How NEP 2020 can transform higher education in India

The fundamental principle of this policy is to provide level playing field to students from different social backgrounds.

Vishal Singh Bhadauriya

The National Education Policy 2020 is a milestone in educational reforms in the history of India. The fundamental principle of this policy is to provide level playing field to students from different social backgrounds. In the sphere of higher education, this policy proposes availability of choice to students at all stages and encourages multidisciplinary approach. For example, a science student interested in history and heritage will have access to the subject of his choice. Application of his/her scientific knowledge and temperament can lead to making of a great museologist or even a capable archaeologist.

The choice based credit system (CBCS) and freedom from rote learning would go a long way in the selection of right careers for student at the right time. This new education policy seems promising to counter rising unemployment in the country. Students from different streams may now work together and hence attain super specialized knowledge. In this age of rapid transformation, a country like India needs to be more techno-friendly, economic-friendly with social norms and regulation for achieving the goal of being a scientific rationalized society.

Higher education has the onus to transform India into a knowledge society and at the same time into a knowledge economy. The Indian education system suffers from lack of cognitive skills and learning outcomes. One of the major drawbacks of the present higher education system in India is that, we are not a research-oriented society due to insufficient research infrastructure in our universities and prime institutions.

India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru believed that IITs could become the temples of modern India and provide research and innovation in science and infrastructure. Today, IIT’s have become mere production units of engineers instead of scientists. NEP 2020 aims to generate interest among students in the specialized area of research. A big boost to research and developmental studies would contribute to new discoveries and acknowledge the importance of invention and scientific outcome.

The new policy outlines liberty to choose different subjects and to make an exit after getting a certificate, diploma or full degree, depending on the number of years invested. This is revolutionary in the Indian context and the learner will enjoy the freedom to undertake education as per convenience. The compulsion of completing a degree course within three years has often put avoidable psychological, economic, and mental pressure on the students.

There is huge gap of knowledge and skills in rural, semi-urban, and urban-based university system. Many poor students are compelled to take admission in ill-equipped institutions and colleges that lack infrastructure and faculty. A large number of students are passing out are, therefore, unskilled and unemployable.

The NEP aims to increase the gross enrollment ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035. It envisages broad-based, multi-disciplinary, and holistic under-graduation with flexible curriculum, creative combination of subjects and integration of vocational courses.

With the promotion of multi-discipline and research, higher education institutions and vocational education institutions will grow into a holistic organization, providing learning opportunities in diverse fields through various elective courses. This will break the boundaries of reading in so-called old streams i.e. fixed subjects. It is an essential step to promote practical education and explore inter-discipline and other areas to apply what you read. The most important element in this is autonomy which will give educational institutions a chance to become truly world class. IIMs and IITs, for example, are allowed to undertake relevant programs globally, define degrees and diplomas, and pursue independent research. These are the steps that are required to make higher education effective.

Establishment of National Research Foundation, and introduction of degree courses to establish research facilities in all higher education institutions that can provide research experience can prove to be steps that encourage research and innovation. Employment in the future will demand skills that are different from the present. Therefore, multi-discipline education, internships and vocational training can help narrow the skills gap in industry-education. The establishment of the National Educational Technology Forum can promote efforts to leverage technology in improving various aspects of education. Establishment of campuses and formation of bodies in India by top foreign universities that will focus on learning and hence can also have a positive impact on quality enhancement efforts.

The new policy can be appreciated for its vision, but it is not easy to turn it into reality. Functional obstacles may come in the way of its implementation, which will have to be addressed. The policy mentions the initiative of teacher training, but still this area has not been given due attention. This policy requires teachers who can formulate a clear plan to achieve its goal. Although the method of assessment in schools has been improved, the evaluation for admission to undergraduate courses still depends on competitive examinations, which only test the concepts, skills for the course or interest of the student. Although this policy allows learning in regional languages at school, it may further widen the gap between English and non-English learners and decrease employment opportunities for non-English students. It needs to be thoroughly investigated and then suitable steps need to be taken.

The key aspect of this policy is the restructuring of institutional architecture. This would categorise institutions into three parts: research-intensive university, teaching university, degree-granting colleges. Now this will separate research from initial task of teaching. This makes NEP multi-dimensional and practical.

(Author is an Intern with Academics4Nation. He is a research scholar at Benaras Hindu University.)

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