As UGC Visits St Stephen’s, Protests Against Autonomy Intensify
Fearing privatisation and fee hikes, DU faculty hit the road against granting autonomy to colleges.
Several professors and lecturers from Delhi University stood up in protest at St Stephen’s College on Thursday, 10 May, when an inspection team of the University Grants Commission (UGC) visited the college campus to take a call on whether to make the institution autonomous or not.
Faculty members and students of St Stephen’s College have alleged that the whole decision regarding applying for autonomy was taken by the college administration without any transparency, with no proper consultations with the stakeholders.
The members of Thursday’s protest felt that the move is a step towards privatisation of DU colleges. "This is financial autonomy. Institutions who get it will be able to run self-financing courses," Abha Dev Habib, a lecturer at Miranda House, told The Quint.
The government wants to let go of public-funded institutions, and by bringing in private money, these prestigious colleges will turn into ‘teaching shops’.Abha Dev Habib, lecturer, Miranda House
Last month, around 42 teachers of St Stephen’s College had written to the UGC to reconsider the autonomy application.
The issue of autonomy first came to light in March 2017, when many students and faculty members were up in arms against the move which was mooted by the college principal and the governing body. Since then, representations have been made by students and teachers to the principal John Varghese, requesting him to not go ahead with autonomy.
Teachers allege that the students who spoke up in 2017 faced harassment from the administration, and some were even made to leave their hostel rooms.
Those students who were in the forefront of the protests against autonomy were victimised by being thrown out of their hostel rooms. With autonomy, the administration will be given unbridled powers in terms of increasing fees structure, and the standard of the college maintained for more than 138 years will be damaged.Nandita Narain, professor, St Stephen’s College, to The Quint
Apart from St Stephen’s College, the protesters fear that autonomy for various other colleges under Delhi University is also in the pipeline. In this regard, an issue that was raised was how this would affect the cut-off list and unified admission process in all DU colleges.
“If given autonomy, all colleges can start having their own entrance test, then how will the university have any control over them?,” said AK Bhagi a member of the university’s executive council.
Student Voices Heard, But Ignored
On Thursday, a representation was also made by the students to the UGC team visiting the college campus. Regarding the meeting that took place, Sai Aashirwad, the Students Union president of St Stephen’s College, told The Quint, "When they asked us about our views regarding the autonomy move, we lodged our protests against it.”
“When we asked if our opinions will be considered, the committee just told us that they’ll be relaying them to the UGC, which will be the final decision-maker. We weren’t given any assurance that our opinions can change anything. Is there any chance to bring transparency to the whole process?” he said.
Another faculty member of St Stephen's College, who did not wish to be named, asserted that there is no need for autonomy, since as a minority institution, the college already enjoys a fair degree of autonomy.
"The whole decision (by the college authorities) has been taken in a hurried and surreptitious manner. Faculty members have been completely bypassed," he said.
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