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Why higher educational institutions need greater autonomy

In his recent Union Budget speech, finance minister Arun Jaitley announced his intention to reform the higher education regulator, University Grants Commission (UGC), to give more autonomy to quality higher educational institutions.

Higher education plays a crucial role in the realisation of India’s potential for economic and technological growth.

In his recent Union Budget speech, finance minister Arun Jaitley announced his intention to reform the higher education regulator, University Grants Commission (UGC), to give more autonomy to quality higher educational institutions. “Good quality institutions” of higher education will be granted “greater administrative and academic autonomy based on accreditation and ranking,” he had said. This statement made his intention clear about reducing the regulatory cholesterol and enabling institutions to have greater administrative as well as academic autonomy.

It must also be borne in mind that institutions with a good academic stature always seek higher benchmarks for quality and processes. Such institutes tend to outgrow the prevailing standards and seek accreditations from international bodies, including SAQS (South Asian Quality Assurance System), EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System) and AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). Hence, the revamping of the accreditation process is a welcome move.

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While there are indeed multitudes of interconnected problems that the Indian education system faces in implementing recommendations of the various commissions established by the government from time to time, the developed nations have made good use of the opportunities innate in their system of higher education, creating a paradigm shift in building the knowledge capital and paving the way for development. Global institutions have built a stature and repute through a continuous process of evolving with the times because they have been empowered to bring into effect the changes that were necessary in keeping the emerging global shifts in sight.

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In fact, they have built a strong base for maximising the potential of the young human resource not only to meet their individual goals through career growth, but also to truly turn them into game-changers in fulfilling the national agenda, and thereby successfully contributing to the welfare of the global community.

Higher education plays a crucial role in the realisation of India’s potential for economic and technological growth. Hence, a debate surrounding autonomy of higher education institutes has been coming up every now and then. Autonomy helps institutionalise quality and accountability, thereby encouraging institutions to incorporate unique pedagogical developments and practices into the curriculum. Management education is meant to be contemporary in nature and thus dynamic. Frequent changes are required in pedagogy, curriculum and other aspects. An autonomous status expedites these operations and thus enthuses constant fluidity in the pattern and curriculum, apart from accelerating and improving evaluation. Autonomy is granted to institutes based on the parameters of excellence in academic performances, capability of self-governance and enhancement in the quality of education, and it can be seen as a great opportunity to meet the emerging and evolving needs, in sync with the industry.

While expanding new horizons for higher education and strengthening the quality and relevance, autonomy can be considered a possible solution to enhance the quality of education and incorporate methods of skilling the students, thus contributing to creating a knowledge-based economy and paving the way to gear up the young workforce for Industry 4.0. Business schools in India, whether privately owned or state funded, have proved their credibility by giving the world some of the best corporate leaders and entrepreneurs. It is essential that Indian institutes are given the freedom to work with a greater agility in realising the larger goals of the education space in the country.

For students, it means they will have a contemporary curriculum in sync with the industry needs. A lot has been spoken about automation eating into the job market, making a large percentage of the human resource redundant. A World Bank 2016 research noted that automation threatens 69% jobs in India. It is at such times that autonomous status enables the institutions to swiftly change gears and turn in the direction that is required by the industry in the times to come. India has the potential, and all that is required such as talent, ability, good institutes with sophisticated infrastructure, but they need to be strengthened to be given more impetus. Importance of innovation is being highlighted by industry experts, reason being that innovation is the way to sustainable development. Thus, proper channelling of efforts and government impetus for autonomy can propel the global ranking of Indian institutions and push India higher on the world charts for education. By bringing this into effect, there are high chances of reducing the brain drain, turning it into a brain gain.

Prof Dr Uday Salunkhe is group director, Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research (WeSchool), Mumbai and Bengaluru

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