FLAME in the news | August 24, 2020

National Education Policy (NEP)- 2020 is the most comprehensive policy document of India in the last 34 years. It signals the government intent and the direction of educational reforms in India. But it is not an educational Act and hence can’t be justiciable in court. NEP calls for a drastic restructuring of higher education- moving away from the British model of higher education (3-year undergraduate and 4-5 professionals colleges fragmented along with areas and levels) which we followed since 1854.

According to NEP, “IITs will move towards a more holistic curriculum with arts and humanities.” What do you think about this move?
The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)’s were established based on Sakar committee recommendations (1946) and were modelled after Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA. IITs are government by IIT Act 1961 and subsequent amendments- they enjoyed substantial autonomy compared many state and central government educational institutions in India. Though most IITs started with undergraduate (UG) engineering program, later they expanded to postgraduate (PG) programs, in many branches of science and engineering, and humanities and social sciences at PG level.
Almost all IITs have BTech program which includes some level of science and humanities courses. Due to the presence of Many PG programs, IITs are in a better position to move towards NEP’s multidisciplinary Liberal Education (LE) than most Universities in India. However, each IIT is largely autonomous body, they decide on program and curriculum. What NEP may do is to nudge them towards more liberal education-centric Engineering program, open up UG to more LE centric programs. Humanities course may be more integrated into sciences and engineering and Vice versa, both at UG and PG level. It may also help in changing the mindset of people who are dogmatic about disciplinary boundaries.

How will multiple exit options for a bachelor degree help students?
Currently, students are forced to remain in colleges and Universities till they complete the degree, even if they don’t have interest or aptitude in it. If they fail to do so, Diploma or degree won’t be granted and the courses they took has no value. The pressure to complete degree create psychological stress among students, who sometimes take extreme measures like suicide.
Multiple entry and exit option for students in bachelor degree are one of the most pragmatic, student-centric reform that NEP has proposed. It offers a choice for students to exit in between (certificate, diploma or a 3-year degree). The courses they took will be in Academic Bank Credits (ABC) which they can later use to get re-entry into another college or University. It gives flexibility for the student to create a combination of courses of her/his interest, and promotes life-long learning. It also allows for greater job market flexibility. Student can do a combination of formal, vocational, and skill-based courses at different places and become more employable.

How will foreign universities setting up their campuses in India affect student choices?

India had put up legislative barriers against foreign universities setting up campuses in India mainly on the ground that they will profiteer and the profit will not reused for educational purpose in India. Its a welcome move that NEP is allowing foreign Universities to set up campuses, and also encourage Indian Universities to have more foreign students. However, the main challenge is that as NEP says, it will allow only the top 100 Universities in the world to set up campuses. The rationale behind this is not clear. There are no universally accepted criteria for ranking of Universities. Even if we accept one definition, we will be including many Universities across the world which have excellent academic and research track record from setting up campuses in India.
In the absence of strong incentives and relaxed regulations, Foreign University campus by ‘top 100’ universities is unlikely to materialize. If it materializes to some degree, students will have greater options to stay in India, provided the fee structure substantially lower and foreign universities are able to provide similar faculty strength, courses, and infrastructure here in India.
How will the formation of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) help?
The Draft NEP-2019 report by Kasturirangan Committee had recommended a common regulator (NHERA) for all higher education including professional education. Based on this, the NEP-2020 proposes setting up of Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) as a common regulatory system. The HECI will have four independent verticals for (a) the regulation of higher education (NHERC), (b) accreditation (NAC), (c) funding (HEGC), and (d) academic standard setting (GEC). Using this regulatory system, NEP hopes to empower all the HEIs, with no distinction (a significant departure from past) between public and private HEIs in terms of regulation, accreditation, and standard-setting. Though this, It aims to provide a level playing field to all.
The National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), subsume UGC and will perform the function of Integration of varied regulatorily bodies and councils (Technical-AICTE, Teacher Education-NCTE, Agriculture-ICAR, Verterniary-IVC etc). The individual councils will become professional standard-setting bodies (PSSB) under the General Education Council (GEC). The common NHERC will enable the structural and functional integration of different disciplines (which were regulated by different bodies so far). It will foster interdisciplinary learning and research. But that said, overarching regulatory power can also be detrimental to the growth – as it leads to the imposition of uniform norms for a diverse set of fields.
It is important to keep the verticals independent of each other and keep the overall regulation “light and tight” in NEP words. The regulator may face opposition from state bodies who may feel coerced into following norms and standards which they do not agree to.

What is your opinion on setting up a National Testing Agency for conducting entrance exams?
The National Testing Agency (NTA) aims to a single agency for testing for all branches of knowledge – from arts, science, humanities, language, and vocational subjects. It gives authority to one body as the primary authority on all subjects. It fails to account for local contexts of knowledge- language, arts, culture, and history. It gives little scope for state and the local bodies to assess the students. While some branches may be more universal – logic, and quantitative reasoning, natural sciences and english reading comprehension, most branches are not. It may encourage mushrooming of coaching in every branch and in every region, that could lead to exam centric learning.

According to NEP, there won’t be a rigid separation between arts and sciences in the bachelor’s program. Is this a feasible and practical move?
Although NEPs objective of breaking the rigid separation between arts, humanities, and sciences is a laudable move, its implementation will be a huge challenge. We have borrowed the structure of Indian higher education from the British from colonial times. We have retained the system where many Universities have hundreds of affiliating colleges and separated undergraduate education from postgraduate teaching and research. The colonial system had created barriers between discipline, led to the emergence of separate colleges for arts, science, commerce, law, engineering, and medical etc.
Given the current structure of higher education in India which is largely fragmented- it is not an easy task to integrate them. Colleges and Universities will have to build new infrastructure, hire more faculty in different departments, create new programs to make it suitable for multidisciplinary Liberal Education. Holistic integration of disciplines in colleges may not be feasible in the short run. Colleges and universities have to merge functionally to create ‘meta universities’. Physical expansion and merger will take considerable time, a function integration of neighbourhood colleges would be a practical option. The concept of Academic Bank Credits (ABC) will go a long way in assisting functional integration. Through ABC, a student will be able to take courses in multiple colleges and universities offering a different kind of courses to fulfil the requirement for diploma, certificate, or a degree.
Apart from physical and infrastructural augmentation, human resource expansion may be another challenge. The old cadre of teachers is likely to oppose liberal education paradigm, thinking that it may dilute disciplinary standards. A new generation of teacher administration open to LE may take time.
Please let us know if you have any specific feedback/testimonial on the NEP 2020
The seeds of NEP-2020 higher education reforms were sown in 2009 when the Yash Pal Committee (YPC) submitted its report on the rejuvenation of the Higher education. The Subramanian committee which submitted its report in 2016, had held nationwide consultations across Gram Panchayats, educationalists, academicians and policymakers. And the Kasturirangan Comittee with eminent educationists as members, and extensive consultation across the fields. We need to acknowledge the contributions of these people in the making of the draft.
NEP-2020 is a policy declaration. The government has to come up with a plan of action to bring it to fruition. The road ahead is not easy, as NEP for higher ed proposes breaking away from the past. This requires substantial coordination between all stakeholders- both government and private involved in higher education. The most challenging part would be changing the mindset of people in the education sector.

(Views expressed are personal)