Social Scientist. v 17, no. 196-97 (Sept-Oct 1989) p. 27.

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Autonomy for Whom?

The government of Rajiv Gandhi has displayed unusual consistency and determination in the field of higher education. Undeterred by the experience of 1987, when the linking-up of a belated pay-rise with retrogressive changes in service conditions provoked a country-wide teachers* strike, it sought to introduce even more far-reaching reforms

Within a few years, it seems, autonomy will become the normal condition for postgraduate departments, while the present system of affiliating universities would be broken up and replaced by autonomous colleges under a new all-India Accreditation and Assessment Council.

Autonomy everywhere, it appears, and recent UGC reports begin with much talk about the need for 'an alternative style of management to the command and control, hierarchical bureaucratic method.' (Report of Committee on Accreditation and Assessment Council, UGC, December 1987, pp i, iii).

Teachers, then, must have been fools when they talked so much about bureaucratic threats to academic freedom before and during the 1987 movement. And if the Hospitals ^nd Other Institutions Bill strikes a discordant note, could it not be a mere aberration, something drawn up by a different government department?

Actually, there is a coherent logic behind all these manifestations of the New-Education Policy. It is a logic well worth rescuing from behind the smoke-screen of democratic rhetoric and double talk.

Let us begin with the assumption implicit in all these schemes:

small, by definition, is not only beautiful but democratic, decentralisation and autonomy inevitably contribute to freedom. Rhetoric of this kind has a very wide and diverse appeal today, ranging from advocates of laissez-faire through Gandhian and ecological movements to intellectuals counterposing 'community* values to the bureaucratic 'nation-state*.

It is all the more necessary, therefore, to make some fairly obvious distinctions. Feudalism in early medieval Europe was uniquely decentralised; the bulk of (he people, however, were serfs. The southern states of America tried to secede in the 1860s, in defence of an autonomous way of life based on slavery. To take an opposite—and

» Dept. of History, University of Delhi, Delhi.

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