The proposal of NEP amidst the chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the only reliving news for students and educationalists across the country. In a country challenged with very low literacy rates, the NEP acts as a perfect fit for the missing part of a puzzle in the Indian education system that will create substantial changes to revamp the system for a better future.
The most alluring part of the former educational system of our country was at the higher education level. With its higher complexity, doubled with the presence of several regulatory factors (each with their own policies and standards), has been a challenging task to both students and teachers to navigate across them.
The 2019 report by CARE and the National Statistical Office pointed out that only one of 10 Indians complete their graduation, and even fewer finish their post-graduate and research-based courses such as MPhil and PhD. Nearly 11% of Indians hold a graduation degree. Of this, in rural areas, the number was staggeringly low at six per cent, while in urban areas, it was higher at 22%.
The new National Education Policy (NEP) aims to completely remodel the system through various regulations and reforms. The gross enrollment ratio has been at an all-time low with just about 26.3 per cent in the year 2018. The NEP promises to increase this rate up to 50 percent by the year 2035 and add almost 3.5 crore seats to higher educational institutes.
One regulatory head for all
With the inception of the higher education commission of India(HECI), university grants commission(UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) which formerly acted as regulatory heads for the higher education system in India will have to bid farewell.
Uniformity in educational standards, especially in a country like ours can be achieved only with a single regulatory body. Standardization issues have always been a major concern with multiple independent governing bodies and any improvement plans for implementation in higher education systems has taken years together. If the proposed plan is implemented, uniformity and coordination for all institutions in India will be much easier.
The proposed NEP aims at splitting the HECI into four independent verticals which include National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) for regulating institutions, General Education Council (GEC) for setting standards for institutions, Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) for funding institutions, and National Accreditation Council (NAC) for accreditation of institutions.
The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), Veterinary Council of India (VCI), National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), Council of Architecture (CoA), National Council for Vocational Education and Training (NCVET) will act as Professional Standard-Setting Bodies (PSSBs) and common entrance exams for universities and colleges will be conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA).
Student empowerment a top priority
The NEP envisions broad-based, multi-disciplinary, holistic undergraduate education with flexible curricula, creative combinations of subjects, integration of vocational education and multiple entries and exit points with appropriate certification. This brings with it greater flexibility for students, including off-ramps in various courses, allowing them to take their academic journey at their own pace.
A student who completes four years of study in a course will receive a Bachelor’s Degree with research, a Bachelor’s Degree for three years of study, an Advanced Diploma for finishing two years and a Diploma for completing a year of study. Students will also be able to avail of an Academic Bank of Credit (ABC) which will digitally store academic credits from different institutions so that these can be transferred and counted towards the final degree earned. This means they can also take a gap year or return to their studies after a few years, thus ensuring multiple entries and exit points for their ease.
Also, MPhil will be discontinued. Students who wish to pursue their PhDs can do so after their Master’s Degree.
Standardized exams with more exposure
Another highlight of the proposal is to introduce a single university entrance exam conducted by the National Testing Agency. Earlier, to seek admission across various universities, a student had to go through the burden of multiple examinations plus the varied difficulty level of question papers across many central universities. If this plan is implemented, a student can give one entrance exam and get saved from the burden of many. At the same time, the question paper’s level will be standardized, error-free as NTA conducts it, and the admission process will be streamlined.
The policy also allows universities to set up offshore campuses as well as many foreign universities can now set up institutes in India. This move is welcoming indeed. It will lead to competition, talent flow, and key practices from the outside to India, which will ultimately lead to a great deal of improvement in the country’s education standards. It will also provide real exposure to children, and probably there would come a day where students can afford global education in India, instead of spending lakhs in another country.
Greater choices for students, with a reduction in fees
One of the reasons very few students pursue higher education is due to the higher expenses and many who are also pursuing their education have been troubled by the spectre of fee hikes.
Common standards will be set for public and private HEIs. Fees will be fixed so that nothing extra can be charged beyond the set cap, which hopefully will avoid flare-ups or protests in the future.
Private Higher Education Institutions will also be encouraged to offer more scholarships to students. The National Scholarship Portal will be expanded to track the progress of students receiving scholarships.
Measures such as online courses and digital repositories, funding for research, improved student services, credit-based recognition of MOOCs, will be taken to ensure distance learning is at par with the highest quality in-class programs.
Colleges favoured by increased autonomy
As per the new policy, the system of affiliation will be phased out over 15 years and a stage-wise mechanism for granting graded autonomy to colleges, through a transparent system of graded accreditation, will be established. Over a period of time, it is envisaged that every college would develop into either an autonomous degree-granting college or a constituent college of a university.
Public and private higher education institutions will be governed by the same set of norms for regulation, accreditation and academic standards. Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERUs), at par with IITs, IIMs, to be set up as models of best multidisciplinary education of global standards in the country.
Standalone technical universities, health science universities, legal and agricultural universities will aim to become multi-disciplinary institutions.