the student. These regulators have admitted that most colleges do not have enough autonomy to make their own decisions, and government interference slows down the speed of progress in higher education. They have acknowledged that the country’s quantitative expansion of higher education accelerated in the past three decades. Still, qualitative improvement in higher education towards achieving excellence has not occurred with the pace of quantitative expansion. Thus we have very few autonomous institutions in the country.

Demanding Autonomy

Today in changing education scenario, stakeholders are demanding more autonomy. For instance, faculties have identified potential areas such as learning program, school-level policy, schedule, determining teacher work hours, selecting colleagues, choosing school leaders, professional development, evaluating colleagues, setting tenure policy, terminating/transferring colleagues, setting the budget, determining compensation, setting staff pattern, determining assessments, broadening assessments which could secure collective autonomy for them. Likewise, students want to have a role in area deciding subjects taught, facilities built, industry exposed to, placement support, opportunities for co-curricular activities etc. To address these challenges, faculty members must be granted autonomy regarding their roles and responsibilities. Some degree of autonomy may be granted through decentralisation and remaining through delegation.

International management institute (IMI), New Delhi Photo: Sanjay Rawat

Students may be given autonomy regarding their learning outcomes, learning method and learning time. This learner autonomy will result in better achievements in an outcome-based education environment. Students-initiated teaching combined with syllabus negotiation made all the learners more open-minded to others’ ideas, thoughts, suggestions, and even criticism because greater control over the learning process, resources, and language cannot be achieved by each individual acting alone according to their performance. In the classroom group, genuine autonomy has to be exercised in an interdependent way. This practice of negotiated syllabus helps students to break out of the cocoon of dependence on the teacher. Once this has happened, negotiation inevitably becomes an ongoing process. It is thus that the foundations of autonomy are laid. The process of negotiation functions as managing teaching and learning as a group experience and students are highly motivated when they are given the power to make the decisions, options, and choices by themselves, when their wants and needs are taken into account and when they have their voices heard by others.

Pathways towards Autonomy in Colleges

Against this backdrop, the following are possible pathways that can be made for obtaining and sustaining autonomy in HEIs in the light of NEP 2020.

1. Constitution of regulatory bodies: The regulatory bodies stated in NEP 2020 viz. the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), National Accreditation Council (NAC), the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), the General Education Council (GEC) should be constituted as early as possible. The scope of work, authority, roles, and responsibilities of these regulatory bodies should be clearly defined to remove the conflicting and overlapping functions.


2. Evolve the framework for granting a varying degree of autonomy: The regulatory system of higher education should evolve rules, regulations, policies, and frameworks for granting a varying degree of autonomy to HEIs. The autonomy is linked with the quality of education and different levels of ranking and accreditation. The rankings and accreditation should come out with the manual, guidelines, formats, procedures, and benchmarks for different levels of ranking and accreditation considering the multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and cross-disciplinary programs.

3. Evolve common terminology: Evolve common terminology for higher education for the institute, program, curriculum, courses, credits, certification, and like. The evolved terminology should be followed by all HEIs to ensure national level portability in multipoint entry and multiple exit system of a flexible education system. The system will prevent conflict, confusion, and grievances of students, faculty members, and the institute.

4. Evolve guidelines for various areas of functioning of the institute: Evolve common guidelines for various areas of functioning of the institute. The guidelines may be issued for admission, curriculum development, curriculum implementation, industrial training and internship, guidance, counseling, mentoring and coaching, entrepreneurship, training and placement, online learning, examination reforms, grievance management.

5. Prepare institutional development plan: The HEIs should prepare institute development plans like strategic, perspective and annual integrating the provisions of higher education envisaged in NEP 2020. The education technology, technology, and information communication technology development and use should be an integral part of the institutional development plan. Vocational education, entrepreneurship, and inclusive education should be an integral part of the institutional development plan. HEIs should set goals in all areas of functioning of the institute and achieve it in order to achieve ranking and accreditation and a greater degree of autonomy. The departments should prepare a plan for academic programs, research studies, academic events, and services. Similarly, the faculty members should develop their professional development and self-development plan. The top-down and bottom-up, proactive, and blueprint and process approach of planning should be used for perfect alignment among the plans of different levels. A participative approach to planning and implementation should be used for consensus, commitment, and owning of the plans and achieving the goals at different levels in the institute.


6. Full use of authority: The educational leaders in different positions should use the full authority and their personal power for achieving the goals of the institute. They should not afraid of complaint and inquiry because the decisions taken in good faith are always appreciated. At the institute level decentralisation, delegation, and empowerment formula should be used so that educational leaders concentrate on innovation and change. Risk-taking should be an integral part of the decision making process. The institute will develop unique image if takes risk and work in unexplored areas.

7. Evolve national performance rankings and accreditation for HEIs: Evolve national performance rankings and accreditation in quantitative and qualitative terms on the lines of NEP, which all HEIs can follow in the country. The national rankings and accreditation will help the country ensure a minimum quality of education at the HEI level.

Outlook ICARE India’s Best Colleges Rankings as a Measure of Autonomy

World Bank, as part of its education strategy, has reinforced the monitoring and evaluation of education system performance to foster a better environment for teaching and learning. In alignment with the holistic framework of world bank Outlook-ICARE India’s Best Colleges has attempted to identify the best colleges across the country which have potential to become independent standalone degree granting institutions.



The colleges are measured by five criteria: Academic and Research Excellence, Industry Interface & Placements, Infrastructure & Facilities, Governance & Admissions and Diversity & Outreach. These five broad parameters are then broken down into sub-parameters/indicators, each leading to an overall weightage. The criteria scores are then normalised; scores for each measure are weighted to arrive at a final overall score of 1000.

The ranking data is collected from our surveys and then vetted from evidence and reliable third-party sources; In a few cases, we had to rely on trusted data sources such as AISHE, NAAC, NIRF, etc.

Although the methodology is the product of years of research, we continuously refine our approach based on user feedback, discussions with academic leaders and higher education experts, literature reviews, trends in our data, availability of new data, and engaging with vice-chancellors, deans, researchers, academicians and prominent educationists.

It is pretty evident from the current year’s rankings that colleges have made huge strides towards quality education. The colleges must be encouraged by giving the right atmosphere of autonomy aligned with NEP 2020 goals which will be critical for fulfilling the vision of India’s Knowledge Supremacy.

Dr Karthick Sridhar Vice Chairman, ICARE

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