The call for reforms in the Indian education space has never calmed since the very first Education Policy which came out in 1968. Since then, several changes have taken place, both in the education policy and in the country to reflect the ever-so-dynamic circumstances.
The draft of the National Education Policy 2019 (NEP) was released in the public domain on June 1, 2019, and gives us a fresh understanding of how the policy makers look at the current educational landscape, and the path ahead for the country. The draft Policy provides for reforms at all levels of education from school to higher education. It is a welcome step that the draft acknowledges that there are still major gaps in our current education setup, and that it bases itself on the pillars of Diversity, Quality, Inclusion and Accountability. It is also a first when we have an ‘India – centred’ educational model.
However, the real challenge lies in the execution of the plans, and the timely achievement of the targets. This is more so the case with the recommendations regarding higher education, given that the government has given itself a deadline of 2020 to transform higher educational institutions.
A significant recommendation in the NEP pertains to the four functions of higher education – Regulation, Standard Setting, Accreditation and Funding; and mandates that these activities be undertaken by separate entities. As per this, the National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) shall become the sole regulator for all higher education; the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) would function as the top level accreditor and shall assess higher educational institutions every few years. There is also a National Research Foundation (NRF) which shall support, mentor and fund quality research in these institutions. It is also recommended that a board of governors be formed for these bodies, who shall then formulate Institutional Development Plans.
As per the draft, this entire structure shall be led by a super-unit in-charge of policy making for the country – the Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA), which shall be headed by the Prime Minister. This has caused concerns about increased bureaucratisation in the educational institutions; and also on the autonomy of these bodies.
There is still room for improvement in the draft – especially to address the concerns of autonomy. It would be prudent to incorporate more voices from academia, or even increase the direct participation of the students and academicians from the institutions themselves.
Further, it has to be ensured that the proposed NHERA, NRF etc. do not recapitulate the practices and perceptions of the current regulatory authorities in Higher Education.
Another unaddressed issue relates to the employability and skill development in the graduates. Much has been said about the skill-gap where despite many degrees, graduates are still lacking in the skill-sets required by the industry. There is an urgent and important need to revise the course content, and teaching methodologies to make higher education more employment-oriented. This would also necessitate a mechanism to set common standards and rigour across institutions offering similar degrees. For this, both private and government run institutions must have their roles and orientations set clearly in the NEP as their output objectives are same; variations will be only on account of their sectoral differences. Thus, the driving force and the guiding principles of this NEP must be driven by output expected or delivered. This output ought to be clearly stated.
The current NEP proposal must be made absolutely transparent, objective and efficient in its intent and actions. While pertinent issues like consolidation of regulatory bodies are welcome, ‘wish list’ items like the establishment of new institutions, restructuring old ones, use of technology, and boosting vocational education need clearer roadmap.