Universities Must Budge on College Autonomy Nudge


09:51 AM

1 min read

Why in News?

  • The National Education Policy 2020 envisages a future where colleges evolve into autonomous institutions, characterised by innovation, self-governance, and academic freedom.
  • In April 2023, the University Grants Commission (UGC) launched regulations to facilitate this transition, resulting in an unprecedented response with 590 colleges seeking autonomous status.
  • Granting autonomy to colleges is seen as pivotal for promoting innovation, enhancing academic quality, and fostering institutional excellence.

Benefits of College Autonomy

  • Flexibility in Curriculum Development
    • Autonomous colleges have the freedom to design their curriculum according to the specific needs and demands of their students, industries, and local communities.
    • This flexibility enables them to offer innovative courses, update existing ones, and integrate interdisciplinary approaches, ensuring that graduates are well-prepared for the dynamic job market and societal challenges.
  • Encouragement of Research Initiatives
    • Autonomous colleges are better positioned to promote research culture among faculty and students.
    • Additionally, autonomy facilitates collaborations with industries, other academic institutions, and research organisations, fostering interdisciplinary research and knowledge exchange.
  • Responsive Academic Governance
    • This decentralised governance structure allows for quicker responses to emerging trends, opportunities, and challenges in higher education.
    • It also promotes transparency and inclusivity in decision-making processes, involving various stakeholders such as faculty, students, alumni, and industry experts.
  • Promotion of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Critical Thinking
    • Autonomy creates an entrepreneurial mindset among college stakeholders by encouraging initiatives such as startup incubators, entrepreneurship development cells, and industry-academia partnerships.
    • Colleges can offer courses in entrepreneurship, provide mentorship to aspiring entrepreneurs, and facilitate access to funding and networking opportunities, thereby contributing to economic growth and job creation.
    • Autonomous colleges prioritise the cultivation of critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills among students.

Positive Impact of College Autonomy: Evidence from Rankings

  • The National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) of 2023 highlights the positive impact of autonomy on academic excellence, with a significant portion of top-ranked colleges being autonomous institutions.
  • Besides, in the top 10 colleges of the NIRF Rankings of 2023 from the college category, five are autonomous colleges.
  • Having half the top spots occupied by autonomous colleges significantly strengthens the case for autonomy as a successful approach to achieving academic excellence.
  • Higher education in India is witnessing a marked trend towards establishing autonomous colleges, with the number soon expected to reach 1,000 across 24 States and Union Territories.
  • States like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana lead in establishing autonomous colleges, indicating a nationwide interest in exploring autonomy's potential.

Potential Post-Autonomy Challenges Faced by Colleges

  • Limitations Imposed by Universities
    • Despite being granted autonomy by the UGC, some universities may impose restrictions on the extent of autonomy enjoyed by colleges.
    • This could include caps on syllabus changes, limiting colleges to modifying only a fraction of their curriculum.
    • Such limitations hinder colleges' ability to innovate and tailor their academic offerings to meet evolving needs effectively.
  • Delays in Recognition of Autonomy and Reluctance to Cede Complete Autonomy
    • Colleges may still find themselves entangled in bureaucratic processes controlled by the university, limiting their ability to make independent decisions.
    • While the UGC grants complete autonomy to colleges, some universities may exhibit reluctance to cede control, particularly in critical areas such as syllabus design, introduction of new courses, and assessment methods.
    • This reluctance may stem from a traditional hierarchical approach to governance within the university system, where centralised control is favoured over decentralised decision-making.
  • Challenges in Implementing Internal Policies
    • Autonomous colleges may encounter challenges in implementing internal policies and procedures without interference from external authorities.
    • This could include resistance from faculty or staff accustomed to the traditional hierarchical structure or difficulty in enforcing decisions without the backing of university authorities.
  • Risk of Inconsistencies in Quality Assurance
    • With autonomy comes the responsibility of maintaining and enhancing academic standards.
    • However, there is a risk that colleges may vary in their approach to quality assurance, leading to inconsistencies in educational offerings and outcomes.
  • Navigating Regulatory Compliance
    • Navigating the regulatory requirements while maintaining autonomy can be challenging, particularly for colleges with limited administrative capacity or expertise.
    • Collaboration with regulatory bodies and adherence to best practices can help colleges navigate these challenges

Recommendations For the Effective Implementation of College Autonomy

  • Empower State Councils for Higher Education
    • State Councils for Higher Education play a crucial role in overseeing the implementation of UGC regulations on autonomy.
    • To ensure effective implementation, these councils should be empowered with sufficient authority, resources, and expertise.
    • They should provide guidance and support to colleges seeking autonomy, streamline approval processes, and monitor compliance with regulatory requirements.
  • Facilitate Collaboration between Colleges and Universities
    • Universities must recognise the importance of autonomy in promoting institutional excellence and collaborate with autonomous colleges in a spirit of trust and partnership.
    • This collaboration should involve regular communication, joint decision-making forums, and shared resources.
    • Universities should support colleges in their efforts to innovate, excel, and uphold academic standards while respecting their autonomy.
  • Streamline Decision-Making Processes
    • To facilitate autonomy, universities should streamline decision-making processes between colleges and university authorities.
    • This includes delegating decision-making authority to college governing bodies, establishing clear guidelines and procedures for decision-making, and minimising bureaucratic hurdles.
    • By empowering colleges to make timely and informed decisions, universities can foster a culture of autonomy and accountability.
  • Address Concerns of Autonomous Colleges
    • Universities must address the concerns and challenges faced by autonomous colleges within the broader framework of higher education reform.
    • This includes addressing limitations imposed by universities, ensuring timely recognition of autonomy, and resolving disputes or conflicts that may arise.
    • Universities should adopt a proactive approach to address these concerns, soliciting feedback from colleges and taking corrective action where necessary.
  • Provide Capacity Building Support
    • Autonomous colleges may require support and capacity building initiatives to effectively exercise autonomy.
    • Universities should provide training, workshops, and resources to college administrators, faculty, and staff on topics such as curriculum development, quality assurance, financial management, and governance.
    • This capacity building support will enable colleges to leverage autonomy to drive innovation, excellence, and inclusivity in higher education.


  • The journey towards institutional excellence through college autonomy comes with numerous benefits, evidenced by the positive impact on academic quality and innovation.
  • However, challenges such as limitations imposed by universities and delays in recognition hinder the realisation of autonomy's full potential.
  • Addressing these challenges requires collective action from stakeholders to create a conducive environment where autonomy thrives, ultimately driving innovation, excellence, and inclusivity in higher education.

Q) What is the significance of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020?

NEP 2020 marks a significant overhaul of India's education system, aiming to transform it into a more holistic and flexible framework that emphasises critical thinking, creativity, and skill development, aligning with the needs of the 21st-century workforce.

Q) How does NEP 2020 address the issue of early childhood education?

NEP 2020 prioritises early childhood care and education, recognizing its crucial role in a child's development. It proposes the establishment of early childhood care and education (ECCE) centres to provide a strong foundation, ensuring school readiness and holistic growth from an early age.
Source: The Hindu