Thirty-four years after the promulgation of the second education policy, India will finally have a new policy framework compatible with the 21st century. The rapid change in the economy and society after economic reforms had almost rendered the second NEP, 1986 obsolete on arrival. Moreover, disruptive technological changes in the last decade, especially in the ICT sector and Industry 4.0, have drastically altered the landscape of the education sector.
The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020 seeks to overhaul the entire education system from the early childhood care and education to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) by introducing a new framework, new pedagogical and curricular structure.
One critical area is a transformational change in higher education. The guiding principle here is less regulation and more flexibility, plus a strong push to research and development. At present, India has over 800 universities and approximately 40,000 colleges. Forty percent of all colleges in the country run only a single programme, and over 20 percent have enrolment below 100 students, while only 4 percent of colleges have an enrolment of over 3000 (AISHE 2016-17). The higher education scene is highly fragmented, and the NEP seeks to reorder it by developing a three-tier system.
Type 1 will be research universities focusing both on research and teaching. There will be 150-300 such universities with enrolment between 5,000-25,000 or more students. Type 2 will be teaching universities. They will primarily focus on high-quality teaching across disciplines and programmes, including undergraduate, masters and doctoral, professional, vocational, certificate and diploma programmes. About 1,000-2,000 such universities with enrolment between 5,000-25,000 will be created over the next two decades. Type 3 will be colleges focused on the goal of high-quality teaching. These institutions will primarily run undergraduate programmes, in addition to diploma and certificate programmes, across disciplines and fields, including vocational and professional. Such autonomous colleges numbering 5,000–10,000 with a target of on-campus enrolments of 2,000– 5,000 or higher will be established.
This categorisation is not supposed to be a rigid one, but instead a continuum with institutions having the autonomy and freedom to move from one type to another, based on their plans, actions, and effectiveness. The HEIs will be given graded autonomy in the realm of academic, administrative, and financial matters depending on them fulfilling specific criteria. Here the autonomy does not mean reduction in public funding but freedom to innovate, to compete, to cooperate, to govern more locally, to optimise resources given one’s direct local knowledge of circumstances and opportunities.
The NEP creates a robust and transparent public funding mechanism for the HEIs based on the preannounced criteria from within the accreditation norms of the accreditation system. While they will be allowed to raise outside funds, those funds will not be the substitute for public funding.
A ‘National Research Foundation (NRF)’ will be established to grant competitive funding for outstanding research proposals across all disciplines to incentivise research by scholars and faculty. The NEP also pushes for the liberal education framework with the HEIs adopting a multidisciplinary approach. The focus is on the liberal outlook towards knowledge, coupled with rigorous specialisation in the chosen field. Breaking of silos with multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinarily approach, a greater focus on projects and internships is given a much-needed push.
The creation of ‘Academic Bank of Credits’ and easier credit transfer will enable greater choices for the students. It will enable multiple entry and exit points with appropriate certification for the undergraduate students with digital storage of credits earned from different HEIs, which can also be transferred and counted as a part of the final degree.
Also, the multiple regulators will be phased out, and a single regulatory entity shall be created (except for legal and medical). The purpose is to remove the regulatory chaos burdening the higher education and replace direct inspections with a self-disclosure-based system of approval. It is a welcome focus to build the institutional capacity of HEIs in line with the best practices rather than keeping them under the thumb of the infamous bureaucratic raj. Further, it is essential to note that there will be common norms for public and private institutions, and special education zones to attract foreign HEIs will also be created.
The NEP also seeks to enlarge access to the disadvantaged socio-economic groups and rapidly increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education, including vocational education, from 26.3 percent (2018) to 50 percent by 2035, adding 3.5 crore new seats. Overall, the NEP has a welcome focus on system overhaul in higher education, but much will depend on the actual rules and sub-rules and implementation, apart from the ability of the government to increase funding to the sector.Abhinav Prakash Singh is assistant professor, Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi, Delhi. Views are personal.