RSTV- The Big Picture: Institutes of National Excellence: Do they need Autonomy?

  • July 19, 2017
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The Big Picture- RSTV
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Institutes of National Excellence: Do they need Autonomy?



General Studies 3

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.

General Studies 2

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

In news:

In an effort to curb overlapping work and reduce the Centre’s expenditure, the government plans to trim the 679 autonomous institutions is officially underway with the agenda for the first three phases being clear. In the first leg 114 autonomous bodies of various departments under the societies registration act have been covered. The first phase review is led by NITI Ayog and PMO.

Reduction can be done in 4 ways- departments can be merged with bigger bodies, corporatized, brought under common strategy or can be shut down.

  1. In the first phase of the review, the government plans to corporatize the 3 renowned institutions- Film and Television Institute of India, Satyajit Ray film and TV institute and Delhi Public Library.

This corporatisation of the entities can make them separate companies or a special purpose vehicle can be formed to take over their functioning. Merger of Indian Institute of Mass Communication with JNU or JMI is also recommended.

  1. In the second phase, there will be proposal to set up centres of excellence and institutes of higher learning.
  2. The third phase will later cover ministries and departments as well as bodies not formed under the Societies Registration Act.

If the institutes of national importance need autonomy?

One view

  • Some institutions should be left free from governmental control or interference. These are universities and institutions of education. Excellence is not always proliferating under government tutelage or government watch. So, autonomy should be given to such institutions.
  • The institutions of excellence may not have high return value on investments made but their areas of functioning are specific which gives them opportunities to explore. Merging or corporatizing them may take away their freedom of performance.
  • Prasar Bharti is an autonomous body but never remained autonomous under any government. It was a public broadcaster and every government needs a public broadcaster to explain its policies to people. It is a fair kind of arrangement which is available to any government. But then they shouldn’t be called autonomous.

Another view

  • Many institutions require pruning and complete re-hauling. Many models that were acquired in 1940s and 1950s by India were dumped by those who started them in Europe and USA. India has to change its colonial look out for education.
  • Many government funded laboratories like CSIR are being given tough completion by universities as more and more scientific researches are done by them.
  • Many of the institutions are not autonomous neither have the capability. They are instead easy way for bureaucrats to become directors.

Objectives of autonomy

Autonomy is not merely toing the line or opposing it. It is concerned with objective analysis of situation. It means creation of the knowledge wealth, it means choice and it can work in an environment free from any kind of pressure. Any autonomous body has to be provided with an environment where they can take and independent view.

Though it is true that merely merging an institution with the university will not give guarantee for excellence. But autonomy alone is also not a guarantee for excellence. There should be broader perspective of autonomy of educational and professional institutions. Institute of culture and institute of communications are the torch bearers for disseminating certain values in society. Therefore merging institutions like IIMC with JNU may not be bad. Taking the holistic view of education, communication can also be part of the system.

In institutions of higher learning in India, questions of autonomy has always attracted the commissions and committees. Kothari commission (1963-64), education policy (1968), Gajen gadkar committee (1969), 1973 and 1978 steps to grant autonomous status to institutions of excellence. National knowledge commission submitted a report in 2006 and 2007. It said that education system in India is passing through deep and quiet crisis.

Merging is the solution?

Bunching institutions of specific interests into university creates problems. JNU when set up was given an Indian School of International Studies which was later renamed as the School of International Studies,JNU. Even now the culture of SIS is different from JNU. It takes time to become a part of larger institutions.

IIT Delhi took 30-40 years to come to the position it has now received because it was not initially an IIT but was upgraded to it. Therefore, bunching IIMC with Jamia and JNU will create problem for both of them because though the idea behind the exercise may be to tackle the multiplicity of institutions but the organisations sought to be restructured were not properly understood how they functioned and what they did.

Corporatisation of institutions

In USA, the research in some of the foremost universities is funded by corporate sector and it is applied research.

If corporatisation of institutions means private money coming in and leading to focused research and innovations which are helpful to country, then they should be welcomed. One thing foremost for institutes of higher learning of excellences is to put together faculties that are good at imparting knowledge to leaders of tomorrow in different spheres of expertise.

It is right on part of government to curb unnecessary expenditure and check the multiplicity. The big institutions are forever in paucity of competent faculty. To address this, there should be major programmes where PIOs, NRIs should be called back at good salaries to serve the country and create a knowledge reservoir in the country.

Compared to the foreign countries, the best models are Asian models and east European models where state created institutions and the institutions are doing well without being too much dependent on state.


The institutions of excellence deal with knowledge economy which are catering to the development of youth in India. This human resource has to be turned into world class human resource to compete with other nations. It is not the armies that make the country great but the economy.

Besides the economies, the innovative capacities of economies and people make it great. Educational institutions should be given academic autonomy, institutional autonomy and financial autonomy. There should be linkage between industry, research and teaching and produce brilliant minds. Unfortunately, Indian universities are nowhere on the map of best universities and education. If India wants to be super power, it will have to do everything right in field of education.

Connecting the dots:

  • Government involvement in higher education is detrimental to the knowledge economy of the nation. Rather, education should be in hand of experts and academicians. Analyse with suitable examples.

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