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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 18, New Delhi, April 17, 2021

New Education Policy 2020: Recent Developments and Implementational Challenges | P S Jayaramu

Friday 16 April 2021

by P.S. Jayaramu

The Central Government came up with the New Education Policy ( popularly known as NEP 2020) towards the end of July last year. The Policy is being widely discussed since then, some heralding it as a paradigm shift in our education policy while many are pointing to its inadequacies. My purpose here is to analyse the recent decisions taken by the Central Government for implementing the NEP as well as present some of the challenges in implementating it.

At the outset it needs to emphasised that since education is in the Concurrent List of the Constitution, the Union Government should have given some representations to the States, specially the Opposition ruled States, to put forward their points of view on school and higher education and accommodated them in the Policy Document as that would have not only met the requirements of having honoured the federal principle, but eliminated the scope for criticisms from States. Tamil Nadu, which is opposed to the three language formula for a long time has stated that until the issue is sorted out to its satisfaction, it will not implement the NEP. West Bengal Government appointed an expert Committee and based on its recommendation has decided to reject the NEP. Some Congress ruled States have also expressed their opposition to several aspects of the Policy Document. Thus, if non BJP ruled States drag their feet, that will run counter to the Central Government’s objective of implementing the NEP throughout the country without disruptions.

The NEP 2020 covers diverse aspects of education from Pre-school to higher education, the institutional structures regarding governance, regulatory mechanisms and finally the manner in which research funding would henceforth be done through a single agency.
Let me first refer to the NEP’s focus on Anganwadi schools where children would be initiated to learning. The Niti Ayog has come up with a plan for the introduction of a four hours play-based time table in Anganwadis, pairing them with the nearby primary schools, focusing on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy. This is indeed a laudable idea to help overcome the possible p limitations associated with the Anganawadi schools.
The Union Education Minister recently chaired a high level meeting and came up with some suggestions for implementing the plan for school education, titled as SARTHAQ. He announced that SARTHAQ would benefit all stakeholders, including 25 crore students, 15 lakh schools and about 94 lakh teachers.

The Union Minister said ‘SARTHAQ will pave the way for children to meet the national and global challenges’, affirming that it ‘will help them to imbibe skills along with India’s tradition, culture and value systems’ outlined in the NEP Document. Hopefully, the reference to culture and value system would not reflect the ones guiding the Party in power!

To ward off criticisms from the States, the minister said the plan keeps in mind the concurrent nature of education and adheres to the spirit of federalism and that States and Union Territories would be allowed flexibility to adopt plans as per their needs and requirements. The federal spirit would have been rightly served if the representatives of the States, specially the non BJP ruled States, were accommodated in the Committee and their views taken into account while drafting the NEP 2020. The major focus of the SARTHAQ plan, said the minister, ‘is to define activities in such a manner which will clearly delineate goals, outcomes and timeframe. He said it links recommendations of NEP with Tasks, along with responsible agencies, Timelines and the Output. The minister also affirmed that ‘an attempt has been made to propose activities in such a manner that it will be built upon the existing structures rather than creating new structures and that the SARTHAQ plan takes care of the spirit and intent of the Policy and is planned to be implemented in a phased manner’. ( The Economic Times, 9th April, 2021) The point that needs to be emphasised is that the tasks, outputs and timelines, the minister referred to some 297 tasks and 304 outputs, should have been identified and drafted by suitably involving the States and their educational structures/ framework .Hopefully it will not be a top down approach as the courses offered will have to cater to the regional requirements too.. Additionally, the medium of instruction at the regional level would to be a mix of the mother tongue and English to satisfy the requirements of the students. As for the emphasis on outcomes, though it is desirable, it should not be at the cost of instilling curiosity and creativity in the minds of the learners. At a practical level, it remains to be seen how the ‘tasks and outcomes’ will be accommodated by our public and private educational institutions, including the public international schools.

Higher Education:

As regards higher education, as is well known, one of the key elements of the NEP is to introduce the four years Undergraduate Courses with option for a Diploma if a student wants to terminate his/her education after the end of one year, a degree at the end of three years and degree with research if the student completes four years with a research project with multiple entry and exit options. The Exit, entry and re-entry option, is a pattern followed in many western countries where students finance their education themselveIs. The same may not be preferred by our students or their parents who want their wards to complete their education without any interruption. Be that as it may, the four years courses, to be successful, requires optimum upgradation of infrastructural facilities like laboratories and equally importantly research trained faculty, which is something many of our public HEIs are lacking in. Also, the College faculty need to be sufficiently trained to teach outcome based courses, for which they are not oriented as of now.

Those students who opt for PG courses after the four years degree programme will do it for one year and for those who enter it after the three years degree stream, it will be for two years as is presently in vogue. The flexibility thus introduced by the NEP is a welcome idea. But it must be added that the PG programmes, irrespective of their duration, should have the right blend of theoretical knowledge and skills to make students employable. To ensure its success, greater interaction among all categories of HEIsi is essential.

 Academic collaboration with Foreign Universities:

The UGC appointed Committee has come up with Regulations to promote academic collaboration between Indian and Foreign HEIs to offer joint degrees, Dual Degrees and Twinning Programmes. The Draft Regulation prepared by the Committee has been wetted by academicians, including this author, to work out the eligibility and procedures for offering joint degree programmes. To operationalise the scheme, the UGC has suggested a list of institutions for collaboration based on studies about quality and relevance of the programmes/courses offered by foreign HEIs. However, it is advisable to hasten slowly without giving the impression that the Indian HEIs are going overboard to have tie ups with foreign HEIs. The same should be applicable for Twinning Programmes too. Here again, Inter-institutional networking, setting aside their petty egos and self interests, are imperative for the success of the novel schemes envisaged in the NEP.

Academic Bank of Credit:

As is well known, establishment of an Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) is one of the innovations envisaged by the NEP to promote the starting of inter-institional collaboration to help students take Courses across instistitution to help them acquire knowledge beyond institutions where they have sought admission, a practice prevalent in the US and European universities. In this regard, the UGC has come up with Draft Regulations for which also feedbacks from selected group of stakeholders have been obtained. The Draft Regulations, which will be applicable to HEIs including Autonomous Colleges are fairly well drafted. However, one of the things which should be explicitly stated is that Credit transfer facilities would be made available to students of Public HEIs taking Courses in Private HEIs and vice versa within the country also. Additionally, while enabling the integration of multiple disciplines for purposes of academic mobility, the fees to be charged to the students for use of ABC facilities should be nominal, (or if possible free), as it is mentioned in the Draft Regulations that the ABC will be set up on the lines of commercial banks.

Governance of Public HEIs:

The NEP has come up with its own set of recommendations for the governance of Government established HEIs. In this regard my suggestions relate to the appointment of Vice Chancellors and members of the Board of Management/Governance, which is often mired in controversies. There is political interference with considerations of caste and reportedly money involved in such appointments. In recent times, an aspirant for the post of a VC in Karnataka committed suicide as he had incurred heavy financial losses to get the position and failed in realising his ‘ambition’. Another Professor who bribed a middleman unsuccessfully to get a similar post lodged a police complaint against the middleman and has been suspended from service for taking to corrupt practice to get the coveted position.( The Hindu, 7th April, 2021). There is also a Court case about a person appointed as VC of a university in Karnataka, not on the recommendation of the Search Committee, but on the recommendation of the Chief Minister! The New Indian Express, 9th April, 2021). There must be such cases of irregular and improper appointment of Vice Chancellors in other States too.

My own long held view in this regard is for a Collegium to appoint VCs by inviting applications, grading them for their academic contributions, research, fund raising capacity and leadership. The candidates be graded against these criteria as well as for their performance in the interactive meeting before the Collegium/Search Committees. Whoever gets the highest marks be appointed from a panel drawn up for the purpose. Likewise, the system of Government and Chancellor’s nominees in Syndicates/BOG should be dispensed with and people with proven academic record, reputed public intellectuals, Alumnis, industry representatives and eminent philantrophiers be inducted in to the the BOM. The objective is to ensure high standards in the governance of HEIs devoid of political and governmental interference. ( For details see, P. S. Jayaramu, Structural reforms for NEP 2020, 25th December, 2020, P. S. Jayaramu, Appointment of Vice Chancellors: Let a Collegium do it, Deccan Herald, 1st, January, 2019). NEP’s recommendations should be used to clean the system!

Budgetary requirements:

If the NEP 2020 is to be implemented, it requires truly enhanced budgetary allocation on education by raising the Government spending to 6 percent of the GDP, which has been talked about since 1968. In reality, the Government however has been spending between 3 to 3.4 percent of the GDP on education. The Covid 19 pandemic, together with the economic crisis, has come in the way of higher allocations being made for the education sector, as required by the NEP. The allocation in the Union Budget 2021-22 for education is ₹93,224 crores, out of which ₹54,874 crores is earmarked for school education, which is lower than the revised allocation for 2020-21. Schools and colleges are facing huge infrastructural problems along with a serious shortage of teachers. Recruitment of teachers needs to be done on a priority basis. But in reality, governments, Central and State, are unable to recruit faculty due to financial constraints. Faculty recruitment and periodic training are sine qua non for implementing the intent of NEP 2020. Additionally, the imbalance between public and private HEIs in terms of faculty competence and capabilities also needs to be bridged.

As regards the entry of foreign universities, opposition for the sake opposition needs to be avoided. However, as and when foreign universities star functioning in a big way in India, there should be appropriate regulatory mechanisms in place to ensure compliance by them specially in terms of the fees to be charged by them to ensure access, equity and excellence in higher education.

Regulatory Structures:

As regards the management of higher education, the NEP talks of transforming the regulatory system of higher education, describing the existing system too heavy handed for decades affecting accountability. The NEP has envisaged the creation of one umbrella institution, called the Higher Education Commission of India( HECI) and under that three vertical structures, the National Higher Education Council Regulatory Council (NHERC), as the single point regulator for the entire educational sector, excluding the medical and legal education, the National Accreditation Council (NAC) which will address questions relating to accreditation of HEIs largely through the present National Assessment and Accreditation Council, though private and semi-private accreditation bodies are likely to be brought in and finally the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC). The fourth body, the General Education Council(GEC), will frame learning outcomes for higher educational programmes, also referred to as graduate attributes. A National Higher Education Qualifications Framework (NHEQF) will be formulated by the GEC which will function in sync with the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) to facilitate the integration of vocational education with general higher education. Thus, a plethora of vertical bodies will be created. The goals enshrined in the NEP document require necessary legislations to be passed urgently, but we should also be aware of the fact that the existing structures, like the UGC and the AICTE, which have developed vested interests,( including bureaucratic) may not allow the changes to be brought in easily. Irrespective of whether the goals enshrined in the NEP in this regard will be optimally achieved or not, realistically speaking, it is likely to provide opportunities for a large number of experts and bureaucrats, serving and retired, to be accommodated in these bodies. The fear is that the new verticles, may lead to possible conflicts among those who man these structures.

National Research Foundation:

One of the key features of the NEP 2020 is the provision for the creation of a National Research Foundation ( NRF) to fund, coordinate and promote research. The objective of the NRF is to enhance the research eco-system in selected thrust areas without duplication of research and finances. In the Union Budget 2021-22, the Finance Minister announced an allocation of ₹50000 crores over five years to the NRF to be disbursed for research activities. However, going by the reports about the proceedings of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, the NRF would be funded from the budgets of existing bodies like the DST and DBT. Moreover, the NRF, is going to be reportedly managed by the Ministry of Education, which is not desirable. (Dinesh Sharma, Scientific research needs focused funding, The Tribune, 12th March, 2021.) The annual grant of ₹10000 mentioned in the Budget 2021-22, will in reality be distributed across Science and Social Scinces, with a lion’s share of it going for Science research. There are reports that even in funding science research, priority would be on areas relating to health, like research on vaccine development in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic. In this kind of a milieu, Social Science research is likely to be plagued by paucity of funds.

A couple of final points.

1) NEP 2020 is a path breaking document accomodating many innovative ideas designed to take the country forward in the knowledge driven 21st century.

2) The implementation of the NEP will depend on how well the different stakeholders are going to play their role.

3) Disruptions will be there in the implementation of the Policy, as the Chairman of the Drafting Committee Dr. Kasturirangan has said. How such disruptions would affect the time lines in the implementation of the Policy and how would they be overcome are going to be keenly watched by the academia.

4) The real test of NEP 2020 would lie in how well it paves the way for just and inclusive education at all levels, particularly for the disadvantaged sections of the society, keeping in mind the physical, digital and intellectual divide prevailing in India’s educational eco-system.

5) An associated issue is the need for public and the private players working in sync for the larger educational good of the Country.

(Author: Prof. P. S Jayaramu is former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.)

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