India’s NEP must be implemented in letter and spirit

The National Education Policy is like a breath of fresh air; now universities need to make the changes happen to reap the rewards, says Pankaj Mittal

May 30, 2022
Students graduate at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) in New Delhi, India
Source: Getty

India has, for a long time, been contemplating a transformation in its education system, owing to global developments as well as the need for improved access, equity and quality. Its system is the second largest in the world, with more than 1,050 universities, 47,000 colleges and 38 million students.

The quality of higher education is a perennial problem, impacting our ability to build world-class higher education institutions and, in turn, placing immense pressure on universities. Significant issues relating to access, equity and excellence affect internationalisation, global rankings, accreditation, assessment and the benchmarking of institutions. Because it is a large system, some of the specific challenges relating to having a large body of students from diverse backgrounds include devising effective teaching strategies and training teachers to use technology in the classroom, the language of instruction to use, keeping in mind the need to cater to local students, and the funding of higher education.

The National Education Policy (NEP) of India, released in 2020, is like a breath of fresh air. It endeavours to address the issue of providing quality education to students by improving access, flexibility, autonomy, the use of technology, innovation and research. Its objective is to make India a knowledge superpower by equipping its students with the necessary skills, attitude and knowledge.

The policy emphasises the creation of vibrant multidisciplinary environments for higher education institutions, with a focus on multiple entry and exit points and assessment methodologies that can effectively test students on critical thinking, communications, problem-solving, creativity, cultural literacy, open outlook, teamwork, ethical reasoning and social responsibility.

Innovative curriculum design, with a shift from informative curricula to transformative curricula, is recommended. Suggestions include incorporating hands-on experience, community engagement, teaching outside the classroom, entrepreneurship and “learning while earning” components. The policy calls for curricula that cater to local requirements while fulfilling global aspirations and future needs.

The establishment of the Academic Bank of Credits, a digital storehouse that details the credits earned by individual students throughout their higher education to enable credit exchange between institutions, is the most innovative concept of the policy. It will facilitate national and international student mobility, while providing total flexibility to the students. 

At present, about 1 million students go abroad every year from India to study in foreign higher education institutions, while only about 50,000 foreign students come to Indian universities. The NEP has recommended creating foreign campuses in India and allowing Indian higher education institutions to go abroad, and has approved joint and dual degrees with the facility of international credit transfers.

A National Research Foundation (NRF) is being established with the aim of creating a research ecosystem to promote quality research. Meanwhile, the use of technology in teaching and learning has been given special focus, especially post-Covid. 

For the better governance of higher education, there is a proposal to establish a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) as the main regulator, which will effectively merge the existing regulators, including the University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education and the National Council for Teacher Education. The HECI will have four independent agencies, namely the National Higher Education Regulatory Council, Higher Education Grants Council, National Accreditation Council and General Education Council. These will have responsibility for regulation, funding, accreditation and academics respectively. The new regulatory system will work on the principle of a “light but tight” governance mechanism.

So far, India’s policy goals have been primarily focused on access, expansion and specialisation, with very little attention on skill and holistic development. The NEP breaks from the past by including the quality of higher education, skill development, multiple entry and exit points, and multidisciplinarity as the critical levers for improving student learning outcomes. It not only provides tangible and effective solutions for most of the problems ailing higher education in the country but also lays a clear path for future needs. It emphasises education as being fundamental to human development and the high-quality learning opportunities that the nation must provide for its young minds to prepare them for the future.

While a lot is planned for higher education, the implementation of the NEP is taking place gradually. Higher education institutions need to implement the policy in letter and spirit to reap its dividends.

Pankaj Mittal is secretary general of the Association of Indian Universities. She will be speaking at the THE Asia Universities Summit, in partnership with Fujita Health University, from 31 May to 2 June. Register to attend.

View the THE Asia University Rankings 2022 results


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