National Education Policy In Higher Education: Coming Full Circle

The NEP envisages broad-based, multi-disciplinary, holistic Under Graduate education with flexible curricula, creative combinations of subjects, integration of vocational education and multiple entry and exit points with appropriate certification.

What does one expect from a good policy document on education for a huge country like India? Primarily it should be relevant to the entire nation and remain as such for a period of time irrespective of governments. The last National Education Policy (NEP) was formulated 34 years ago, yet several of the ideas continue and flow into the present as well. Education is more like a huge ocean liner than an agile speed boat. Not everything mentioned in the document is cast in stone and to be implemented. It is a statement of the objectives that the governments intend to achieve over a period of time. To that extent, this document is a good one as it not only makes the right kind of noises but also avoids a bull in a china shop approach which could as well have happened! 

The proposed target of 50 % GER by 2035 is realisable and therefore a good goal to have. However, a precondition would be to back it with a matching budget which will be a real challenge. The new NEP stipulates spending 6% of our GDP on education which is a repetition of the recommendation of NEP 1986 as well as 1968. On ground however our spend on education has been falling: 6 years ago, in 2012-13, education expenditure was 3.1% of the GDP which fell in 2014-15 to 2.8%. By 2018-19 we barely managed to touch 3%. The percentage on Higher Education is even more dismal which is less than 1.4 %. The Education Cess if earnestly implemented could have been a lifesaver but over the years it has been blatantly misused by all governments, a fact even reported by CAG. 

The NEP envisages broad-based, multi-disciplinary, holistic Under Graduate education with flexible curricula, creative combinations of subjects, integration of vocational education and multiple entry and exit points with appropriate certification. These are great initiatives and must be pursued earnestly. The intervention envisages a Certificate after 1-year, Advanced Diploma after 2 years, Bachelor’s Degree after 3 years and Bachelor’s with Research after 4 years with entry and exit at different levels. But 4-year UG program (FYUP) was what the VC of Delhi University had initiated with the approval of regulators in 2013 which was hastily pulled down later. Even IISc had to face rough weather on this.   

The policy document also advises the creation of a single regulator in higher education (Higher Education Commission if India - HECI), segregation of accreditation (National Accreditation Council - NAC), separate funding (Higher Education Grants Council) and regulatory roles (National Higher Education Regulatory Council- NHERC) which are all welcome steps. Presently, there are 13 regulators in the area of Higher Education, each functioning independently and many a time issuing contradictory regulations. If the purpose were to integrate all higher education under one structure, the logic of keeping Law and Medicine out of it especially when their degrees are also given by universities is difficult to fathom. Was the clout of these two professional regulators more than what the State could chew? The country probably has missed a golden opportunity to integrate knowledge streams across disciplines and to draw the line between general and professional education once and for all. 

The recommendation to phase out affiliation over the next 15 years and provide graded autonomy to all colleges based on accreditation is a positive move. Its success will depend to a large extent on the cooperation the institutions get from their faculty in putting the extra effort on achieving autonomous status.  

One of the major drawbacks of our universities has been the poor research quotient and the disconnect with the industry. Research without patents and IPR’s is like a body without a soul. The NEP’s recommendation of a new authority, the National Research Foundation (NRF) though a good idea, falls short of a Max Planck or a Fraunhofer model of institution, which stipulates earning 70% of its income through contracts with industry or specific government projects. This provides them with genuine autonomy and an entrepreneurial approach to research both so important for national initiatives like Make in India and Start-up India.   

Lastly one expected the NEP to remind us about some of the best practices - avoiding inbreeding, automatic promotions and unfair selection of faculty. Had we not diluted these over years our old universities like Allahabad, AMU, Mumbai, DU, Calcutta, Madras and a dozen others would have blazed the trail in world rankings today. Also, the absence of any steps to check commercialisation in higher education institutions is also deafening. A bill to tackle this menace was introduced in the parliament in 2012 which never saw the light of day.   

It is ironical that we have come full circle and accepted all the major ideas that had once been opposed tooth and nail. The idea of a single regulator NCHER introduced in Parliament in 2012 is intact in HECI and its arms-length body NHERC. Similarly, the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority (NARA) introduced in the same year has now reincarnated as the National Accreditation Council (NAC). The Foreign Educators Providers Bill also introduced prior to 2014 said the same as NEP which argues for the opening of campuses by top world-ranked universities. All these bills had been languishing in the Parliament for years and eventually died. In a way, the last ten years starting 2010, have been the lost decade in the history of Higher Education of India. 

Similarly, the National Educational Technology Forum (NEFT) is a cannibalised version of the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) approved by the Union Cabinet way back in 2009. There was also no logic in pulling the rug from under the feet of Delhi University and 200 others including IISc Bangalore in 2014 for FYUP, when today it has found its way back among the recommendations of NEP. It has taken a decade to realise that proposals were not bad after all. That is the power of a good idea and therein lies hope. Noam Chomsky once said, “There's a tremendous gap between public opinion and public policy”. We hope this NEP bridges that gap.  

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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national education policy higher education NEP 2020

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