ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Autonomy in Times of Crisis

The recent decision taken by the University Grants Commission to give greater autonomy to the better-rated and better-ranked institutions needs to be viewed in a wider context. The term “autonomy” conveys a value that the higher education system shed a while ago. Its crisis has deepened over several decades. The author argues that any substantial plan to reform higher education in India must engage with its historically inherited social isolation. 

Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi, where the University Grants Commission (UGC) has its office, is not far from Rajendra Prasad Road, where Shastri Bhawan is located. The latter is a hub of offices, including that of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). A long time ago, when it was known as the Ministry of Education, the physical distance between the UGC and Shastri Bhawan was sufficient to protect the former from undue exercise of power in its affairs by the latter. This ethical geography started to change in the mid-1980s. The renamed ministry now identified its work as “human resource development,” indicating the acceptance of the human capital view of education as a guide to decision-making. The ministry was getting ready to lead a massive, long-term process of change in the role and functioning of institutions like the UGC.

However, this change was not fully reflected in the National Policy on Education (NPE), drafted and approved when Narasimha Rao was the human resource development (HRD) minister. Indeed, the NPE sounded like a reassertion of the old idea that public literacy and education were democratic assets, not to be bought and sold in the market. Five years later, in 1991 when Narasimha Rao assumed a greater role as Prime Minister, the era of India’s formal adjustment to the global market and its standards began. Policy and ideology were hard to distinguish in this shift. Political consensus made the distinction harder to make. Every older document had to be read in a new light, and the NPE could hardly be an exception. It had already gone through a review, and on the basis of the review a Programme of Action (PoA) was announced in 1992. It carried the first hints of a change in policy winds, and the hints were given in a caring, shy manner.

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Updated On : 9th May, 2018

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