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Education In India - A Constitutional Right

Right to education is a fundamental right in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. The education sector falls under the concurrent list and is therefore governed and regulated by both central and state governments. Since the right to education flows directly from the Constitution of India it is imperative that the rules and regulations conferred by the regulatory bodies and authorities are complied with, in all aspects.

The education system in India has been evolving since decades. The National Education Policy was first introduced in the year 1968 and thereafter revised in 1992. The NEP 2020 (“Policy”) was introduced to bring about significant structural reforms in the education sector of India. The overarching objective of the Policy is to have a more holistic education and learning environment for the students, better training for teachers, and is a move towards exclusively multidisciplinary institutions in the long run.

In addition to aspirational academic goals, the Policy also provides for socio-economic reforms in the system to make higher education universally accessible by the population. Some changes introduced by the Policy are - multiple exit options, regulating scholarship schemes, multilingual modes of instruction and equitable and inclusive education for all.

Simplifying The Regulatory Structure

It is not surprising for India to have a highly fragmented educational landscape, owing to rapid evolution and development in all sectors. With the core ideal of increased autonomy for all stakeholders, the Policy rationalizes regulatory restructuring for higher education in this context. To correct the over-regulation of higher educational institutions, the Policy aims for a total reconstruction of the regulatory space and sets out to establish four bodies with four distinct functions, all under the umbrella of the Higher Education Commission of India (“HECI”).

  1. National Higher Education Regulatory Council (“NHERC”) This Council will act as a common regulator for higher education, excluding legal and medical education. The Policy suggests repealing various Acts in order to enable a centralized regulation.
  2. National Accreditation Council (“NAC”) This Council will act as a ‘meta-accrediting body’, and the credits of institutions will be based on basic norms, public disclosures, outcomes, governance, etc. All Higher Education Institutions (“HEIs”) shall aim to receive the highest level of accreditation in the next 15 years.
  3. Higher Education Grants Council (“HEGC”) This Council is tasked with carrying out funding and financing of higher education with the maximum level of transparency, as well as the granting scholarships and developmental funds to expand quality program offerings.
  4. General Education Council (“GEC”) This body is responsible for framing expected learning outcomes for higher education programs and setting up the National Higher Education Quality Framework in order to ease the integration of vocational education into higher education.

Long Term Plans Under The Policy

The Policy recognizes the fragmentation of higher education systems, rigid separation of disciplines, limited accessibility, inefficient regulatory mechanisms, and suboptimal standards of undergraduate education as some of the major problems with higher education in India. The Policy has therefore thoughtfully suggested measures to remedy these insufficiencies in the long term as highlighted below:

  1. Institutional Restructuring and Consolidation The Policy envisions a new perception of what a HEI should consist of. It creates three subcategories of institutions: (i) Research Intensive Universities, (ii) Teaching Intensive Universities, and (iii) Autonomous Accredited Colleges.With the goal of all HEIs to transform into multidisciplinary institutions by 2040 and increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education to 50% by 2035 including vocational education, the Policy aims to enlarge accessibility in both public and private education. It also gives institutions the option to create and administer Open Distance Learning in order to further their goal of accessibility.The long-term goal of the Policy is to phase out single stream colleges and transform them into multidisciplinary teaching and research institutions, after which the HEIs shall move towards full autonomy upon gaining suitable accreditations. Furthermore, affiliated colleges are aimed to be phased out in the next fifteen years, to pave way for what the Policy deems to be a more autonomous and innovative education system.
  2. Multidisciplinary Education The Policy views the current learning outcomes in HEIs as being limited and narrow in their scope. To make the learning experience more holistic and developmental, it suggests flexible course structures to be adapted in higher education. Perhaps the most significant change suggested is multiple entry and exit points in the curriculum. It is suggested that the undergraduate degree will be for three or four years, with numerous exit options - a certificate granted after completion of one year in vocational/professional areas of study, a diploma after two years, and a Bachelor’s degree after three years. The four-year bachelor’s degree is the most significant change suggested by the NEP, as it provides students the opportunity to pick majors and minors, and it may lead to a ‘Degree with Research’, if a rigorous research is taken up by the candidate.The abovementioned changes also seep into the flexibility offered in Master’s programs, with varying time durations and structures. Furthermore, the Policy also changes the requirements for undertaking Ph.D., stipulating that it can be pursued either with a Master’s degree, or a four-year bachelor degree with research, while simultaneously discontinuing the M.Phil. program.The Policy also aims to set up Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities, at par with IITs and IIMs, in order to attain higher standards for quality education in time. It also suggests HEIs to channelize resources into setting up research-oriented start-up incubation centers, especially in the area of infectious diseases, virology, vaccinology, etc. in light of the current pandemic and other prevalent epidemics.
  3. Faculty Reforms The Policy recognizes the fact that the efficiency and quality of higher education heavily relies on the competency and motivation of the faculty. In this regard, it has been suggested to bring about reforms in recruitment and progression for faculty by introducing transparent procedures and criteria for recruitment. Equipping all HEIs with basic infrastructure facilities, reducing teaching duties so as to not make them burdensome, reducing student-teacher ratios, and reducing transfer of faculties across institutions are basic measures to increase the investment of the faculty in their duties. Autonomy will be granted to them at a larger extent in terms of creating their own curriculum within an approved framework, and incentives including awards, promotions, recognitions, etc. will be granted to garner higher efficiency.To further increase the quality of education, the Policy aims to have multidisciplinary and integrated teacher education programs in place by 2030. In furtherance of this, all HEIs will have education departments which will run B.Ed. programs in multiple fields, and by 2030, a four-year integrated B.Ed. program is proposed to become the minimal qualification for school teachers.The standardization of teacher education, and the reorientation of Ph.D. programs across the country to include credit-based courses on teaching are also suggested measures to improve the competency of faculty in the higher education system.
  4. Vocational Education The Policy aims to dismantle the social stigma attached to vocational education by integrating it in middle, secondary, and higher education. In order to raise the importance of labour and various skills acquired during vocational training, it aims for at least 50% of students to have exposure to vocational education by 2025.
  5. Accessibility and Inclusion in Education Throughout the Policy, it is evident that one of the main long-term reforms in higher education should be the cohesive development of students. Updating curricula to make them more interesting and relevant by giving autonomy to faculty on creating course outlines, and changing the Choice Based Credit System to reward innovation and independent thinking is outlined as the foremost academic goal. Setting up high quality support centers including career and psychological counseling for students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, granting financial assistance on merit to disadvantaged students as well as setting up scholarship portals to make access easier are also some of the long-term reforms suggested to further this goal.
  6. National Research Foundation The Policy points out the importance of research in higher education, and the lack thereof in the current Indian scenario. In this regard, it suggests the inclusion of research and internships in undergraduate curricula, foster a stimulating environment for research in HEIs, and tweak regulatory mechanisms to make research easier. To achieve these goals, it aims to set up a National Research Foundation (“NRF”) which will foster a research culture and provide assistance in funding. Other funding agencies will continue with their activities, but the NRF will coordinate with them and ensure that duplicity of efforts is eliminated.

Online And Digital Education

The Policy is cognizant of situations which various industries worldwide have been forced into due to the on-going pandemic. The education sector is no different, and the ubiquity of the pandemic necessitates new and innovative methods of delivering education while preserving its quality. While leveraging technology as a method to ensure seamless delivery is optimal, it cannot be done without heeding to its potential risk and dangers like lack of IT training, infrastructure, and accessibility. In order to address these limitations, the Policy suggests various approaches.

  1. Pilot studies for online education: Various institutional agencies will be identified for conducting pilot studies on various aspects such as making the switch to online education while assessing the downsides, as well as related areas such as addiction to technology, format of educational content, etc.
  2. Digital Infrastructure: The Policy recognizes the need to invest in the digital infrastructure of the country, in order to make public education more accessible, as well as keep updating the current infrastructure to keep up with the exponential advancement in technology today.
  3. Online teaching platforms and tools: existing platforms such as SWAYAM and DIKSHA will be updated in order to equip teachers with a more user-friendly interface in order to smoothly conduct online lectures.
  4. Content creation, digital repository, and dissemination: It is suggested a digital repository of all coursework, including assignments, quizzes, simulations, AR and VR, etc. will be developed. Furthermore, a back-up mechanism will also be provided to students in order to save and access their e-content at any time.
  5. Addressing the digital divide: The Policy acknowledges the problem of accessibility of technology in various locations of the country and suggests that the existing media in those locations be used extensively for educational programs to be broadcasted in different languages.
  6. Virtual Labs: Existing e-learning platforms are sought to be modified in order to make them more suited for conducting science practical sessions in order to mobilize a hands-on learning experience.
  7. Training and incentives for teachers: Teachers must be required to go through training in order to make the shift from physical to online education seamless and without significant hurdles. Larger focus will be placed on methods of active student engagement.
  8. Online assessment and examinations: Organizations such as the NAC, School Boards, NTA, etc. are proposed to design frameworks for standardized assessment, assessment analytics, and pilot studies will place focus on equipping new technologies in the 21st century.
  9. Blended modes of learning: The Policy recognizes the need of digital education in current times but proposes a mixed model of instruction eventually in accordance with the demands of individual subjects.
  10. Laying down standards: It is suggested that appropriate bodies set down standards for the minimum level of technology, content, and pedagogy for online education, which will in turn assist various Boards and schools to formulate guidelines in this regard.

Furthermore, the Policy states that a dedicated unit shall be created by the Ministry of Education in order to govern the e-learning needs of all stakeholders involved. This unit will consist of experts from various related fields, such as education, administration, technology, e-governance, digital pedagogy and assessment, etc.

Internationalisation

The Policy aims to promote India as a global study destination, and in furtherance of this objective it proposes a legislative framework to facilitate the entry of the top 100 universities in the world to operate in India with special regulatory and content norms. It also aims to promote student exchanges through special efforts and make the transfer of credits seamless across HEIs in order to increase flexibility and options for candidates. There is mention of the goal of ‘internationalization at home’, which is sought to be achieved by the introduction of courses such as Indology, AYUSH medicine systems, yoga, juxtaposed with internationally relevant courses in sciences, social-sciences, and economics, and this multi-faceted approach is predicted to attract international students in larger numbers than before. Providing education at affordable costs, setting up International Students’ Offices in all HEIs, facilitating research and teaching collaborations, exchanges with esteemed foreign universities - are methods by which the Policy seeks to attain this goal.

Conclusion

The new National Education Policy is idealistic and ambitious in its goals. Much of its success, however, can only be judged by its execution in the long run. The Policy seemingly seeks to liberalize the higher education system, but it still by-and-large remains centralized. When it comes to higher education, the Policy suggests a sweeping approach in every regard: the shift to monolithic multidisciplinary institutions, reliance on technology as a persisting method of instruction, shifting from a colonial archetype of course-structuring to the more flexible westernized model, and opening up to large-scale collaborations with foreign institutions. Whether these long-term goals are feasible, and are smoothly implemented, will only be seen in the years to come.