Sacred Heart College – Autonomous
Highlighting the importance of autonomous colleges, the UGC document on the XI Plan states: “The only safe and better way to improve the quality of undergraduate education is to de-link most of the colleges from the affiliating structure. Colleges with academic and operative freedom are doing better and have more credibility. The financial support to such colleges boosts the concept of autonomy.” It was proposed to increase the number of autonomous colleges to spread the culture of autonomy, and the target is to make 10 per cent of eligible colleges autonomous by the end of the XI Plan period.
Need for Autonomy
The affiliating system of colleges was originally designed when their number in a university was small. The university could then effectively oversee the working of the colleges, act as an examining body and award degrees on their behalf. The system has now become unwieldy and it is becoming increasingly difficult for a university to attend to the varied needs of individual colleges. The colleges do not have the freedom to modernize their curricula or make them locally relevant. The regulations of the university and its common system, governing all colleges alike, irrespective of their characteristic strengths, weaknesses and locations, have affected the academic development of individual colleges. Colleges that have the potential for offering programmes of a higher standard do not have the freedom to offer them. The 1964-66 Education Commission pointed out that the exercise of academic freedom by teachers is a crucial requirement for development of the intellectual climate of our country. Unless such a climate prevails, it is difficult to achieve excellence in our higher education system. With students, teachers and management being co-partners in raising the quality of higher education, it is imperative that they share a major responsibility. Hence, the Education Commission (1964-66) recommended college autonomy, which, in essence, is the instrument for promoting academic excellence.
The National Policy on Education (1986-92) formulated the objectives for autonomous colleges as freedoms to:
- determine and prescribe its own courses of study and syllabi, and restructure and redesign the courses to suit local needs
- prescribe rules for admission in consonance with the reservation policy of the state government
- evolve methods of assessment of students’ performance, the conduct of examinations and notification of results
- use modern tools of educational technology to achieve higher standards and greater creativity; and
- promote healthy practices such as community service, extension activities, projects for the benefit of the society at large, neighborhood programmes, etc. (from UGC guidelines for XI plan, 2012).
Autonomy for aided colleges became a historical reality in the state of Kerala in 2014, after a prolonged campaign by a few leading colleges, and pro-reform policy of the government, the department of higher education and the higher education council. In recognition of its record of consistently high academic performance, Sacred Heart College was chosen among the first batch of colleges to be accorded autonomous status in the state (UGC’s letter No.F.22/1-2014 (AC) dated 19.6.2014 addressed to the Registrar, MGU, Kottayam). In spite of the delayed announcement, the state government and the universities concerned, permitted the colleges to establish themselves as autonomous w.e.f. 2014 admissions.
At Sacred Heart’s, autonomy comes as partial realization of the dream of founder fathers of ‘establishing a world class Catholic University’. The heartians perceive it as a privilege, an opportunity and a responsibility to contribute to knowledge building and dissemination, protecting and preserving its unique identity as a Christian, minority, urban, coastal, co-ed college striving for an enlightened society, and fulfilling its mission of creating an environment that promotes excellence in learning, even beyond the boundaries of academe. It is also symbolic of the principle of decentralized governance the nation adheres to, as applied in the field of higher education, where power to choose and decide would rest at the local levels.
The government of Kerala passed a historic act in December 2014, (The University Laws (third amendment) Act, 2014) incorporating the UGC guidelines with some precautionary measures to ensure that autonomy does not end up in privatization and that the value of social justice is protected in the new dispensation.
The heartian academic community, especially the faculty and the administrative staff, has very cautiously, but determinedly, embraced this opportunity, and with utmost dedication, has dispensed its responsibilities in this regard. We aspire to attain that privileged state when the design and delivery of our curricula will be a creative response to the needs and aspirations of the milieu. Steps have already been initiated in this direction at the undergraduate level. To ensure this, the principal bodies involved in the governance of autonomous colleges, viz., Governing Council, Academic Council, Boards of Studies and Finance Committee – are constituted with adequate representation of experts from all walks of life.