Autonomy oils the wheels of higher education excellence | 12th November 2022 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It analyses the crucial role of “autonomy” in making world-class higher educational institutions.


  • GS2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

What's the crux of the article?

  • None of India’s institutions of higher education appears in the list of top 100 universities of the world.
  • Reason for this is lack of sufficient autonomy – academic, administrative and financial.
  • Autonomy is regarded as a necessary and sufficient condition to attain excellence.

Why is autonomy essential?

  • Various examples from India and throughout the world highlight how crucial autonomy is.
  • India:
    • In the 2023 QS World University Ranking, three higher education institutions from India are ranked in the top 200 globally, three more are in the top 300, and two more are in the top 400.
    • Only one institution is ranked among the top 400 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and Times Higher Education (THE) rankings.
    • Well all these institutions belong to the Institutions of National Importance (INIs) category such as IITs.
    • These institutions are well funded, they enjoy greater autonomy and they fall outside the regulatory purview of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
  • World:
    • The best universities in the world are continuously sensitised about the importance of their autonomy and are trained and enabled to make their own decisions.
    • For ex. The European University Association (EUA), prescribes a ‘university autonomy tool’ that lets each member university compare its level of autonomy vis-à-vis the other European higher education systems across all member countries.
    • The EUA creates composite scores and evaluates every nation in Europe by concentrating on four autonomous areas – organisational, financial, personnel, and academic.

National Education Policy (NEP) and autonomy:

  • The NEP considers a lack of autonomy as one of the major problems of higher education.
  • Thus, to transform the higher educational system in India, it emphasises the need for institutional autonomy.
  • It argues for a ‘light but tight’ regulatory framework and insists that the new regulatory regime would foster a culture of empowerment.
  • It also talks about a robust system of accreditation, all higher education institutions would gradually gain full academic and administrative autonomy.
  • But the selective implementation of the policy is not helping to achieve this autonomy.

QS Ranking:

  • QS World University Rankings created by is one of the top international rankings measuring the popularity and performance of universities all over the world.
  • The QS Rankings are released every year and provide lists of universities based on surveys, diversity, and much more.

Times Higher Education (THE) rankings:

  • The Times Higher Education World University Rankings is an annual publication of university rankings by the Times Higher Education magazine.
  • It include more than 1,600 universities across 99 countries and territories, making them the largest and most diverse university rankings to date.

Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU):

  • The Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai Ranking, is one of the annual publications of world university rankings.
  • The league table was originally compiled and issued by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2003, making it the first global university ranking with multifarious indicators.

University Grants Commission (UGC):

  • Statutory body, set up in 1956.
  • It is charged with coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education.
  • It provides recognition to universities in India, and disburses funds to such recognized universities and colleges.

All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE):

  • All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) was set up in November 1945 as a national-level apex advisory body to conduct a survey on the facilities available for technical education and to promote development in the country in a coordinated and integrated manner.
  • It is Statutory authority for planning, formulation, and maintenance of norms & standards.

Way Forward:

  • The autonomous centres of higher educational institutions are not new to India. Ancient Higher learning centres enjoyed a greater degree of academic, administrative and financial autonomy than the most autonomous universities in the world today. We need to implement the NEP in its full spirit to transform the higher educational system in India.

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