The Union Cabinet has approved the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. This policy paves way for a bunch of ‘fundamental reforms’ in higher education. Academicians across the country are divided over the possible implications of the new policy.
With foundational pillars of access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability - this policy intends to strengthen the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through the NEP 2020, the central government proposes that professional education will be an integral part of the higher education system. This move is being looked at to address the situation of expanding unemployment in the country.
It is envisioned that over a period of time, all existing higher education institutes (HEIs) and new HEIs will evolve into research-intensive universities (RUs), teaching universities (TUs), and autonomous degree-granting colleges (ACs). Affiliation of colleges will be phased out in 15 years. Another aim of NEP 2020 is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education including vocational education - from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035. It also aims to add 3.5 crore seats to higher education.
The proposed higher education legislation advocates for a holistic and multidisciplinary education system with exposure to science, arts, humanities, mathematics and professional fields with flexible curricular structures, creative combinations and integration of vocational learning.
Under the new policy, undergraduate (UG) education can be of three or four years with multiple entry or exit options and appropriate certification within the period. It gives an opportunity to experience multidisciplinary education with focus on any chosen ‘major’ and ‘minor’ subjects as per the choice of the student.
The policy states that departments in languages, literature, music, philosophy, Indology, art, dance, theatre, education, mathematics, statistics, pure and applied sciences, sociology, economics, sports, translation and interpretation and other such subjects are needed. The challenge will be the provisioning of all these subjects by colleges and universities.
Are HEIs equipped with adequate infrastructure? If not, then what schemes will be proposed for the improvement of these HEIs? Additionally, the policy strongly promotes multilingualism in higher and school education.
An ‘Academic Bank of Credits’ (ABC) will be established to facilitate ‘Transfer of Credit’ - for digitally storing academic credits earned by students. Credits can be transferred and counted till the student’s final degree is earned. The Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) will also be revised for instilling innovation and flexibility. NEP 2020 advocates technology-oriented learning. To foster this, a ‘National Educational Technology Forum’ (NETF) will be created. Institutions will also have the option to run Open Distance Learning (ODL) and online programmes. Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), collaborating with IITs and IIMs, will be set up as models.
Concerning the examination procedure, the policy states, “The principles for university entrance exams will be similar and the National Testing Agency (NTA) will work to offer a common aptitude test as well as specialised common subject examinations.”
Along with the UG programmes, the HEIs will have flexibility to offer different designs of postgraduate programmes. There may be a two-year programme with the second year devoted entirely to research for those who have completed the three-year Bachelor’s programme. For students completing a four-year Bachelor’s programme with research, there could be a one-year postgraduate programme. There may be an integrated five-year Bachelor’s or Master’s programme. Undertaking a PhD shall require either a Master’s degree or a four-year Bachelor’s degree with Research. The MPhil programme is to be discontinued.
Sayantan Dasgupta, Head of the Department, Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, told BE, “There is a difference between framing a policy and implementing the same. If two-years learning in Master’s degree is compressed into a one-year course, the basic understanding of the student on the subject will indeed remain poor. Additionally, MPhil was the stepping stone before the PhD degree and students could verify their interests in research. In absence of MPhil, it might be a challenge for some of them.”
According to the policy, a National Institute for Pali, Persian and Prakrit and an Indian Institute of Translation and Interpretation will be set up for further study. Sanskrit and all Indian language institutes and departments across the country will also be significantly strengthened. But the policy has surely preferred two languages. Professor Dasgupta commented, “India has so many languages and it is a country with many diversities. So, there should be room for flexibility when it comes to languages; nothing should be imposed.”
Financial assistances will be made to incentivise the meritorious students belonging to the SC, ST, OBC and other SEDG categories pursuing higher education. The National Scholarship Portal will be expanded to foster and track the progress of the same. Private HEIs will be encouraged to offer a larger number of scholarships.
The policy envisions the establishment of a National Research Foundation (NRF) that will competitively fund research in all disciplines in universities. The University Grants Commission (UGC) and other similar bodies will continue to independently fund research. But the NRF will carefully coordinate with other funding agencies and will work with science, engineering and other academies. Earlier, after the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) was introduced, it degraded the importance of the UGC. Interventions by NRF might do the same.
Regulatory body for implementation
The Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be acting as the umbrella architecture body with four independent bodies for regulation, funding, accreditation and standard setting. These will be the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), the National Accreditation Council (NAC) and the General Education Council (GEC). The umbrella body will have the power to penalise higher education institutes if its regulations are flouted. Public and private higher education institutions will be governed by equal rules and regulations.
Professional councils like the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Veterinary Council of India (VCI), the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), the Council of Architecture (CoA), the National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET) will now act as Professional Standard Setting Bodies (PSSBs). They will play an important role in the higher education system and will be invited to be members of the GEC.
To uphold the ‘not for profit’ entity of the education sector, the policy suggests that all education institutions will be held to similar standards of audit and disclosure. A transparent public disclosure of all these financial matters with recourse to grievance-handling mechanisms has been mandated.