The New Education Policy, which is aligned with the UN’s SDG-4, intends to bring systematic reform in the education sector. It proposes revision and revamping of all aspects of the education structure, including its regulation and governance. The policy forges a new system that is on par with the objectives of 21st-century education.
All higher education institutions (HEIs) now have to be restructured into three categories:
(i) Research universities focusing equally on research and teaching
(ii) Teaching universities focusing primarily on teaching
(ii) Degree granting colleges primarily focused on undergraduate teaching
All above institutions will gradually move towards full autonomy – academic, administrative and financial. Affiliation of colleges will be phased out and Graded Autonomy will be given to colleges on the basis of the status of their accreditation.
With multiple exit options, students can take sabbaticals and join the programme again after some time. A certificate will be awarded after completing 1 year in a discipline, an advanced diploma after 2 years, and a Bachelor’s degree after a 3-year programme. A 4-year multidisciplinary Bachelor’s programme will be the preferred choice for students as they will be awarded a degree with research if they complete a project alongside their degree. Even in technical institutions after 3 years, BSc Engineering can be awarded. Parents, teachers and students welcome this flexible approach and skillful learning.
Thus, the administration has to classify existing institutions into three categories and the institutions have be equipped and expanded accordingly. Even the leadership for such institutions needs to be reshuffled and restructured.
(b) Multidisciplinary education
In Phase One, a few Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) should be made multidisciplinary to integrate humanities and arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Setting up of Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), at par with IITs, as model of best multidisciplinary education is a challenge.
IITs/NITs are on path towards more holistic and multidisciplinary education as they are strengthening arts and humanities faculties. The multidisciplinary education would prepare students for multi-functional jobs and should make them less dependent on Govt-sector jobs. It will equip students with key skills besides creating holistic and well-rounded individuals. A university will mean a multidisciplinary institution that offers undergraduate and graduate programmes, with high-quality teaching, research, and community engagement. I believe a few universities in J&K can be converted into multidisciplinary universities. I have earlier written on how NIT Srinagar steadily turned into a model multidisciplinary institution, though it took a decade.
The NEP?aims to set up at least one large multidisciplinary institution in or near every district, and so should be our endeavour. These multidisciplinary institutions will bridge the gap between the current state of learning outcomes and what is required in this century by undertaking major reforms that bring the highest quality and equity.
(c) College Admission Entrance Exams
A common aptitude test, as well as specialised common subject exams in the sciences, humanities, languages, arts, and vocational subjects, will be held at least twice every year. The common exam shall test conceptual understanding and the ability to apply knowledge and shall aim to eliminate the need for taking coaching for these exams.
The National Testing Agency (NTA) will conduct a common entrance examination (CEE) for admissions to universities across the country. The high quality, range, and flexibility of the NTA testing services will enable most universities to use these common entrance exams – rather than having hundreds of universities each devising their own entrance exams – thereby drastically reducing the burden on students, universities and colleges, and the entire education system.
Thus we need to make/ train our students for conceptual understanding. We teachers have to change the modes and methods of teaching, to say goodbye to rote learning.
(d) National Repository of Education Data
The Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) shall digitally store academic credits to facilitate Transfer of Credits. An Academic Bank of Credit shall be established which would digitally store the academic credits earned by student from various recognized HEIs so that the degrees from an HEI can be awarded taking into account credits earned and these can be transferred and counted towards final degree earned.
So, all institutions have to establish an ABC unit which shall probably be interconnected like ATMs. This will have benefits to students beyond imagination.
(e) Foreign universities
High-performing Indian universities will be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries. Similarly, selected top global universities will be permitted to operate in India. A legislative framework facilitating such entry will be put in place. Such universities will be given exemptions from regulatory and governance norms on par with autonomous institutions in the country. I visited BITS Dubai campus, a well established institution of higher education, which is flourishing in that country.
NIT Srinagar a few years back attempted to establish a campus in Dubai but failed miserably. Now with this policy, NIT and other established universities can make it possible. Technology has to play a major role in academics and administration alike.
(f) Technology in education
The National Education Technology Forum (NETF) will be set up to facilitate decision making on induction, deployment and use of technology. This forum will provide evidence-based advice to central and state-governments on technology-based interventions.
Technology-based education platforms, such as SWAYAM, will be better integrated across school and higher education and will include ratings/ reviews by users, so as to enable content developers create user friendly and qualitative content. Benefits of online/ digital education cannot be leveraged unless the digital divide is eliminated through concerted efforts and the availability of affordable computing devices.
There is a need to invest in creation of open, interoperable, evolvable, public digital infrastructure in the education sector that can be used by multiple platforms.
(g) Establishment of Higher Education Council of India (HECI)
The Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will be set up as a single umbrella body for the entire higher education, excluding medical and legal education. Public and private higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards. Also, HECI will be having four independent verticals, namely:
i. National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) for regulation
ii. General Education Council (GEC) for standard setting
iii. Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) for funding
iv. National Accreditation Council (NAC) for accreditation
These reforms look holistic, flexible and able to promote multi-disciplinary education with an increased focus on basic skills, to make the life of students more comfortable and to attract foreign education players to the country.
Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education is to be raised to 50%. The current Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education is 26.3%.
3.5 crore seats to be added in higher education. This is a big challenge.
National Research Foundation will be created as an apex body for fostering a strong research culture and building research capacity across higher education.
A National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF) will be formulated by the GEC and it shall be in sync with the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) to ease the integration of vocational education into higher education.
National skills qualifications framework for each discipline vocation and profession. The NEP aims to ensure that at least 50% of learners in school and higher education should be exposed to vocational education. This has to be taken up on priority.
HECI will replace the existing National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC), providing a single window system across the nation.
According to the New Education Policy, students have to be trained in analytical and critical thinking. The emphasis on concepts, ideas, innovations, research applications and problem-solving can make learning holistic, enjoyable and engaging. The students have to be given open or free hand to decide about their life, education, career, and not put under pressure for good marks. More so, science education is a must and it should teach students the scientific method to differentiate between good science and pseudo-science.
The new norms will reduce regulatory hassles, promote autonomy, and benefit both students and education providers. Granting autonomy, constituting Board of Governors (BOGs) of institutions/ universities is a blessing but should be used for good purposes. This is possible if the Hon’ble Members of the Board are visionary, competent, committed and, above all, daring like Prof KL Chopra, two- time Director of IIT Kharagpur, of whom I am an admirer and a disciple after reading a book on him, “The Battle Field”. Or like my mentor, Prof CNR Rao, institution builder and soldier of knowledge.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, colleges and universities must develop resilient teaching models that facilitate learning experiences designed to be adaptable to fluctuating conditions and disruptions across all learning modalities in-person/ online.
—The writer teaches at Special Center for Nanosciences, Department of Physics, National Institute of Technology Srinagar. [email protected]/9419018195