“Autonomy and Accountability with Special Reference to Private Universities In IndiaDr. Palak Sheth
Director (Planning & Development)
Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University Gujarat
World-class University or Institutions of Excellence framework mandates excellence in issues related Governance, including autonomy and accountability, of the Institution. This paper examines the autonomy and accountability issues in practice in the Indian University System.
It is now well known that autonomy and accountability are two essential aspects, among others, for excellence of Universities. Jamil Salmi, in his framework for World Class Universities had emphatically discussed autonomy and accountability, among other factors, as the main features of World Class Universities. The factors, according to Salmi and other writers on World Class Universities are: Talent, both in terms students and faculty, Abundant Resources (Private and Public funding), and Governance, which included autonomy accompanied by its close cousin accountability. In the area of talent acquisition, Salmi and other writers had also discussed the presence of high diversity among the students (the best students from other countries) and also faculty diversity by attracting the best faculty and students from all over the world.
However, there seems an almost unanimous agreement, at least theoretically, on the need to have autonomy for our universities for achieving the best results. All the best universities in the world, however, in practice, have great autonomy. However, do we really operate under conditions of reasonable autonomy? One of the main reasons for starting Private Universities, among other things, included the need for expansion of higher education in the country in view of the growing population pressure, scarcity of resources with the government for faster growth of education sector, and autonomy related issues. In the state sector, controls related issues arise because of the finances received from the public exchequer. It was also expected that private universities would attain higher standards in educational instruction and move to excellence not only in teaching but also in research as they are: (1) exposed to market forces and competition forcing the institutions to excel in teaching and research for their survival, and (2) enjoy greater autonomy as they are freed from government financing. It was also expected that private sector education would also exhibit greater accountability at every level in view of their exposure to market competition.
Since the days of privatization efforts over 20 years back, private participation in higher education has grown in the country fulfilling one of the objectives of privatization, i.e., expansion of education sector by creating facilities for higher education to the growing masses who were putting pressures on the higher education system. On the other hand, perhaps the country has built in excess capacity, at least in terms of the number of seats available now-a-days as evidenced by the vacant seats available in educational institutions all over the country. Though this situation creates a serious new problem, it has solved one of the original problems of insufficient capacity in higher education.
However, can we state with confidence that we have been able to solve either fully or partially, the other objectives of privatization. If not, what exactly are the reasons? Here is where the questions of autonomy and accountability enter in to our analytical framework.
JOURNEY TOWARDS EXCELLENCE
As discussed earlier with regard to excellence in higher education, the educational institutions should be able to attract the best talent, in terms of both the faculty and the students, from the country as well as from abroad. If we examine our performance on this count alone in the country, this has not been happening, as, for example, our numbers of foreign students in India is still small. What could have been the possible reasons for this phenomenon? One, though we are ranked higher in education than many of our neighbours, we are unfortunately not in a position to attract any large number of talented students to our country. The possible reasons could be:
One, the best students in our neighbour countries would go to western educational institutions because:
Now we will examine the issues related to autonomy or the lack of it in the private university and autonomous colleges.
Private educational institutions were expected to function under greater autonomy, as they are self-financed institutions and do not depend upon state grants. But do they have enough autonomy today in their operations? This has implications on the quality and economic stability of the Universities. The following are the points, in addition to the sociological factors discussed earlier:
Competition and a Mal-practices Act, perhaps, could solve most of the issues related to institutional level accountability issues. However, with regard to individual accountability, there are issues which could plague the system. It must be stated here that most of the senior as well as middle level faculty and the university administrators came to the private universities from the state-sector, where tender-mindedness (as Van Kennedy had discussed in another context) still governs the law dealing with employees. To recall, even a performance appraisal system came to the state sector only in the early years of this century. On the other hand, private and autonomous institutions had been following rigorous performance appraisal systems even earlier.
A rigorous Performance Appraisal System, needless to add, is an essential aspect of developing responsible, well behaved, and highly committed manpower at all levels in the private university system. However, tender-mindedness as a guiding principle would not help in developing and managing a committed and accountable manpower in our university system, especially universities in the private sector.
OTHER INSTITUTIONAL ARRANGEMENTS
Is the present organizational arrangement suitable for practice of honest autonomy and accountability? Practice of real autonomy and accountability needs suitable structural reforms in the university system. For example, the present organizational structure of senate-syndicate (executive Council)-Vice Chancellor combine, more of a political action drama in the larger university sector, does not allow practice of autonomy or accountability in the real spirit of the term. On the other hand an independent board, headed by a professional President and supported by a Director General, and non-political Academic Council, would serve the practice of Autonomy and Accountability in a far better way. However, caution must be exercised in this following model too, as the possibility of inclusion of friends and family members of the edupreneur may not pave way to good governance.