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Nation Current Affairs 05 Jul 2019 The future in the ma ...

The future in the making

Published Jul 5, 2019, 1:47 am IST
Updated Jul 5, 2019, 1:47 am IST
A National Research Foundation will be established to dictate` who will channelise all the research funding for academic research in India.
Considering that India adds about 20 million people every year to our population, a GER of 50 per cent  means we should create educational opportunity for 10 million students per year.
 Considering that India adds about 20 million people every year to our population, a GER of 50 per cent means we should create educational opportunity for 10 million students per year.

The second of the two-part essay pats the New Education Policy for making many a suggestion that will unshackle the higher education sector. It also points out some gray areas in the policy and lists a series of measures that will make India a leader in the knowledge industry.

Higher Education: The changes proposed and the new ambitions for higher (tertiary) education sector are even more revolutionary than that of the school education sector. One of the best diagnostic statements in the policy is the following;


"Decisions that should be in the purview of universities, e.g., starting a programme in distance education, opening a new department/school, collaborations with a foreign university - require permission from the University Grants Commission. Not only does this undermine autonomy, it also creates an environment of dependency and centralised decision-making that does not account for contextualized local factors.

This is fatal to academic growth".

There are major proposals in the NEP for the higher education sector. The breathtaking ones are given below:

Increase the Gross Enrollment Ratio: (number of students enrolled in a given level of education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the official school-age population corresponding to the same level of education. For the tertiary level, the population used is the 5-year age group starting from the official secondary school graduation age) to 50 per cent 2035 from the currently 25 per cent. Considering that India adds about 20 million people every year to our population, a GER of 50 per cent  means we should create educational opportunity for 10 million students per year.

In order to achieve this, we need to increase the number of degree-granting institutions to 10,000 from current number of 800 by 2032. This will be the largest growth of degree-granting higher education institutions in human history.

Higher education institutions will be grouped into three categories. Type I - research universities, Type II - teaching universities and Type III - autonomous colleges which have the freedom to award degrees.

India currently has about 40,000 affiliated colleges. They have three options. First, they can try to become autonomous colleges with degree-granting authority; second, they can integrate themselves to a teaching university or third, shut down and use the infrastructure for any other purpose. This transition must be achieved by 2032.

All institutions should become multi-disciplinary following a liberal arts approach.  The practice of standalone medical colleges, engineering colleges, law colleges, and agricultural universities etc., to cease.

All degrees will preferably become four-year degree courses but there will be multiple exit options with diploma or certificate from university. Higher educational institutions (HEIs) will be encouraged to be massive in size, growing to tens of thousands of students from multiple disciplines.

All HEIs will have a similar governance structure with a board of governors as the apex body and a director/vice-chancellor as chief executive. They will have academic, financial and administrative autonomy.

Both public and private HEIs will have same academic structure. Private HEIs can have their own fee structure, but 50 per cent students attending the institution should have access to a scholarship with 20 per cent having 100 per cent scholarship.

In order to achieve these objectives, the following major changes in governance will be brought about:

A National Higher Education Regulatory Authority will be the sole regulator of higher education in India. Involvement of UGC, AICTE, MCI, BCI, etc., in regulation of universities, engineering colleges, medical colleges and law colleges will cease to exist.

A National Research Foundation will be established to dictate` who will channelise all the research funding for academic research in India.

The UGC will be redesignated as the Higher Education Grants Commission whose mandate will be to administer grants to higher education (such as infrastructure, teachers training, etc.)

Technology in education:  The NEP identifies, correctly, that achieving a quantum leap in higher education cannot be achieved without support of technology. A National Education Technology Forum is to be created to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas on the use of technology to improve learning, assessment, planning and administration.

Adult Education: The focus of adult education, as per the NEP, is basically to give a chance to those who did not have an opportunity to seek education in their early stages. In India, where one quarter of the people are illiterate, meaning more than 250 million people, that need still exist.

However, the world of work is also changing dramatically and world over this brings increased focus on adult education. Forty-nine percent of the existing job types are expected to vanish by 2030. This means a large number of people who are trained and skilled in those domains will need to be re-skilled and upskilled. This will then be an ongoing process. The global thinking is that in the new world of work people should spend less time in the university in the beginning but they may have to go back there again and again. This is the type of adult education India needs to prepare.

There are few areas where I feel the NEP has not put enough emphasis or is not ambitious enough.

Credit transfer: While the possibility to move credits to foreign universities is indicated, there is no indication of how it can be done nationally. Currently, courses taken in one university in one state (or city) is not transferable to another university in the same state (or even city). This is at a time when the European Credit Transfer System allows anybody in any University affiliated to the ECTS, regardless of which country they are in, to move around with their credits. India should, as a matter of urgency, accept all courses by every degree-granting institution in India.

Differently-abled students: There is substantial mention of Children With Special Needs (CWSN) in the school section of the NEP. However, when it comes to the HEIs, this matter is not discussed. Differently abled students have achieved excellence in every domain of education and have proven that they are able to get and do almost every profession. So constraining the nation's plans for CWSN to be at school level with some vocational training, would be regressive.

Be bold and ambitious: One area where I find the NEP is lacking is in projecting our ambition. India will be the third largest economy during the course of time this policy hopes to have it implemented. India is an aspirant for a seat on the UN Security Council and a major player in the international domain in technology and politics. Our National Educational Policy, therefore, should be ambitious and symbolic. As we try to increase the number of our universities from 800 to 2000 in two decades, which means we will create more universities in the next 20 years than last two hundred years put together, we can afford to be bold and leverage off on our scale. I will suggest the following ambitious targets for India.

One million 'Sankara' scholarships: Adi Sankara was an Indian scholar who left his home in Kerala and went across India learning subjects to attain supreme knowledge in Kashmir. It should be our target that the number of students who study outside their states is maximised which will increase diversity in classrooms and assist with national integration. To this end, we should announce one million 'Sankara' scholarships per year for students to study outside their home states. The students going to another state can be effectively used as "volunteer teachers" of their language in the state where the travel to fulfil the increased number of language teachers needed. Combined with free credit transfers across all universities in India, students may only need to spend one year out of 4-year degree course outside their state.

One lakh 'Nalanda Scholarships to study in India. India used to be a destination for higher studies for students as far as away from Egypt and Turkey thousands of years ago. We should once again capture the imagination of students from all other parts of the world. We should offer 100,000 Nalanda scholarships to those who wish to come and study in India. We could club this with them being voluntary teachers of their language in Indian schools and colleges. This will fulfil the need for language teaches in thousands of schools giving access to millions of young Indians.

Ten thousand 'Haldane fellowships'. JBS Haldane was a distinguished British scientist who came to India and taught in Indian Statistical Institute among other places. India would greatly benefit from  international faculty coming to India and spending time in our universities. We should aspire to have 10,000 such positions every year.

One thousand university collaborations: Academic excellence cannot be achieved in isolation. When India will have 2000 universities and 10,000 degree-granting institutions, we should aspire to have 1,000 collaborations between Indian institutions and those abroad. Currently,there hurdles for our universities to enter into partnerships and instead we should be proactive to support our institutions to reach out.

One hundred nations on our campuses: In order to maximize diversity of our campuses, we should aspire to have students and faculty from at least 100 countries on our campuses across the country. This will save us from being too narrowly focused on our collaboration to US, UK, Australia and a few other known countries and do not appreciate the progress many other countries, including in Africa, have made  in higher education.

Ten Nobel laureates on our campuses: Every year we should hope to get at least 10 Nobel laureates into India for at least one week tours of our academic campuses. Their lectures should be beamed to millions of our students. The opportunity to meet and hear the brightest minds would inspire students in India to do better whatever they are doing.

One institute in Top 100. It demonstrates a very sad state that with 800 universities we do not have even one university in the top 100 in any of the global ranking. We should target to have one university in the top 100 within next 10 years. In order to facilitate this, we need to establish our own ranking system calibrated to the global ranking and the top 10 of our institutions should be supported to strive for spot in the Global Top 100.

Zero: Number of students who are not able to pursue education because of economic circumstances

Where is the money? One thing the NEP is very weak on is numbers and that extends to creating an estimate of what it will take to achieve the NEP recommendations. The NEP recommends that India spends 20 per cent of its revenue expenditure on education compared to 10 percent now (However, when I reviewed the figures the actual expenditure of India on education is less than 3 per cent of the overall expenditure). In moving NEP forward one should look more closely at the funds needed and decide where it can come from. Not all money needs to come from the government, but one should create incentives for the private sector to invest in education. India has such a longstanding culture of investing in education that I don't think finding money will be our primary challenge.

(The author is operations manager and chief of Disaster Risk Reduction at UN Environment Programme based in Geneva. The views expressed are those of the author and not that of the UN.)