06 Aug 2020 17:44 IST

NEP 2020: The devil is in the implementation detail

The biggest gap is that the policy doesn’t emphasise an industry internship or apprenticeship

Any policy reform, especially after 34 years, is always welcome, more so when the world is changing so fast. The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) is a step in the right direction. On the intent side it gets high scores. The vision is to extend the reach of education and double the gross enrolment ratio (GER) from current 26 per cent to 50 per cent in 15 years. An increased education budget of six per cent will be great for furthering education. Extending the Right to Education and making education free till the 12th grade will increase access through affordability.

In terms of streamlining education, the move towards a single regulator - the Higher Education Council of India - with four pillars of Standards, Regulator, Accreditor and Funder is important. Currently, a license raj exists in the education sector with institutions having to go for approvals, inspections, accreditation, affiliations at multiple levels with different bodies like the UGC, AICTE, NAAC, NBA not to mention the state government. The intent in NEP is the Modi government’s way of simplifying regulation through a ‘light but tight hand' is good and could become a legacy for this Government. We need a 1991-like movement when the Narasimha Rao government introduced liberalisation in education.

Let students choose

Academic liberalisation is also the need of the hour. Giving students the freedom to choose subjects and courses will reduce the unhealthy focus on maths and science. Currently, children begin preparing for JEE or NEET exams from class Seven itself. Instead, the need is to impart critical life skills like analytical thinking, problem-solving along with soft skills to communicate better. Holistic education will lead to a well-rounded personality and create great entrepreneurs.

Look at Steve Jobs who attributed the calligraphy class he attended in college for his abiding passion in typography and many of the fonts he used in the Apple phone owe its origin to that. Jobs was able to attend the calligraphy class as he dropped out and attended the classes he wanted. NEP gives that kind of flexibility. If I had more options during my college days, my subject choices would have been totally different.

Higher education has become bankable with the introduction of an academic bank of credit. This is a boon for the geek economy for which we need specific skills. A student can attend college for a semester or two and learn python programming and get credits for that which can be banked. Then she can go work for a year or two and come back and study data science and get back to work again. Students can opt for a one-year certificate, two-year diploma or a three- or four-years long bachelor’s degree. There is also the option to do a five-year master’s programme. This will lead to lifelong learning.

Focus on vocations

The NEP has focused a lot on vocational education which is much needed from the jobs perspective. The new policy puts emphasis on vocational training right from the Sixth class.

However, greater industry linkage is very necessary in college courses. The Indian medical profession has it where after the MBBS, there is a permanent residency that students have to do. This is lacking in other fields. Industry needs the gap with academia to be bridged. NEP states that industry should come and take students to their sites. But the policy lacks direction on a formal industry induction-cum-internship programme. Just like the final year of a four-year degree programme is focused on research, an option could also have been to offer an industry internship or apprenticeship. This is the biggest gap in NEP. The diploma programmes where students are thought more hands-on does not find much focus.

Tilt towards research

The steps towards making research attractive have to be commended in the NEP. That’s understandable too as the NEP panel was headed by eminent space scientist K Kasturirangan. It’s great that research is finally getting its due. Government spend of research has been at a low 0.6 per cent compared to 5 per cent by Israel. Setting of the National Research Fund is a good move. Also there has been a heavy bias to fund only Government institutions with research grants; hope NEP corrects this anomaly.

However, the NEP panel should have been headed by either an academician who understands the nuances of the education system or an industrialist who understands the job market. To expect all students to immerse a whole year on research may not be easy.

One also expected more direction from the NEP on private institutions and fee structures. It’s common in the US to have ‘for profit’ colleges, which have a different philosophy of learning. This makes the system transparent and makes the system clean.

Not-for-profit rule

In India, however, education has always had a strict not-for-profit rule in order to curb its commercialisation.

The stringent financial regulation has also deterred the private sector. To increase the GER, you need more colleges. There are top-notch Indian private colleges that can compete with IITs and extend quality education to more. If you analyse the funding received by government institutions, they spend Rs 6 lakh per student per year. But the fee limit at private colleges with no funding sources are allowed to charge just Rs 1.5 lakh per student. Shockingly, our primary education is unregulated, with schools charging five times the fee of colleges. If a unified structure for the fees of all education institutions could be worked out, it would be welcome.

The other dichotomy is that we have allowed foreign universities to come and set up campuses here. There should be a level playing field. Foreign universities need to adhere to the same rules and regulations that apply to Indian Universities.

But since education is a concurrent subject, how will this play out? An eminent academic I spoke with said the States do not have the will to implement this. The Tamil Nadu CM has already expressed concerns over the three-language policy proposed in the NEP. Hope the States see the merit of the NEP and implement it in full or at least partially. Currently the BJP/NDA governs 18 States. Will at least the States they rule in implement this?

To sum it up, NEP is good and welcome but, as always, the devil is in the implementation detail.

(The writer is vice-chairman of Salem-based Sona group of institutions and Founder of HireMee an EdTech start-up.)