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PART – II: National Education Policy 2020 – Reforms in Indian Higher Education System

Focused on minimising rote learning and introducing reforms in the Indian education system to ensure all round development of students, the long-awaited National Education Policy 2020 (“NEP 2020”) has been announced by the Union Cabinet on July 29, 2020. In continuation of our earlier newsletter of July 31, 2020 available at https://www.mondaq.com/article/972902, we discuss under this update, the reforms introduced in the Indian higher education system under the NEP 2020.

Reforms Introduced in the Higher Education System:

While early childhood to semi-adult stage, K-12 segment is the founding pillar of holistic child development, higher education system equips a student for a professional life. With the increasing need for creative, multidisciplinary, and highly skilled workforce for employment, Indian higher education system needs to be re-adjusted and revamped to meet the emerging requirements. Some of the key reforms introduced vide NEP 2020 in the Indian higher education system include:

1.     Quality Universities and Colleges: Recognizing the problems which are currently prevailing in the higher education system in India, which inter alia include poor employability of educated workforce, severely fragmented higher educational ecosystem, poor learning outcome and development of cognitive skills of students, rigid separation of disciplines with too much early specialisation and streaming of students into narrow areas, NEP 2020 intends to completely overhaul and re-energize the higher education system in India. NEP 2020 envisions to introduce certain key changes to the higher education system, which inter alia include:

  1. moving towards a higher educational system consisting of large, multi-disciplinary universities and colleges, with at least one in or near every district;
  2. moving towards a more multidisciplinary undergraduate education;
  3. moving towards faculty and institutional autonomy;
  4. re-vamping curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and student support for enhanced student experiences;
  5. establishment of a National Research Foundation to fund outstanding peer-reviewed research and to actively seed research in universities and colleges;
  6. governance of higher education institutions by highly qualified independent boards having academic and administrative autonomy; and
  7. increased access, equity, and inclusion through a range of measures, including open schooling, online education and Open Distance Learning, keeping in view the needs of learners with disabilities and substantial increases in scholarships at private/philanthropic universities for disadvantaged and underprivileged students.

2.     Institutional Restructuring and Consolidation: NEP 2020 intends to end the fragmentation of higher education by transforming higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary universities and colleges, each of which will aim to have 3,000 or more students. The idea is to build vibrant communities of scholars and peers, break down harmful silos, enable students to become well-rounded across disciplines (including artistic, creative and analytic subjects as well as sports), develop active research communities across disciplines (including cross-disciplinary approach) and increase resource efficiency, both material and human across higher education.

The higher education system is thus proposed to have multidisciplinary institutions of higher learning that offer undergraduate and graduate programmes, with high quality teaching, research, and community engagement. All higher education institutions will move towards becoming large multidisciplinary institutions with programmes across disciplines and fields, offered either in their institutions or through higher education institutions clusters. The vision is to have all higher education institutions (existing as well as new) to evolve into research-intensive universities, teaching universities and autonomous degree granting colleges. In addition to teaching and research, all higher education institutions shall also have other crucial responsibilities which they will discharge through appropriate resourcing and structures. These include supporting other higher education institutes in their development, community engagement and service, contribution to various fields of practice, faculty development for the higher education system and support to school education system.

3.     Shift Towards Holistic Education with less Rote Learning: NEP 2020 advocates for promotion of holistic arts education to ensure well rounded development of students. It is thus proposed that multidisciplinary universities and colleges will facilitate the move towards high-quality arts education with flexibility in curriculum and engaging course options being developed and offered to the students. Pedagogy for these courses will strive for significantly less rote learning and an increased emphasis on communication, discussion, debate, research, and opportunities for cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking. Departments in Languages, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Indology, Art, Dance, Theatre, Education, Mathematics, Statistics, Pure and Applied Sciences, Sociology, Economics, Sports and other such subjects needed for a multidisciplinary, stimulating Indian education and environment will be established and strengthened at higher education institutions across the country. Furthermore, to ensure that students actively engage with the practical side of their learning and improve their employability options, as part of holistic education, students will also be provided with opportunities for internships with local industry, businesses, artists, crafts persons, villages and local communities, etc., as well as research internships with faculty and researchers at their own or other higher education institutions or research-institutions.

4.     Internationalisation: NEP 2020 focuses on promoting India as a global study destination providing premium education at affordable costs. It is thus intended that high performing Indian universities will be encouraged to set up campuses in other countries and similarly select universities will be permitted to operate in India. A legislative framework shall be formulated and introduced facilitating the entry of foreign universities in India, and such universities will be given special dispensation regarding regulatory, governance and content norms on par with other autonomous institutions within India. Additionally, research collaboration and students exchange programmes between the Indian institutions and global institutions will be promoted and the credits acquired in foreign universities will also be permitted to be counted for award of degree.

5.     Teacher Education: Recognizing the importance of creating a team of teachers that will shape the next generation, NEP 2020 lays equal emphasis on revamping teacher education as well. To reach the levels of integrity and credibility required to restore the prestige of teaching profession, the regulatory system is empowered to phase out substandard and dysfunctional teacher education institutions that do not meet basic educational criteria. The teacher education needs to be conducted within composite multidisciplinary institutions having departments of psychology, philosophy, sociology, neuroscience, Indian languages, arts, history, and literature as well as various other specialised subjects such as science, mathematics, etc.

Furthermore, by 2030, the 4-year integrated B. Ed offered by multi-disciplinary higher education institutions is proposed to be made as the minimal degree qualification for school teachers. The said 4-year integrated B. Ed. will be a dual major holistic Bachelor’s degree, in education as well as a specialized subject (such as a language, history, music, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, economics, etc.). For the purposes of maintaining uniform acceptable standards of education, the admission to pre-service teacher programmes shall be through a single nation-wide entrance examination to be conducted by the National Testing Agency, which test may contain both subject and aptitude tests.

6.     Professional Education: NEP 2020 envisages that professional education will become an integral part of the overall higher education and thus it must also significantly involve critical and interdisciplinary thinking and research. Thus, the practice of setting up stand-alone technical universities, health science universities, legal and agricultural universities or institutions in these fields shall be discouraged and all existing stand-alone professional education institutions will have to become multi-disciplinary institutions by 2030, either by opening new departments or by operating in clusters. The professional education standards, viz. technical, health and legal education are also proposed to be restructured to ensure that the education standards are globally competitive and adapt to the challenges evolving with time.

7.     Promoting High Quality Research: Recognizing the importance of knowledge creation and research in growing and sustaining a large and vibrant economy and uplifting the society, NEP 2020 focuses on a comprehensive approach for transforming the quality and quantity of research in India. Thus, to focus on research and promote research culture in all higher education institutions in an interrelated and coordinated fashion, NEP 2020 provides for setting up of a National Research Foundation (NRF) which would bring a quantum jump in funding and support for research. The overarching goal of NRF shall be to enable a culture of research to permeate through universities and higher education institutions across India. In this regard, NRF shall inter alia provide a reliable base of merit-based peer-reviewed research funding, helping to develop a culture of research in the country through suitable incentives for and recognition of outstanding research. NRF shall also competitively fund research in all disciplines across the academic landscape viz. science, technology, social sciences, arts, and humanities.

8.     Transforming Regulatory System of Higher Education: Presently, the mechanistic and disempowering nature of the regulatory system has been rife with very basic problems, such as heavy concentrations of power within a few bodies, conflicts of interest among these bodies and a resulting lack of accountability. Furthermore, India also has some of the toughest requirements in the world for setting up higher education institutions, which requirements are largely input-centric, focusing on land and space norms, endowment funds and their sources, etc.

To address the currently prevailing issues in the higher education system within India, NEP 2020 mandates for setting-up of a common regulatory regime for the entire educations sector, eliminating duplication and disjunction of regulatory efforts. A single regulator, the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) will be set up to regulate in a ‘light but tight’ and facilitative manner. Few importance matters viz. financial probity, good governance and full online and offline public disclosure of all finances, procedures, faculty/staff, courses, educational outcomes will be very effectively regulated.

Separately, a new General Education Council (GEC) shall also be set up to frame expected learning outcomes for higher education programmes, also referred to a ‘graduate attributes’. 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.

Higher Education Grants Commission (HEGC) will be created which will take care of funding and financing of higher education based on transparent criteria including the IDPs prepared by the institutions and the progress made in the implementation of the IDPs. HEGC will be entrusted with disbursement of scholarships and on developmental funds for starting new focus areas and expanding quality programme offerings in HEIs across disciplines and fields.

In terms of NEP 2020, the fundamental design principles of an effective regulatory system will thus be:

  1. a clear separation of functions to enable adequate focus on each essential role while eliminating conflicts of interest;
  2. a single, empowered, responsive, but minimalistic regulatory authority to ensure basic regulatory requirements, such as financial probity and full public disclosure of finances, procedures, course and programme offerings, and educational outcomes, while otherwise empowering institutions to make their own decisions for the pursuit of excellence;
  3. accreditation through the establishment of independent high-quality accrediting bodies, overseen by a meta-accreditor, as the basis of regulation; and
  4. each body in the regulatory system run by Independent Boards consisting of persons having high expertise in the relevant areas along with integrity, commitment, and a demonstrated track record of public service.

Comments and Observations:

Reforms in the Indian higher education system were also long overdue, and NEP 2020 marks a significant shift in the long-standing and established rote and herd learning education practice followed in India. The main focus of NEP 2020 is not only on improving the quality of education, but NEP 2020 also focuses on formulating an effective regulatory regime for higher education institutions across India.

With an aim of improving the operative environment for higher education institutions across India, NEP 2020 clearly prescribes the intent of the government to curb commercialization of higher education in India. NEP 2020 clearly prescribes that all educational institutions will be audited as per standards of audit for section 8 company (not-for-profit company) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India may also refine the norms for educational institutions, including for ensuring that related party transactions, services or charges by any other names are not used to profit from the institution by the promoters/sponsor/management. Any surpluses will compulsorily need to be reinvested within the institution. These standards are possibility being introduced to curb the rampant profiteering engaged by educational institutions by adopting related party services arrangements and structures.

One of the long-standing demands of the industry has been to allow entry of foreign universities in India. Draft rules and entry of foreign university bills have been previously proposed but the legislation for entry of foreign university did not see the light of the day. The earlier bill had received lukewarm responses from foreign universities owing to its stringent capitalisation and mandatory reserve fund norms, which was further compounded by the ‘not for profit’ structures. NEP, 2020 has acknowledged the need to allow entry of foreign universities in India and has proposed formulation of a legislative framework, with the suggestion to give such universities special dispensation regarding regulatory and  governance norms on par with other autonomous institutions within India. Only time will tell if the Government is able to bring out a legislation which balances the interest of students and the concerns of foreign universities.

Furthermore, to promote India as a global destination for higher education, NEP 2020 encourages the use and integration of technology to improve multiple aspects of education, provided the interventions are rigorously and transparently evaluated in relevant contexts before they are scaled up. An autonomous body, the National Educational Alliance for Technology is also proposed to be created to provide a platform for use of technology to enhance learning, assessment, planning, administration, etc.

Thus, while the introduction of NEP 2020 and the proposed reforms in the regulatory regime for higher education institutions is a positive step for revamping and streamlining the higher education segment within India, the actual results and changes will depend on ground level implementation of the proposed reforms.

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