The National Education Policy 2020 has tried to balance equity and excellence in the country’s higher education sector
Higher Education (HE) is elitist by nature and it is also not free. So, only the best and those who can bag a scholarship or pay are able to pursue it. The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) has tried to balance equity and excellence. As of 2018, the participation of learners was 26.3 per cent which the NEP intends to increase to 50 per cent by 2030. The policy has presented an elaborate road map which reflects the determination of the Government to attain this goal. One of the major strengths of the NEP is that it is acceptable to all, the supporters of the Government and the Opposition, alike. The most salient feature of the NEP is its emphasis on research, leading to knowledge creation in all disciplines. Sadly, in our universities, research was ignored in the name of serving the large number of degree-seekers at the undergraduate level. The policy promotes research without losing sight of the teaching component. It proposes to establish a National Research Foundation (NRF) that will promote diligent individuals and institutions in research and weed out those who squander research funds. The policy has drawn a very clear roadmap for teaching colleges and research universities which will in the long run push all into becoming teaching-cum-research institutions.
The NEP seeks to restructure higher education and wants the existing three year undergraduate programme to be replaced by a four-year degree one. The last year shall be a substitute for the existing Master’s programme. Graduates can go for either doctoral studies or teaching after the four-year degree course. This was done as there was a feeling that the existing Master’s degree programme did not have much relevance. Also, a similar structure exists in a large number of developed countries and premier institutions. So why is the four-year degree necessary? In education, every dropout who leaves the system without acquiring a certificate, diploma or a degree is known as “wastage.” To minimise this “wastage”, the NEP has made the provision of awarding a certificate to those who wish to exit after one year, a diploma to those who leave after two years and a degree to those who complete four years of studies. This will minimise wastage as those with a certificate or a diploma can be considered for a job. Students who want to pursue doctoral studies can do so straightaway after the course as the need for a Master in Philosophy has been done away with.
The NEP is apparently conscious of the pathetic state of teacher education colleges, which are approximately 16,000 in number. Higher education institutions (HEIs), which offer only a single programme and have fewer than 100 students, will be merged with multi-disciplinary institutions. The policy also suggests that the existing National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) be merged with the University Grants Commission (UGC). Though the importance of teacher education has been emphasised by all commissions since Independence and before, the establishment of NCTE (in 1993) has not been able to fulfil expectations. Hence, its merger with the UGC is a welcome move. A remarkable proposal of the policy is to see school education and higher education in continuum. It has taken cognisance of the role the latter must play in the development of school education and how both must function in synergy. It says “faculty development for the higher education system and support to school education” will be emphasised.
The NEP, through various proposals, has induced competition and promotion through peer review. It has suggested visible, transparent outcomes through rigorous processes. Attaining excellence through competition can be the only mantra for education, which this policy has clearly reflected. Globally, reward and punishment for good and poor research have been the norm but our research funding has not been linked with good output. The NEP clearly reflects its intention to induce rigour in research and promote good researchers and institutions. It proposes to “recognise outstanding research and progress achieved via NRF funding/mentoring across subjects, through prizes and special seminars recognising the work of the researchers.” Institutions and academics cannot attain excellence in isolation. By putting our institutions and academics in competition within the nation or abroad, we would tend to gain. With this in view, the NEP has advocated inviting foreign institutions to set up campuses in India. Some have criticised this recommendation but they are unaware of the fact that India is signatory to the General Agreement on Trade and Services and we have no option but to open our education sector to foreign agencies and nations.
Many new bodies are proposed like the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority, General Education Council, Higher Education Grants Commission and so on, with the clear intention of decentralised but coordinated decision-making. Universities excel only when they have autonomy and able leadership. A major drawback of our universities has been poor leadership. We will have to rethink the role of the Government and these bodies in institutions to help them function autonomously and also identify academic leaders to run them.
(The writer is a professor of education, IGNOU)