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HT Explainer: What new autonomous status means for Panjab University

Though PU will remain within the ambit of UGC, it will have the freedom to start new courses, off-campus centres, research parks and enter into foreign tie-ups without seeking prior permission.

The Union ministry of human resource and development declared Panjab University autonomous under category II. Ifrah Mufti finds out what it entails for the university and how this change will affect its students and teachers.

What does the autonomy entail?

The Panjab University is among the 60 higher educational institutions across the country, which have been granted autonomy by the Union government. Though it will remain within the ambit of University Grants Commission, PU will now have the freedom to start new courses, off campus centres, skill development courses, research parks and other new academic programmes without seeking prior permission from the UGC as was the case earlier.

It will also have the liberty to hire foreign faculty, enroll foreign students, give incentive-based emoluments to faculty, enter into academic collaborations and run open distance learning programmes though it will have to take permission for the UGC for the latter due to its category II status.

Why has PU been put in category II while GNDU and KU are in category I?

The 60 organisations have been put into two categories based on their National assessment and accreditation (NAAC) score. In the region, the GNDU and KU are in the category I and Panjab University (PU) is in category II.

Panjab University had witnessed a slight decline in the NAAC grading in 2015 as compared to 2009 but it retained the A grade.The Vice Chancellor, Prof Arun Kumar Grover, claimed they had been slotted in category II due to a misunderstanding.

The VC, said, “We suffered because our NAAC results were not released for three months. Some news-report stated that we had violated UGC regulations. What violations had we done? We said certain directives of UGC, which were supposed to be effective from June 2013, were implemented when our senate accepted these in May 2014. Some news reports said the VC had lied. This silly complaint delayed our NAAC results by three months.”

To this, the PUTA president, Professor Rajesh Gill, said, “It is very unfortunate that we have fallen in the category II and smaller universities like GNDU and KU are in category I. This has happened because of the NAAC result. It is very disturbing to have fallen in the category II, even when we know that PU is the best in the region.”

How will it impact PU finances? Will it be duty-bound to generate its own funds through foreign collaborations and open distance learning programmes et al?

The autonomy clause clearly states that the university is expected to sustain itself by generating funds through foreign collaborations and introduction of new courses. The Vice Chancellor, said, “We have been given the freedom but there are limitations of funds. The option will be to generate funds through foreign tie-ups.”

He added, “UGC has no money to give us. They had promised more than what they have.”

Also, for distance learning, PU will have to take permission from the UGC, since it does not fall in category I.

What are the upsides of this order?

The VC said autonomy will give PU the freedom to invite faculty from the industry, corporate sector and other professions, in order to provide up-to-date training to students. The faculty will not necessarily have to be qualified as per the UGC mandate. Also, the university will be free to fix the remuneration for the guest faculty.

The autonomy will also enable it to initiate and finalise long-pending foreign tie-ups with business schools in Australia and Nottingham, wherein students will be able to pursue half their course in Chandigarh and the other half abroad. Such tie-ups were not possible earlier because the authorities required several approvals. The VC said now it will be easier for the varsity to go ahead with such alliances.

What are the challenges or the downside?

The problems of funding and faculty shortage will persist despite the autonomy granted to the varsity. The challenge will be to generate funds to pay the teachers and run the varsity. The university may also be forced to revise the fees though the VC maintains that a fee hike of the existing courses is not possible because this issue has been politicized, and had led to violence in the campus last year.

Questioning the half-baked autonomy, PUTA president Professor Rajesh Gill said, “The university will not be 100% autonomous because it is answerable to the funding agencies. When PU receives funds from the state and the Centre, how can it be a fully autonomous body?”

Will it have any impact on the faculty? Will it help them in terms of more opportunities? Will it affect their work load?

The PU faculty is likely to get more opportunities in terms of teaching in foreign universities, if the foreign collaborations work out. The VC said, “Under the foreign tie-ups with the business school in Australia, there can be a programme under which our teachers go there to teach and their teachers come here for some time. It will be a double help for the varsity.”

But PUTA president said, “It will depend on the plan and leadership. When you are given a new setup, you need to have a vision. Whether it impacts students and teachers, depends on how these tie-ups are planned out. For the past several years, Social Sciences in PU have been made to stagnate; different people are responsible for this. There has to be a vision if we want the institute to grow.”

What are incentive-based faculty emoluments?

Earlier, the UGC used to decide the sum PU paid to the visiting faculty, now the varsity will be able to decide this amount. But the PU faculty will continue to be paid the UGC scales.

Teachers, however, fear that autonomy may lead to an arbitrary approach in giving incentives to the faculty. Rajesh Gill said, “Autonomy is often misused to give arbitrary increments to certain staffers. For instance, you give five increments to one person, and none to another; you give the benefit of past service to one person and deny it to 150 others.”

Is the autonomy a welcome step?

According to the VC, it is a welcome step as the varsity now has a modicum of freedom, which it lacked earlier. However, there are limitations of fund crunch. PUTA president, Prof Gill, said, “I am not happy. At this point, the university should not be happy as well. A lot has to be worked out. We have to go a long way. We have been given a lot of responsibility. There is nothing to celebrate. PU has to look within to provide a good and secure future to both its students and teachers.”




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