HRD Ministry proposes autonomy for innovation universities

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New Delhi: The human resource development (HRD) Ministry in India has proposed full autonomy for the 14 innovation universities that are being planned as centres of excellence along the lines of Harvard and Oxford. In a concept note drawn up by the HRD Ministry, which oversees education, the government envisages these universities as autonomous entities, with no "regulation from outside," reports Mint.

Also, a copy of the note, which was reviewed by Mint, states that the innovation universities will frame their own rules on academics and the qualifications needed for teaching positions, and get to decide their own fees, curriculum and rules for the appointment of faculty. With regard to financial autonomy, the Ministry said that funds spent on research or teaching will be kept out of the ambit of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), a constitutional body that audits and assists state and Central institutions with accounts and accountability.

Universities and institutions in India are currently governed by regulators such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) or the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) on staff salaries and other expenses. Course curriculums are approved by the UGC. These regulators, often criticized for being opaque, are being dissolved to create a National Commission for Higher Education and Research as part of the reformist agenda of the HRD Minister Kapil Sibal, who took charge in May. Central universities and institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) run as autonomous entities under the HRD Ministry.

"Being able to fix its own fees and curriculum is one of the key steps towards autonomy for an academic institution. This is the sort of autonomy that Central universities and the IITs and IIMs have already been given but bureaucratic procedures hamper it on the ground," Shobha Mishra, Joint Director of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and a member of its education committee, told the Mint. "Every government Bill and policy looks good and progressive on paper but until they are implemented, one can't say much." Mishra travelled with a government delegation to the U.S. in October to discuss and invite collaborations from foreign universities to set up some of the innovation universities in India.

The innovation universities, if set up along the guidelines in the concept note, will be free to appoint faculty by invitation (regardless of age or experience) based on the recommendations of an internal search committee. They can define their own appointment criteria and pay structures, and their teachers would be free to structure pedagogy and research curriculum.

However, the real problem would be in attracting top-of-the-class faculty for these universities, said Mishra. "Already, universities and research institutions are struggling to find good faculty. With more universities being set up, this is going to be one of the biggest challenges." Mishra said that autonomy is not a viable and sustainable concept in universities set up with only government funding.

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