The nation needs discipline and peace in the university campuses. It can only flourish with dedicated academicians and meritorious learners. Universities have been established to impart knowledge. Their role is most important in making the nation and society- wise and well-informed.
However, in the name of freedom of expression and autonomy, their most important aim of knowledge has weakened. Now, academicians, as well as the learners, want that the government should finance them fully and leave them free of any government guideline and regulation. They must have complete autonomy about all the matters.
So many shoddy forums and institutes have come-up to misguide or instigate the teachers and learners about the so-called academic freedom and autonomy. One such institute the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) has established The Academic Freedom Index that described that academic autonomy and freedom has been under attack in universities in many nations. Here, it would be in the fitness of things the famous comment by Albert Einstein, “By academic freedom, I understand the right to search for truth and to publish and teach what one holds to be true. This right also implies a duty: One must not conceal any part of what one has recognised to be true.”
All want liberal financial support by the government, certificate and degrees with high grades, good hostel facilities, flexible time frame, quotas, scholarships, government jobs with high perks and no work and whatnot but nobody wants any duty, restrictions, discipline and rule of law.
During the last few years, vested interests have turned the university into a place only for freebies, strikes, dharnas, demonstrations, the boycott of classes and exams and shut down. Their only aim is to de-stabilize the system. These elements want their complete say right from admissions to the appointment of the Vice-chancellor and professors. They only want academic freedom and institutional autonomy but no to regulatory strictness. They involve politicians, media, caste and communal leaders, NGOs, professional activists in the name of academic freedom and public debate.
The nation needs to understand this deep conspiracy, which will disturb the workings and future of Indian universities in India and across the world. At the very outset, it should be clear to all that if academicians and learners want academic freedom as fundamental and the most important issue, then they should also arrange their financial resources. They should not look at the taxpayers’ money to fill their coffers for their enjoyment. They should understand their duties as teachers and students. There was a time when the nation took pride in its universities and educational institutions. However, this excellence has been ruined in the name of freedom of speech and autonomy.
It is good to enjoy the freedom of expression but it must be free from ideological manipulations. Stakeholders must understand their duty with discipline in a democracy promoting knowledge and morals. As educators should understand their complex role as a guide to society. They should not be swayed by the ideological pressures: favouring one or disfavouring the other. They should design academic freedom within the academic context. They should not follow the historical, social, political and economical aspects blindly.
For this, recruitment should be done by the faculty. Appraisal and assessment of faculty and staff ought to be done by regular and senior faculty within the university. They must be seniority cum performance-based, following their contribution to teaching and the institution. The authority for decision and policy-making must be vested in the college or university’s senior-most faculty, which includes the VC, principals, deans and professors appointed based on seniority. Outsiders, including politicians, bureaucrats, donors, and faculty on long leave should be excluded from this process. Internal governance of a college and university have to be led by the regular teaching faculty and not anybody from outside the university. Even faculty on long leave in the name of projects, research, visiting fellows etc should be denied all the promotions and offices.
Internal and senior faculty members should be appointed as Vice-chancellors, principals, deans, professors and head of the departments permanently. They will be better equipped to tackle and solve the problems of the universities and colleges in a much better way.
Preparation of programmes, courses, curriculum, teaching methods, and administration of colleges/departments ought to be within the university administration as per recognized system, rules and regulations of the university with all powers of decision-making controlled by the faculty and staff of the university. Internal evaluation system and internal assessment system should be discouraged and discontinued. All the decisions are taken following the laws, rules, regulations and guidelines given by the government and regulatory bodies. Nobody from outside the university system is encouraged to exercise control or influence decisions and workings.
The emphasis should be on teaching. Research and project work should not be encouraged at the cost of teaching and classes. In such matters, the head of the department’s ought to have full freedom and academic autonomy. Those faculty members who’re involved in projects, academic research ought to be treated as junior to those who are involved in teaching and institutional work. There should be separate institutions for research work and publications. It is commonly seen that incompetent teachers hide their incompetency behind research, projects and publication.
With academic freedom, the university system should give meaningful importance to higher regulatory bodies. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has visualized substantive regulatory reforms to empower Indian universities. Multiple stakeholders for governance should be reduced. Multiple stakeholders just create confusion, corruption and delays and achieve nothing.
No university can function in an honestly autonomous manner without the support of the government. NEP 2020 is very clear about this. There will be a regulatory framework to ensure integrity, efficiency, transparency and resource generation. For research, innovation and new ideas separate research institutions are envisaged in NEP 2020.
However, for decision-making one has to give acceptance and legitimacy to the seniority and commitment to teaching and institution should be the hallmark. Politics, strikes, nepotism, boycott and favouritism and disagreements lead to acrimonious engagements that can vitiate the academic and intellectual and academic ecosystem, and universities and colleges must be cautious against that.
The vision and imagination of NEP 2020, if implemented honestly, will enable Indian universities to endow with world-class education, while promoting excellence and contributing to nation-building. ‘Atmanirbharta’, for the society and nation, institutions, especially educational institutions and universities, is tangled with the fundamental principles of freedom, excellence, autonomy and governance and India will be ‘Vishvaguru’ once again.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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