Who will back down: Governing body or students?

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By Haider Ali,

New Delhi: The campus of St. Stephen’s College has turned into a battleground as the governing body of the college and students are at odds over the management’s decision for complete autonomy to the DU-affiliated college.

While the governing body is bidding for autonomy, claiming that it will advance the teaching system’ in the institute, the students allege that by gaining autonomous status there will be fee hike.

“Right now, a student is paying around thirty to forty thousand rupees for a course. However, after the autonomy, the fees might reach to around one to two lakh rupees. The governing body is just focusing on their financial motives,” a second-year student of the college said on the condition of anonymity.

The issue started on 25 February this year, when the governing body of St. Stephen’s College decided to apply for an autonomous status allegedly without consulting students, teaching and non-teaching staff of the college.

The governing bodies of six colleges – St. Stephen’s College, Hindu College, Shri Ram College of Commerce, Hansraj College, Sri Venkateswara College and PGDAV College — have applied for autonomy. University Grant Commission (UGC) had inspired colleges across Delhi to apply for autonomy by drafting new guidelines for autonomous colleges in November 2016.

College students, along with Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA), have been protesting within the college premises demanding consensus and consultation. “The letter issued by UGC states that colleges must call for consensus and consultation from students and teachers before seeking autonomy. However, the governing body of the college did not consult the students,” said another student of the college, claiming that the government wants to privatise educational institutes.

A senior DUTA member informed The Converge that the autonomy will restrict the financial assistance from UGC. “What will be the future of the college if the UGC will stop the funding? It will raise questions on the quality of teaching and service provided by the college. There will be no accountability in the institution.” The DUTA member, associated with one of the colleges seeking autonomy, said giving autonomy will lower the academic standards of the institutes. The member added that the governing body has assured to take prior consultation before taking any decision on the issue of autonomy in future.

However, the governing body maintains that becoming autonomous doesn’t mean that the college would not be the part of University of Delhi . It means that the college will have more power to work independently, freedom to change anything in academics, determining fee structure and many more things.

According to the UGC guidelines, “The University should have the right to review all new courses of an autonomous college. An autonomous college is free to start a new degree or postgraduate course with the approval of the Academic Council of the college.”

Rahul Anand, another student of Stephen’s, said, “The step taken by governing body is very huge. We will never support the decision of governing body until they ask for our consultation and consensus. And we have the support of DUTA in this cause.”

Anand alleged that ABVP created the mess in Ramjas College for diverting the attention of students and DUTA from protesting against autonomy.

“If the college is made autonomous, we will protest on national level. We will also seek support from the students of other colleges (seeking autonomy).”

SR Mittal, professor at Faculty of Education, Jamia Millia Islamia said, “Autonomy should be given to all six colleges or should not be given to any of them. It should be constituted properly. Autonomy system should be implemented for a better cause. But it should not result in dictatorship.”

Commenting on the issue going in St. Stephen’s College, Dr. Nandkumar Sawant, principal of Parvatibai Chowgule college of Arts and Science, Goa, which became autonomous two years back, said, “There is nothing wrong If St. Stephen’s is applying for autonomy. It will be a good move for them.”

Based on the inputs collected from students, subjects, which can enhance their knowledge in their professional career, can be introduced, he added.

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