28 Aug 2020 20:42 IST

NEP can revamp existing higher education model

But, many Higher Educational Institutions may not be ready yet; operational road map also not clear

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which is based on five fundamental pillars — access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability - has potential for an overhaul of the education system in India. This policy has outlined some major reforms required to bridge the gap between the current state of learning and what is desirable to establish the highest quality and integrity into the system, starting from early childhood education through higher education.

NEP 2020 targets to achieve 50 per cent Gross Enrollment Ratio in higher education by 2030 from 26.3 per cent in 2018, by creating new capacities and consolidating, expanding, and improving existing Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in India.

Fuzzy operational roadmap

The main thrust of NEP 2020 in higher education is to transform HEIs into large multidisciplinary universities, colleges, and HEI clusters, with 3,000 or more students each. Multidisciplinary institutions are required to offer programmes across disciplines to help build vibrant communities of scholars and peers. This policy envisions that all existing HEIs would evolve into multidisciplinary institutions of following three categories by 2040 — Research Intensive Universities (RUs), Teaching Universities (TUs), and Autonomous Degree-granting Colleges (ACs).

This is a well-intended structural change in line with both ancient Indian practices and existing structures in Western countries. This streamlining exercise of building the higher education architecture would surely help in removing confusion in the minds of recruiters and universities world over, as the current system of a fragmented education industry is filled with multiple degree or diploma granting HEIs, such as, standalone institutions, IITs, IIMs, Central Universities, State Universities, Deemed Universities, and so on.

However, the operational road-map is not very clear. This policy has suggested planning in a rationalised and phased out manner to achieve the new institutional architecture for higher education. Universities and IITs are large and multidisciplinary in nature, for them it would be just mapping their focus either in research or teaching. There is no clarity about IIMs which are already established and well performing and come under the IIM Act.

Moreover, this would be a challenging and risky path for all existing HEIs, especially for well-known standalone institutions, offering PG courses in single stream only. Many of them would be forced to become ACs because the other two possibilities are out of the reach.

More room to follow your passion

Secondly, a well thought-out suggestion in this policy is the emphasis on no hard separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, between vocational and academic qualifications, to break the silos between different spheres of learning. This will promote a versatile and holistic learning environment that will help build well-rounded individuals with an open mind.

This will also help nurture creativity and critical thinking among students by motivating them to follow their passion in their field of choice. This would completely change business models of HEIs in the future, revamping their curriculum and delivery methods. Technology will aid this process to make it a seamless shift.

Function of a regulatory body

The policy states that there would be one common regulator — National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) for all HEIs in India. Currently, it is difficult to establish equivalence or difference of various degrees offered in India due to multiple and overlapping regulators, such as, between Bachelor of Engineering (BE) and Bachelor of Technology (B Tech), between Post-Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM) and Master in Business Administration (MBA), between Fellowship Programmes and Doctoral Programmes.

NHERA, by creating various verticals, must cater to different disciplines and simplify degrees or diplomas. Moreover, the single and simple regulatory system would provide autonomy to HEIs, which is essential to innovations in the field of education. Accreditations focusing primarily on financial probity, good governance and public disclosure will be the mechanism to enable a ‘light but tight’ regulatory system. Though, there is a slight fear of centralisation of power, this is a much-needed reform to reduce red-tapism and to promote quality higher education in India.

The policy recommends HEIs to move away from high-stake examinations towards more continuous and comprehensive evaluation system. This along with academic credit transfer facility and multiple entry-exit options to students, will be extremely challenging to implement for HEIs, though they provide students the flexibility to pursue courses of their choice at their own pace.

Are we ready yet?

Lastly, another forward looking measure taken in the NEP 2020 is to promote India as a global destination for quality and affordable education. Policy is to allow high performing Indian universities to set up campuses in other countries and at the same time permitting select universities from top 100 in the world to operate in India. This would bring in healthy competition among Indian HEIs.

To reap benefits of this open and healthy competition, Indian HEIs must have the necessary academic infrastructure and faculty resources. The fact of the matter is that majority of HEIs in India are not ready yet and may even be left out of the competition. Also, top 100 global players may not show interest to set up their campuses in India, given the complexities in regulatory and administrative systems in India. However, some of them may gear up to open their satellite campuses in India, as student registrations has gone down significantly because of the pandemic.

(The writer is Dean, Research and Accreditations, MDI Gurgaon)