The Indian Universities Act, 1904

Background to the Indian Universities Act, 1904

In the previous article, we studied about the Hunter Commission on Education and its recommendations. The Hunter Commission had not met with success. The education procedure in India was not carried on in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission. Hence when Lord Curzon became the Viceroy of India, he sought to introduce the reforms in education apart from other administrative reforms.

File Photo of Lord Curzon

In September 1901, Lord Curzon summoned the highest educational officers of the Government throughout India and representatives of universities at a round table Conference at Simla. The Conference opened with a speech by the Viceroy in which he surveyed the whole field of education in India. "We have not met here" he said, "to devise a brand new plan of educational reform which is to spring fully armed from the head of the Home Department and to be imposed nolens volens upon the Indian public". Later developments were to prove the hypocrisy behind this assertion. The Conference adopted 150 resolutions which touched almost every conceivable branch of education. This was followed by the appointment of a Commission under the presidency of Sir Thomas Raleigh on 27 January 1902 to enquire into the condition and prospects of universities in India and to recommend proposals for improving their constitution and working. Evidently, the Commission was precluded from reporting on primary or secondary education. As a result of the report of the recommendations of the Commission the Indian Universities Act was passed in 1904. The main objective of the Act was to improve the condition of education in India and upgrade the system to a better level.


Main Provisions of Indian Universities Act, 1904

  • Universities were given the right of teaching along with the right of conducting examination. In short, their scope was enlarged.
  • Universities had the right to make provision for promotion of study and research, to appoint university professors and lecturers, set up university laboratories and libraries and undertake direct instruction of students.
  • The Indian Universities Act, 1904 laid down that the number of Fellows of a university shall not be less than fifty or more than a hundred and a Fellow should normally hold office for a period of six years instead of for life.
  • Upto this moment, the number of the seats in the Senate of the Universities were not fixed and the Government used to make life-long nominations. According to the Indian Universities Act, 1904, the number was fixed. The minimum number was fifty and the maximum number was hundred. Their term was determined for five years.
  • The Indian Universities Act, 1904 introduced the principle of election in the constitution of the Senate. According to this Act., 20 fellows are to be elected in the Universities of Madras, Calcutta and Bombay and 15 in other Universities.
  • The Indian Universities Act, 1904 gave statutory recognition to Syndicates and made provision for the adequate representation of university teachers in the university Senate.
  • The Government reserved the right to make amendments and reforms and give approval to the rules framed by the Senates of the University and also it can frame regulations itself if the Senate fails to frame these regulations in time.
  • Hence, The Government control over the universities was further increased by vesting the Government with powers to veto the regulations passed by the Senate of a university. The Government could also make additions or alterations in the regulations framed by the Senate and even frame regulations itself over and above the head of the Senate.
  • The rules in regard to granting recognition were made more strict. In order to raise the standards of education, the Syndicate could call for the inspection of colleges imparting higher education. The private colleges were required to keep a proper standard of efficiency. The Government approval was necessary for grant of affiliation or disaffiliation of colleges.
  • Prior to this Act, the territorial jurisdiction of universities was not fixed. As a result some colleges were affiliated to two universities while others were situated in the jurisdiction of one university but affiliated to another.


Different Views on the Indian Universities Act, 1904

  • Gopal Krishna Gokhale described the bill 'a retrograde measure' which cast unmerited denigration on the educated classes of the country and was designed to perpetuate "the narrow, bigoted and inexpensive rule of experts."
  • The Sadler Commission of 1917 commented that the Universities Act, 1904 made 'the Indian universities among the most completely governmental universities in the world'.
  • Indian opinion believed that Curzon sought to reduce the universities to the position of departments of the State and sabotage development of private enterprise in the field of education. Ronaldshay, Curzon's biographer, admits that "the changes actually brought about were small and out of all proportion either to the time and thought which the Viceroy had devoted to them or to the violence of the opposition with which they had been assailed. In its broad outline the system of higher education remained much as it has been before."
  • However, a good outcome of Curzon's policy was the sanction in 1902 of a grant of Rs. 5 lakhs per annum for five years for improvement of higher education and universities. The Government grants have become a permanent feature ever since then.

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