19 Aug 2020 19:52 IST

NEP offers a step to globalise Indian higher education

If foreign universities establish a presence, Indian students can avail of cutting-edge curricula and training

The Indian higher education space has been trying to find a voice that echoes on a global stage, and the National Education Policy (NEP) sets the stage to achieve just that. Aiming as it does to deliver globally competitive education across India’s 739 districts on the back of consolidated regulation, greater autonomy and a focus on research and teacher training, the NEP warrants a closer look.

The NEP is a comprehensive 66 page document, based on the much longer draft National Education Policy (dNEP) developed and submitted by the Kasturirangan Committee in May 2019. It intends to uplift education in India at a time when the country is poised to reap a demographic dividend. That is why the hopes and aspirations of millions of children, adolescents and youth are pinned on the instruments, institutions, standards and resources proposed in the NEP.

One of the biggest successes of the NEP is the much-awaited openness towards leading foreign universities establishing a presence in India, which can make the most cutting-edge curricula, teaching and co-curricular training accessible to Indian youth. Given that the world of work has been becoming ‘flatter’ in the digital era, and that the recent pandemic has accelerated this manifold, it is imperative for Indian students to receive a world-class education that enables them – both as a signal and in terms of substance – to aim for the most coveted jobs globally.

Single regulator

This move is aided significantly by an explicit commitment to transforming the regulatory system of the higher education space. A single regulator, the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA), should allow for a more streamlined structure to ensure the delivery of high-quality education. However, the ease resulting from such centralisation should have been extended to funding, accreditation, equivalence assessment and policy re-evaluation too. These processes continue to be governed by distinct organisations such as National Accreditation Authority (NAA), General Education Council (GEC), Higher Education Grants Commission (HEGC), still leaving room for lack of clarity and accountability.

This transition in higher education is likely to be smoothened by the adoption of a credit-based education, which is characteristic of the US, and was adopted by most of Europe before the turn of the millennium. The shift, albeit late, remains a desirable step in the right direction, as it also provides students with multiple exit points and ease of resuming academic pursuit. That said, an undergraduate system that gives students the option to choose between a three-year undergraduate degree, and a four-year American-style liberal arts education is likely to have its own set of challenges. That is why its deeper design must be thought through with care. Additionally, we must be conscious of ensuring that we tweak global models appropriately to suit the nuanced Indian context.

Execution is key

In the same vein, one must take note of the focus of the NEP on building multidisciplinary institutions that mimic the structure of the system of education on offer at Ivy League schools in the US. While the integration of courses is certainly desirable, pre-imposing this condition on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) may limit their growth and even take away from their development into specialised institutions. The NEP is not an implementation plan; hence, it is the authorities concerned with its execution that would have to exercise due caution in order to retain the strengths of the existing higher education set up and ensure that the intent of the NEP is not diluted.

If brought into play in an enabling structure which is duly adapted to the Indian context, leading global institutions, which are already looking for greener pastures for the New Normal to come, will significantly accelerate the process of building HEIs of international standards here.

Aside from potentially perpetuating the provision of globally competitive education in India, by Indian HEIs, in the long run, this will also solve the pressing problem of high-quality human capital (read: skilled labour) in the near term. However, any policy is only as good as its implementation; therefore, it is imperative that all stakeholders stay alert in the coming months to ensure that the government delivers on this ‘if’ statement.

(Chiraag Mehta is Associate Director, ISBF and Navni Kothari is Assistant Professor, ISBF)