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Universities Act, 1904

Universities Act, 1904 was the outcome of deliberations held at the Educational Conference at Simla in 1901 and the recommendations put forward by the Universities Commission of 1902. It came into force on 1 September 1904.

This Act was an outcome of the extensive enquiry carried out to ascertain the needs of contemporary higher education, with an aim to devising remedies to such problems. While the original university act, 1857 had defined the role of the university as a predominantly examining and degree-according body, this Act of 1904 made an attempt to amend and consolidate its powers. It suggested that universities should also make provisions for offering instructions to their students.

Thus, the first important change proposed by this Act involved the enlargement of the functions of the university. Section III of this Act provided that 'the University shall be deemed to have been incorporated for the purpose (among others) of making provision for the instruction of students, with power to appoint University Professors and Lecturers, to hold and manage educational endowments, to erect, equip and maintain University Libraries, Laboratories and Museums, to make regulations relating to the residence and conduct of students and to do all acts consistent with the Act of Incorporation and this Act will tend to the promotion of study and research'.

Under the Act of 1857, the university was merely a knowledge-testing and rewarding authority; under the Act of 1904, it became an agency for the teaching of students and for study and research. Again, the previous Act did not expressly deal with the question of students' proficiency in the study of Arts and Sciences. This Act explicitly dealt with the affiliated colleges, which were thereby recognised as teaching agencies under the university. It is true that the statute did not exactly specify up to which stage the affiliated colleges could impart education, but it was assumed that such colleges would prepare students up to a certain stage after which the university would take over as a sponsor of advanced studies and research.

Another significant provision of this Act related to the size of the University Senate. Under the Act of 1857, the Fellows of the university were to enjoy lifetime tenures and were to be appointed by the government. Without an upper-age limit for the Fellows, the composition of the Senate had become extremely unwieldy. By proposing to limit the number of Fellows to a maximum of hundred and their tenure to five years the new Act of 1904 solved this issue. It also introduced the principle of election by which 20 Fellows could be elected at the 3 older universities and 15 at the other two.

Statutory recognition was to be accorded to the Syndicates. The Act also provided for adequate representation of university teachers in university Syndicates. At the same time, under the changed circumstances the rules guiding the affiliation of colleges were also tightened. Affiliated colleges were to be periodically inspected by the Syndicate, thereby ensuring appropriate standards of efficiency. Affiliation and disaffiliation of colleges would now require the approval of government.

Under the Act of 1857, the Senate was the sole regulation-making body while the government had the power to apply veto, only in certain cases. The Universities Act of 1904 provided that while approving the regulations framed by the Senate, the government might introduce additions or alterations or even frame new regulations, should the Senate fail to do so within the specified time frame. Finally, the Act empowered the Governor-General-in-Council to define the territorial limits of universities.

The Universities Act of 1904 could not, however, be enforced until the end of 1906, when the regulations were framed and adopted. The framing of the regulations evoked a keen controversy between those who had become customised to older traditions and others who believed that they could derive advantages out of the liberal provisions of this act. In the end, a healthy compromise was possible and Sir asutosh mookerjee, appointed the Vice Chancellor in 1906, was able to introduce far-reaching changes in the organisation and functions of the university in the next decade. The true functions of the university, he urged, was not merely the distribution of knowledge but also its acquisition and conservation.

Indian public opinion had by and large been opposed to the implementation of this Act. It had apprehended that under the pretext of reforms the government was really trying to concentrate powers in the hands of European educationists. They also feared that this would stand in the way of Indian private enterprise playing an active role in the promotion of higher education.

These fears, however, proved ill-founded. In the post-1904 period, meetings of the Senate and the Syndicate became much more frequent, and the inspection of affiliated colleges more regular. The growth of colleges under private hands was much more rapid after 1904. Moreover, the stricter rules of affiliation led to overall improvement in the quality of collegiate instruction.

This Act empowered the Government of India to sanction the first grants to Indian universities. Before 1904, government did not provide any grants-in-aid to any university other than Punjab University, which received an annual grant of about Rs 30,000 for conducting oriental and law courses. After the implementation of this Act, the Government of India announced an annual grant of Rs 5,00,000 for five years for the advancement of collegiate and university education. The Universities Act of 1904 succeeded in achieving a significant change in the nature of university education, even while allowing the government to retain substantial control over the universities, thereby making them, as the sadler commission were to put it thirteen years later, 'the most completely governmental universities in the world'. [Rachana Chakraborty]