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Minister, MP cross swords on college autonomy

A Trinamul MP thinks colleges need more autonomy. A Trinamul minister feels too much autonomy is bad.

MP Saugata Roy and education minister Partha Chatterjee aired opposing views on college autonomy while speaking at the the 99th foundation day programme of Asutosh College.

Roy, a retired physics teacher at the college and president of its governing body, said: “This college (Asutosh) enjoys certain academic autonomy for running postgraduate courses. For example, it can frame its syllabus and follow its own examination system. The college should enjoy similar autonomy in running undergraduate courses as well.”

When minister Chatterjee rose to speak, he countered Roy’s suggestion saying it was not desirable that affiliated colleges enjoyed too much freedom.

“I do not disagree with Saugata Roy that colleges should be given greater autonomy. I feel the government should have some control on them because it is the government that has to deal with situations when the colleges fail to run themselves properly,” Chatterjee said.

Greater autonomy cannot guarantee better education, the minister said. “There has to be proper supervision to ensure that the autonomy is practised in a democratic way.”

Later in the day, while speaking at a programme at Calcutta University, Chatterjee said: “We cannot let the colleges do whatever they want in the name of autonomy.”

Colleges affiliated to a university do not enjoy any autonomy in academic and financial matters. Only a fraction of them can send a representative to the university’s decision-making bodies.

The colleges can select teachers but only for self-financed courses or those funded by students’ fees.

In financial matters, it is mandatory for the colleges to follow the state government’s policy.

Roy stressed the need for less interference of the government in the activities of universities. He feels universities should enjoy absolute autonomy in academic matters and recruitment of faculty. “Universities must enjoy full autonomy, particularly in framing syllabus and recruitment of teachers,” Roy said.

The parliamentarian did not say so but it was clear that he was expressing his opposition to the recent announcement of Chatterjee that the government was planning to prepare a uniform set of guidelines for all state universities, including Presidency, to follow while framing their statutes.

Many teachers are against the move as they feel it would lead to greater control of the universities by the government. Now, each university frames its statues based on its interpretation of the respective university act.

Roy pointed out in his speech that Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, under whose leadership the college had been set up, believed in full autonomy for institutions of higher education.

“There were many flaws in the education system that was followed during the British rule. But this had not prevented the British government from granting full freedom to the institutions to recruit teachers and frame their courses and curriculum,” said Roy.

The MP seems to prefer the Asutosh dais to raise contentious college issues.

At a programme at the college two years ago, he had said he felt “ashamed” that people educated up to Class VIII were heading college governing bodies.

“I feel sick in the pit of my stomach,” the former Union minister had said.

He had not mentioned any name but it was apparent that he was referring to Arabul Islam, the South 24-Parganas Trinamul strongman who became the consensus president of the Bhangar Mahavidyalaya governing body.

During an argument at the college the same year, a gesticulating arm of Arabul had hit a jug that crashed into a lady teacher’s chin.

Chatterjee blamed the media on the autonomy issue. “In an attempt to give full autonomy to the colleges in matters related to student admission, we have entrusted the colleges this year to conduct the admission process online. But the government had to face severe criticism for that,” the minister said.