‘No Autonomy Possible’: In NEP, CUET, teachers see erosion of academic freedom
NEW DELHI: With practically every new regulation the University Grants Commission (UGC) introduces, universities, both central and state-run, lose a bit more of their autonomy.
Many among the spate of reforms that have followed in the wake of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, such as the decision to make the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) mandatory for all central universities, have led to universities ceding control over admissions, syllabus and course structure.
Changes proposed in the draft PhD regulations, for example, will leave universities without a say in important processes such as admission in research, lead to centralisation and flatten out the unique aspects of universities, said teachers. One reason for this is that academics are ignored as crucial, hasty changes are made in the higher education structure, they alleged.“They have abolished the university-specific entrance tests. They have abolished the MPhil as well. That is also not the decision of the universities. Now, they are pushing for four-year degrees. They are basically imposing decisions,” said K Laxminarayana, professor at the school of economics, University of Hyderabad.
Teachers felt that important processes such as admissions, setting question papers and deciding syllabus should be left to the academics.
A centralised system like the one CUET brings, they say, robs each university of its unique ethos.
“I think this is going to affect the autonomy of the institutions. There are certain attractive points for each institution, Banaras Hindu University, Jamia Millia Islamia, University of Hyderabad, all of them have their own attractions,” said Faisal KP, member of the Executive Council, Aligarh Muslim University. “Institutions should also have the right to have their own kind of students. They have an ethos that has been created over a long time which has its own attractions. This will be lost.”
Teachers also said that many of these decisions, such as the CUET, which was announced near the end of the academic year, were introduced in a rushed manner without consultations or discussions on alternative methods.
UGC PhD regulations
In March 2022, UGC posted draft regulations for PhD in the public domain for comment. The new regulations propose a common entrance test for PhD admissions. Teachers said that, despite the document stating otherwise, the move will undermine institutional autonomy.
“There are a lot of internal contradictions in the document. It mentions autonomy of institutions, faculty. That is mentioned everywhere. But when it comes to actual components suggested in the draft, there is no autonomy possible once it is executed,” said Faisal.
The draft regulations also mention giving direct admission to students who have completed a four-year degree. Yet another idea that academics disagree with.“Reducing admission to postgraduate courses and directly admitting students to PhD will be a disaster. Research is something different, you immediately can’t do it after completing four year programmes. After post graduation there should be something like MPhil. But that has been scrapped,” said Balaji N Kendre, member of the Academic Council at University of Mumbai. .
A similar concern is with the National Research Fund (NRF) mentioned in the NEP 2020. According to the policy, NRF will be a central institution in charge of giving “merit-based, peer reviewed” funding for research.
“Who decides what kind of research is to be done? They have mentioned that research should have practical value. Who will decide what is practical and what is valuable? What may be valuable to you might not be valuable to me. This is a great concern of the academic community,” said Faisal.
Before framing policies and regulations, the higher education regulator holds consultations with the universities, UGC Chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar said during the recent announcement on dual degrees. However, teachers said that they barely get to represent themselves in such consultations.
University representatives who get called for the meetings are usually higher authorities such as directors and Vice Chancellors, or single representatives of teachers associations..
“Universities are given the opportunity to send their representatives. Actually, these consultations are done with the highest authority of the university,” s“Mostly you will not find any independent union of any state or central university of teachers. So, teachers are a little bit voiceless. In very few places, such as Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), will you find active teachers unions,” said Kendre.
Even when it comes down to implementing the regulations at the university, teachers say that they have very little say. The Delhi University, for instance, had introduced an Undergraduate Curriculum Framework (UGCF) which is “aligned with NEP” despite protests from teachers.
Teachers argued that the new curriculum “diluted” course credits and diminished the value of the degree. The UGCF was implemented regardless.
“It should have gone to the teachers, to the staff council. But teachers had no say in it,” said Seema Das, member of Executive Council, Delhi University. Such drastic changes undermine the undergraduate courses that the universities are known for.
Academic, executive councils
Top-down decisions also undermine important academic bodies such as the Academic Councils and the Executive Councils of the universities.
“They are also diluting the powers of the Academic Council and the school boards. What is the need of such boards when the entire course structure is decided by somebody else. Basic functions of educational institutions are taken away,” said Laxminarayana.
Even when these topics come up in the Academic and Executive councils, the administration can “bypass” regulations as the councils go by majority rule and teacher representatives are fewer.aid Kendre.“In Delhi University, there are 26 members in the AC and two in the EC who represent the teachers. But the structure of these statutory bodies is such that decisions are made by majority rule. As teachers’ representatives are less in number, their voices can be bypassed,” said Das.
As contentious regulations face stiff resistance through teachers, simply ignoring their concerns is counterproductive. “These few elected members in the statutory bodies represent thousands of teachers.So such decisions mean a lot of discontent among the common teachers leading to their protest,” said Das.
Backward regions, state universities
A centralised system also means that universities have no say on student composition, this is especially true for universities located in educationally-backward regions.
“HCU is located in an educationally backward region. Telangana is backward in the entire south India when it comes to educational standards. In our integrated five year degree, when we conduct entrance tests, many people will come from this region. Now, that is lost. People around the university may lose access to education. What is the need to have a university in Hyderabad then? It can be anywhere,” said Laxminarayana.
“Also, the university has to do research on the region. Although they can do research anywhere, the primary focus will be on the region. If the university is located in some state it is supposed to do research on the state. Now, that is gone,” said Laxminarayana.
Teachers felt that the recent regulations will gradually chip away at the importance of state universities and students will flock to private universities. “Most of UGC recommendations are implemented in the central universities but it is difficult in the state universities. We have to look at the feasibility at the ground level,” said Kendre.