Creating a single regulator—the Higher Education Commission of India—with four pillars that look into standards, regulations, accreditation and funding is a sound move.
By Chocko Valliappa
It’s refreshing to see India get future-ready with a long-needed change in education policy. The National Education Policy (NEP) is welcome on many counts. On the intent side, it gets high scores. Here are the hits and misses.
Capacity: The vision to double the gross enrolment ratio (GER) to 50% by 2035 is a step in the right direction. Increasing the education budget to 6% of GDP has been a dream since 1948. However, will it balance out the lopsided allocation in higher education remains unanswered? The bulk of spend in higher education goes to a few institutions—IITs and central universities and a few research centres.
Regulations: Creating a single regulator—the Higher Education Commission of India—with four pillars that look into standards, regulations, accreditation and funding is a sound move. Even 30 years after liberalisation, Indian education suffers from overregulation, with institutions having to deal with a maze of approvals, inspections, accreditations, from bodies like UGC, AICTE, NAAC, NBA, state regulations. The education ministry needs to build a consensus with states to make it simple to run education during implementation.
Flexibility: Letting students choose a combination of subjects and reducing the focus on mathematics and science will lead to development of well-rounded individuals. New focus areas include critical thinking and problem solving along with soft skills. Let’s not forget that Steve Jobs could conceive and develop fonts thanks to a course in calligraphy he took in college.
Learn and earn: Higher education has become bankable with the introduction of an academic bank of credits. This is a boon for the geek economy where individuals need specific skills for short bursts of time. A student can come to college, enrol for python programming for a semester or two. The credits earned can be banked while the student gathers work experience for a year or two before returning to study, say, data science. This will provide opportunities for ‘just in time’ skilling and facilitate ‘lifelong learning’. The NEP focus on vocational education from class VI is welcome.
Industry internship: There is a large gap between learning and doing. Robust industry internship along the lines of the hospital-medical system where a student has to do a residency needs to be replicated in other sectors. Hope the NEP can inculcate formal industry induction cum internship.
Research: It’s great to have a singular focus on research. But to expect each student to immerse a whole year on research without adequate government support is tough. The final year of a four-year programme will now focus entirely on research. Instead, there could have been an alternative option to institutionalise industry internship. Government spend on research has been a measly 0.6% compared to 5% by Israel or 2.2% in China. Setting up of the National Research Fund is a good move and as a nation we need to pump in more funds into research.
Transparency: One would have expected that a right-leaning government would have allowed ‘for profit institutions’ to play a role as well. It is common to have ‘for profit colleges’ in the US, which have a different approach towards learning. This makes the system both transparent and clean. Top notch private Indian colleges can compete with IITs. The government invests Rs 6 lakh per engineering student per year in public institutions. But the Justice Krishna committee had set the fee limit at Rs 1.5 lakh for private colleges. One hopes there is a level-playing field between government, private and foreign universities by subjecting them to same rules and regulations.
Fee regulation: This is welcome, if fees of all education institutions are regulated and made uniform. India regulates fees for higher education institutions while there is no cap on fees for schools. There are schools in Bengaluru that charge Rs 12 lakh annually, whereas a college cannot charge even one-fourth of that. Colleges in Tamil Nadu suffer the most as the fee in engineering colleges is set at an abysmally low level.
Implementation: In its implementation states and the Centre must work together. We have heard discordant voices from many states. Therein is the big challenge.
The NEP is progressive and welcome, but the devil is in the implementation—when and how.
The author is vice-chairman of Salem-based Sona Group of Institutions and founder of HireMee, an edtech start-up