NEP: The Transformative Reform In Education

2020 Education policy is different as it impacts all facets of education or rather all stages in the individual’s development starting from pre-school to higher education.

July 28 2020 is a historic day in Indian education as the Government announced the New Education Policy that promises to overhaul Indian education by 2050. This policy is transformative as was the one in 1986 when the country adopted policy of computerization in industry and computer education became an integral part of the education system. But 2020 Education policy is different as it impacts all facets of education or rather all stages in the individual’s development starting from pre-school to higher education. It has also created an enabling framework for regulation which is aimed at unshackling education system especially the higher education. Flexibility, holistic education, National Academic Credit (NAC) Bank, independent governance and non-discriminatory approach to regulating public and private universities are just some key features of this policy which had been deliberated multiple times across the country with all stakeholders. Through this paper, I propose to examine just a few critical provisions in this policy that affect the higher education system in India. 

Multidisciplinary Education 

So far Indian higher education had been a rigid system that has not given an opportunity to the student to explore new avenues or pursue his passion along with his need to acquire a degree in a particular stream. Employability and passion were seen as a bipolar proposition. One could either pursue programmes that will enhance one’s employability or follow his/her passion be it fine arts or performing arts or pursue the study of a language or philosophy. This is a myopic view of learning. No wonder a student of science or engineering found hard to appreciate other disciplines. Such education led to the development of a blinkered approach to life.  

Today we are aware that knowledge rests at the intersection of disciplines. Hence the pursuit of multidisciplinary education will help in the furtherance of knowledge pursuits. Further one of the future skills as envisaged by World Economic Forum, in its report on Future of Jobs and Skills, is complex problem-solving. This requires a holistic understanding of the problem. For example, in the design of an electronic consumer product like a smartphone or tablet, the engineer should have a knowledge of electronics, material science and human behaviour. Hence a good engineering programme is one that allows the student to take courses in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and management. When combined with one of the language courses especially traditional Indian language like Sanskrit, such programme, especially in computer science or artificial intelligence, can lead to enhanced employability than just a pure engineering programme.  

For the above to happen, institutions must become multidisciplinary. The policy strives to achieve the same when it says that standalone institutions like IIMS or other management schools will be required to become multidisciplinary. In the context of engineering and other professional institutions like architecture and pharmaceutical or medical colleges or law universities, such initiative will only enrich their programmes. 

National Academic Credit bank 

This is truly a disruptive change. The concept of choice-based credit and flexible education is based on the idea of student empowerment. The student should have the freedom to choose without the fear of losing a year or an academic term. This bank allows the student to earn credit in any subject from any institution or department and put it in his NAC bank account. NAC bank will be a digital entity whose main objective would be to facilitate student mobility across the education system wherein the credits can be accumulated and be used for the requirements of partial fulfilment of a degree program.  

Multiple entry and exit options 

Today once the student joins a programme, he has no choice but to complete it. He cannot exit unless the system throws him out. Should he decide to leave in between, he does so by losing the time he had spent in the programme. Now that would not be so. He can leave after one year or two years with a certificate or diploma, as the case may be, and again come back to pursue education from where he left. The credits so earned by him will be considered. So, if it was a four-year programme, he could come back to third-year if he had exited the system at the end of the second year. This not only provides for flexibility but also recognises the need of students who may want to pursue some other passion in life or want to work.   

Hence this provision, combined with a multidisciplinary education system and National Academic Credit bank will empower the student and make learning exciting. It will not tie down the student to an institution, programme or fixed duration. 

3 or 4- year UG programmes and liberal education 

This change now puts India’s UG programme at par with US and other foreign universities. It also provides for more time to develop the student in a more holistic manner and allow the student to pursue his passion. Generally, a 16 or 17-year-old student is confused when he comes to the university. Today he is required to make a choice between commerce, science, arts, engineering at the time of joining the university. I had often heard of student frustration with the system that forced him to choose for life at such an early age. No wonder depressions grew among young students when they failed to cope with the courses and started hating them. But faced with no choice they stuttered through to leave the discipline as soon as they could. A 4-year programme based on liberal education philosophy can help students. In this structure, students would wander through various courses in the first two years and get on to a more serious study of subjects that they like or are passionate about.  

The further intensity of learning increases much more in a four-year programme and combined with multiple exit options, as stated earlier, will hopefully bring back the joy of learning 

Liberal education is one where a student is allowed to explore. He could meander through humanities, sciences, social sciences, music, folk arts, performing arts, business or entrepreneurship. Some activities and subjects are mandatory for all as they are foundational like communications, mathematical skills and sports.   

Graded autonomy to colleges and death of affiliation system  

The policy has envisaged the end of affiliation system in the next 30 years. Affiliation system has been one of the biggest banes of Indian University system. Hundreds of colleges with varying student enrolment, quality, and student outcomes located in remote areas but affiliated to one of the state university only drags the entire system. It has been one of the most dysfunctional arrangements. With this policy, colleges can award degrees. They will be accorded autonomy based on their accreditation grade. This will help improve quality in the education system in the state. 

The non-discriminatory regime 

So far, the regulators and even the government bureaucracy had discriminated between state and private institutions often to the disadvantage of the latter. It’s a fact that quality can be good or bad in any institution irrespective of its ownership. What is important is to consider each institution on the basis of its accreditation and outcomes. Decisions with regard to research funding, for example, must be based on the merit of the proposal. Likewise, penal action, if any, should be the same for both government and private institution for the same “offence”. The new education policy ends this regime of discrimination. 

Thus. new paradigms in higher education have now emerged as a result of this New Education Policy that considers new realities of modern India. These paradigms will influence academics, student development, institutional growth, finances and governance. It now requires a new planning exercise at the institutional level. This moment reminds me of the time when Indian industry was liberalized in 1991. Corporates were forced to redraw their plans and strategies as no more they had government to blame for their capital inadequacies or technology development or the license raj. I only hope that as NEP gets implemented, we will see the end of controls and bureaucratic maze. Institutions will hopefully be free to innovate, explore new avenues of learning and markets and create new models of governance and global partnerships.     

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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