March against autonomy


With growing demands against the grant of ‘autonomous’ status for colleges, Delhi University Teacher’s Association(DUTA) called had called for a joint protest of students, teachers and karamcharis on 29th March.

What drew along the course of the  March?
On 29 March 2017, the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) organised a march from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar in protest against the recent actions of the government in light of the demands for autonomy by certain colleges in the University. The government has supported these demands for autonomy without any exhaustive deliberation in the Parliament or even in any public domain. The march was a rally against the privatisation of education through the fragmentation of Delhi University. Teachers were quoted as saying that “education was not for sale” and that the government’s move would lead to quality education becoming unaffordable.

The teachers, students, and non-teaching staff, numbering more than three thousand, rallied against the proposal of the government to grant autonomous status to colleges on the basis of commercial ideas of accreditation and ranking. They stated that this would lead to self-financing and ergo the commercialisation of education. DUTA was also supported in their demand by the Delhi University and College Karamchari Union (DUCKU) as well as several student organisations such as the National Students Union of India (NSUI), the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti (CYSS), the Students Federation of India (SFI), and the All India Students Association (AISA).

Protesters held banners asking the government to “Say No to the Fragmentation and Privatisation of DU through Autonomous Colleges
Protesters held banners asking the government to “Say No to the Fragmentation and Privatisation of DU through Autonomous Colleges


Why is ‘Autonomy’ not so good for DU Colleges?
The march was conducted specifically against the granting of the autonomous status to certain colleges by the government. To understand why this move matters, it is imperative to look at the actions of the government with scrutiny.

A leaflet given out during the march stated that the Autonomous Colleges Scheme aims to privatise and commercialise higher education by reducing the gap between public and private institutions in terms of fee structure.

DUTA claims that the granting of autonomy will in actuality only give autonomy to the management instead of providing academic autonomy. It shifts the focus from the betterment of education to the generation of resources by granting autonomy, and thus power, to the governing bodies and trustees of these colleges. The aim then essentially becomes to improve infrastructure and indulge in greater physical maintenance as opposed to providing a platform for academic growth.

As these colleges, which currently receive 95% of their funds from the University Grants Commission (UGC), will no longer be able to rely on government subsidies, they will turn to other measures including raising students’ fees and cutting costs to raise revenue. This affects the students as well as the teachers and the non-teaching staff. Firstly, students from economically and socially vulnerable backgrounds will have fewer avenues for availing quality education. Moreover, when education becomes expensive, the historically deprived sections of society such as women and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are further adversely impacted. Secondly, the autonomy of the management may lead to a decline in the job security or career advancement of the working staff. Working conditions may deteriorate and the pay structure may be compromised in the face of a profit-minded management.

DUTA claims that these harms outweigh the benefits that the government claims will occur. The autonomous status may allow colleges to start new academic courses and change their style of teaching, but they will not be free from the semester system or the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). Additionally, colleges will still need to affiliate with DU in order to give degrees. This results in a mere “ceremonial connection with DU”, as stated by Abha Dev Habib, an active member of DUTA. Thus, as a direct consequence of the cutting down of funding for higher education, the granting of autonomy will only privatise and commercialise education.

Members speak out at the rally against autonomy
Members speak out at the rally against autonomy


What were the consequences of the march?
Students and teachers who took part in the march are confident that the government will be forced to take notice of the citizens’ demands.

Ms. Abha Dev Habib, a member of DUTA acknowledged that the response from teachers was “tremendous” and that “the mobilisation for the programme was very successful”. She talked about Arun Jaitley’s inclusion of autonomous colleges in his budget speech with the establishment of the Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA). Speaking of the current situation in autonomous institutions in our country she said, “IITs are a clear example of the rising fee structure in public institutions and the government’s plan of closing the gap between private and public educational institutions.”

Ms. Nandita Narain, the president of DUTA called upon all stakeholders of the institutions to join them in coming days. Giving a wake up call to the govt. she said, “Privatisation is not going to be accepted by the community and the people at large. We are going to fight all out.”

In the recent pasts universities have seen a lot of disturbances. Happenings around the campus like forcing the autonomous status on St. Stephens College, the fiasco at Ramjas College, attack on free speech and the massive seat cut in JNU admissions makes it eminent that the incumbent government is not so happy about the environments in campuses, and is determined to change it by hook or …!



Image Credits: The Hindu

Vineeta Rana

[email protected]