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How Autonomous Colleges Achieve Their Status - A Guide


The word autonomous comes from the Greek words ‘auto-’ meaning self and ‘nomos’, meaning law. In simple terms, an autonomous college is one that governs itself - the college decides everything from what their daily activities will be to the curriculum of the courses in the college. Today, there are a lot of colleges that are making the move to function autonomously because of the advantages such a system offers. However, it brings up the question of the relevance of such a decision. This can be answered by the simple fact that even the University Grants Commission (UGC), which governs the operations of colleges in India, actively endorses college autonomy, stating that it is a safer and more efficient system for the governance of college for the betterment of undergraduate education. They even went on to state that colleges that have academic and operational freedom have much better credibility and are consistently bringing about positive change in the system.

Is There a Need for Autonomous Colleges?

A lot of people question the need for an autonomous college system, asking why universities can’t continue to monitor their colleges. To understand this, we need to go back to when the traditional system originated. Traditional affiliation systems for colleges were designed for colleges and universities at a time when the number of colleges under a university was small. At that time, it was possible for a university to effectively oversee the colleges under it, examine the operations of the same, and award degrees on their behalf. However, this system quickly became cumbersome and unwieldy because of the sheer number of colleges that came afterward. It is becoming increasingly difficult for universities to attend to each and every need of each and every college, which invariably affects their functioning and hence its efficiency. This, in turn, affects the university’s image as well.

Another problem is the curriculum. Colleges that operate under a particular university have to compulsorily follow all that is taught in the curriculum however irrelevant it may be locally. The regulations imposed by a university are strictly binding to all the individual colleges under them, without taking into account the characteristic strengths, weaknesses, and locations of those colleges, hence affecting the academic performance and development of the students that study in them.

There are some other reasons as well. If a college wants to offer a higher standard program because it has the finances and resources to do so, it cannot. Academic freedom for teachers is especially important because it is instrumental in developing the intellectual climate in a country. These are some of the reasons why colleges are increasingly looking to move to be autonomous. In fact, the Education Commission of 1964-66 went as far as to recommend college autonomy, which they believed would be instrumental in promoting academic excellence.

Conferring Autonomy to Colleges

When an institution is conferred autonomous status, it covers all the courses that come under it, which includes UG, PG, Diploma as well as M. Phil and Ph. D. Additionally, all the courses that are introduced after the conferment of autonomy are also automatically part of the institution’s purview. However, it must be noted that partial autonomy cannot be given to any institution.

The parent university to which the college has been permanently affiliated will confer autonomous status only if both the University Grants Commission as well as the respective state government concurs. The university must also amend the Acts and statutes to offer the college autonomy. However, before doing so, it is the responsibility of the university to make sure that the college has an adequate management structure and offers the academicians working there and studying there to provide a creative contribution.

Criteria for the UGC to Confer Autonomy to a College

As mentioned above, a college cannot be made an autonomous college without the approval of the UGC. Here are the criteria for it to be categorized as one:

  1. The academic reputation of the college presently in terms of university exams and the past, as well as the academic, extension, and extracurricular activities in the past.
  2. The academic qualifications and achievements of the faculty members
  3. The merit and quality of the selection process for both students and teachers
  4. The quality of the college’s method of institutional management
  5. Utilization of the financial resources provided by the state government or by the respective management
  6. The responsiveness of the academic structure
  7. The motivation of the faculty and their subsequent involvement  in bringing about and promoting innovative reforms
  8. Self-financing colleges can be conferred autonomy status if they have completed a minimum of 10 years of continuous operation, while also satisfying all these conditions. However, the key difference here is that no autonomy grant will be given to the said college because of its self-financing status.

NAAC/NBA Accreditation Required

  1. Unaided and aided colleges need to have a minimum of 10 years of existence as well as be accredited by NAAC or NBA. Unaccredited colleges will not be conferred autonomous status.
  2. The colleges that have been NAAC accredited must have B Grade accreditation at the least.
  3. If the college in question is an Engineering college, technical college or management school, the UGC states that it is compulsory that at least three courses are NBA accredited. However, in the case of single faculty institutions, accreditation of only one course is required.
  4. Even though NAAC/NBA accreditation is compulsory, institutions that have been accredited by NBA need to apply for NAAC accreditation as well in the span of 2 years.
  5. All the colleges that have been accredited but whose accreditation has expired should reapply for the same.


An autonomous college is advantageous to not just students but to teachers as well. The teacher at the college will be the person deciding the curriculum for the students, and because of this, the teacher will know what needs to be done and how to go about doing it. There is also less paperwork because they do not need to report to another external university. So, for teachers, an autonomous college is a good place to start.

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