“Access and Excellence Are Vital For A Viksit Bharat”

Dr Shashank Shah, Director (Senior Specialist), Higher Education Niti Aayog, talks about the progress made in implementation of NEP 2020, and how education can provide solutions to the environment crisis

The National Education Policy is now in implementation stage. What would you say about the success in its implementation so far?

It’s important to know that a policy provides an ecosystem within which implementation is facilitated, and the same is the case with NEP. It’s a vision document on how the Indian education system would pan out over the next quarter of a century. With respect to higher education, there are three priority areas:

i. access

ii. quality and excellence

iii. future-readiness

These three are vital to enable India to be the future skills capital and knowledge economy that we envision ourselves to be, in a Viksit Bharat, in 2047.

For each of these, several initiatives have been identified in the NEP, which have already begun. And a lot of work is being done at the level of higher education institutions themselves. There is a lot of opportunity for innovations, and a lot of impact that can be created at the institution level. The NEP provides the opportunity to democratise education in the world’s largest democracy.

Research and development are given immense importance in universities in developed nations. How can there be greater focus on research & development in higher education in India?

Research is very vital not just for the success of higher education ecosystem, but for the success of any country. It’s a central pillar on which strategic independence both from a knowledge and from an economic perspective can be built. It’s no secret that India needs to invest more in the field of R&D. Currently, it’s about 0.7 per cent of the GDP. In absolute terms that comes to about 18 billion dollars a year, which is at par with our peers. But at per capita level it comes down to US$13, a much smaller figure, given our largest population.

Moreover, in higher education, research accounts for just 10 per cent of this amount. Despite that, we have almost 4 per cent of the global scholarly research publications coming from Indian higher education institutions.

In the last nine years, higher education’s share of R&D has increased 3X+ from Rs 3,400 crore to nearly 11,000 crore. The Anusandhan National Research Foundation Act will also provide encouragement to research across multidisciplinary domains, with an outlay of 50,000 crore. So, these are all steps in the right direction. However, a lot of effort will have to be made at the institution level to transition from pure teaching to research-based teaching, and research for teaching, along with teaching for research.

How can there be better gender parity in higher education?

I think we should be proud of ourselves, as we have achieved gender parity of 1.01 on the Gender Parity Index. Now, there are more women in higher education than men. This is a great achievement for the nation. Going forward, it is important to not only gain entry into higher education but also contributing to the larger socio-economic canvas of the nation, wherein women can contribute equally, as their male counterparts. For that, a lot of efforts are being made. Providing

access to education in the hilly regions, providing access to safe and secure environment, transport facilities, hostels, personal hygiene, financial resources, free-ships and scholarships, are very important instruments in ensuring access to higher education, especially for women. The multiple entry and exit system that has been introduced as part of NEP will play a vital role in ensuring that girls who drop out of higher education due to socio-economic circumstances have the opportunity to get back into the system and complete their studies.

We are witnessing catastrophic events globally, including ravaging fires and floods, In the midst of this environment crisis, what solutions can education provide?

Environment is no longer ‘and/or’ situation. It’s no more a case of business or environment, economy or ecology. We are not heading towards global warming, we are already in a scenario of ‘burning’, as is clear from natural calamities across the globe – whether it’s the Amazon fires, or the Australian bush fires, the floods in Europe or heat waves in North America. Higher education will play a very important role in providing the sustainability lens to pedagogy and creation and maintenance of campus infrastructure itself. With 4 crore students and 15 lakh faculty currently in higher education in India, they are very vital stakeholders in mainstreaming ecology and environment.

With the call for pro-planet behaviour given by the Prime Minister through Mission LiFE and during India’s G20 Presidency, students of higher education can play the role of becoming brand ambassadors, not only by talking about lifestyle for the environment but practising sustainable consumption, and not only in the university years but throughout their lives. If we can create a generation of pro-planet individuals through our higher education system, we will be able to achieve our net zero targets far ahead of the target date.

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