A recent report states that India jumped five ranks to 35th position in the Worldwide Educating for the Future Index 2019. The jump has been attributed to India’s efforts with the draft National Education Policy (NEP). This should serve as a motivation for the Narendra Modi government to get the much-awaited final NEP out soon. The final NEP will be based on the draft NEP, but far fewer pages compared to the 450+ page draft. It is understandable that the NEP committee spent over three years with over one lakh meetings to frame the policy. One of the members of the committee, Prof M K Sridhar, mentioned that the NEP committee had to consider a hundred-year history of Macaulayan education system in the country, followed by 70 years of the post-independence system to provide an exhaustive policy framework for the next generation education system. The draft NEP received several critical inputs over the past 6 months or so. It is still unclear as to what extent tweaks would be made in the final version. But no policy is perfect, and it would make sense for the Centre to move ahead to finalise the policy and allow for periodic changes.
This article focuses on the NEP recommendations, specifically around Higher Education Institutions (HEI) and suggests some improvements. India’s struggle to get into the top 100 ranking amongst global universities is well known. Will India become one of the best over the next two decades? It is certainly possible if the policy is implemented in the right spirit irrespective of government in power.Teaching the Teachers: The draft policy talks about categorising HEIs into three types of institutions, type 1 being research universities, type 2 teaching universities and type 3 colleges. The concept of creating teaching universities is a welcome move. These will encourage teachers to constantly upgrade their knowledge. The report envisions 1000-2000 such universities to come up over the next two decades, reskilling thousands of teachers. In the overall scheme, it would be useful for corporate employees to be given a chance for lateral entry into HEIs as teaching staff with an appropriate bridge training programme in type 2 universities. Multi-disciplinary approach in HEI: The other highlight of the draft policy is the aspect on fostering innovation through emphasis on liberal education. Over the past decades, Indians have been blocked by the “stream” approach in higher education, where students are segregated into science, arts, etc. Instead, the approach here is to encourage students to take up specialisation in certain subjects while also supporting them on liberal education like philosophy, music, etc.
There are several examples from India’s own history where universities like Nalanda and Takshashila provided high quality multi-disciplinary structure for the holistic development of students. It is also well known that several global innovations were achieved due to innovation spurred by interdisciplinary setups in universities and corporate houses. However, this means a great amount of unlearning is needed at all levels, including government set-ups and educational institutions. The policy has suggested that all standalone professional institutions must become multidisciplinary by 2030. A tall ask, but much needed for the transformation to be effective. The suggestion on creating a National Research Foundation as a vehicle for funding and supporting innovation in all academic disciplines is a good move.Skill Development: A recent report from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that India’s working age population (15-59 years) will reach 65% by 2030. India will also enjoy the longest demographic dividend compared to any other country till 2055. India still has 35 years to make the best in the global job market. Vocational education in all institutions offering professional education will play a key role in India developing a skilled workforce. The policy talks about multiple entry and exit options for students, with relaxed age and time limits providing the students with the required flexibility.
As the policy provides institutions with autonomy on the course content within a larger framework, it is expected that three types of institutions would emerge. The first one would be innovation and multidisciplinary institutions. The second one will be aimed at research-oriented students. A third, larger set would opt for “learning by doing”. This would mean 70-80% of the course content will be practical and industry relevant. There are several examples of universities and educational institutions across the globe that have successfully implemented the “learning by doing” method. Such institutions would help produce an industry-ready workforce. Values: As India aspires to become a hub for world-class talent, the focus on knowledge, skill development, and strong language skills (Indian and foreign) is paramount. However, our education system should also ensure students are high on values and ethics.
In general, a lack of values can be attributed to a societal issue as well as a reflection on our education system. Does a highly competitive and stressful educational environment force people to adopt wrong means? Perhaps the flexibility for students as per the new policy could provide some relief.Considering our rich tradition and comprehensive life philosophy, the education system must be based on our social and economic needs and inculcate good values in students. Summing-up, the suggestions in the NEP should be implemented in the right spirit for transforming our education system to spur innovation and create high quality talent for industry and research needs. A holistic approach in higher education based on knowledge, skills and values would be required for India to become a global talent leader over the next two decades.
India’s struggle to get into the top 100 ranking amongst global universities is well known. Will India become one of the best over the next two decades? It is certainly possible ... the suggestions in the NEP should be implemented in the right spirit for transforming our education system to spur innovation and create high quality talent for industry and research needs
G Krishna Kumar
ICT professional & Columnist based in Bengaluru Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
P V Krishna Bhat
Chancellor, Central University of Orissa, Koraput