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Higher ed lost in NEP-SEP maze

Higher ed lost in NEP-SEP maze

A crisis is brewing in the education sector amid policy chaos raising concerns about the future of learning and learners

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Last Updated : 16 May 2024, 00:22 IST
Last Updated : 16 May 2024, 00:22 IST
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The higher education sector in India is passing through turbulent times and needs visionaries to rescue it. India has awaited a policy with curative measures for over three decades to address the prevailing ills in the ecosystem of higher education (HE). The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is the third in a series of NEP documents (1968 and 1986/92) aimed at steering the country into the 21st century. Following its release, numerous seminars and workshops were organised across the country to sensitise stakeholders about the recommendations of the NEP 2020, with the aim of implementing and translating its objectives. 

In the absence of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) and its four verticals—namely, the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), National Accreditation Council (NAC), Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), and General Education Council (GEC)—envisaged by NEP 2020, there has been a lack of proper national-level guidance to take NEP forward.

States and higher education institutions (HEIs) claiming to have implemented the NEP 2020 have done so in fragments, lacking a holistic approach. Many states have openly declared their intention not to implement NEP, while those who have hastily implemented it without adequate preparation in terms of academic programmes, infrastructure, faculty, etc., have decided to scrap it in favour of their own ‘State Education Policy’ (SEP). In such circumstances, the major challenge lies in addressing student and faculty mobility, as well as credit transfers envisioned under the Academic Bank of Credits within NEP 2020.

Over the past three years, the central and a few state-funded HEIs have claimed to have implemented the provisions of NEP 2020. Even among these HEIs, the first batch of four-year degree programmes has yet to graduate. Additionally, it is pertinent to gather feedback from stakeholders on the ‘Entry,’  ‘Exit,’ and ‘Re-entry’ provisions of NEP.

A robust education policy is imperative to address the concerns of state HEIs, which are the backbone of the Indian higher education system. As of now, there are 405 state public universities and 358 state private universities, along with over 40,000 colleges. Due to the superannuation of senior faculty, many of these HEIs are being managed by temporary or contract teachers, leading to a form of human exploitation as no service benefits accrue to them. Additionally, the universities suffer from a lack of research grants and infrastructure. In such an ecosystem, HEIs cannot offer inter-, multi-, and trans-disciplinary courses with extensive choices to students, as envisaged by NEP 2020. 

Furthermore, the recommendation of NEP to categorise the existing HEIs into (i) research, (ii) research and teaching, and (iii) teaching institutions without a set of dynamic and flexible guidelines for categorization is flawed, as this will directly impact the strategy to be followed by the National Research Foundation to extend financial assistance for research. I fear that many state universities and colleges with various deficiencies may not even be eligible to apply for grants. On the other hand, many university-level institutions, such as Institutions of National Importance (IISc, IITs, NCBS, TIFR, NIMHANS, etc.), have self-sustaining mechanisms to provide quality education and research with or without NEP, potentially securing maximum NRF grants.

Among the important inputs of NEP is restructuring the administrative machinery of HEIs. Over the past three years, many state universities and centrally funded institutions have been led by in-charge (acting) directors who are unable to provide effective leadership. Additionally, multiple regulatory authorities, such as the UGC, NCTE, and AICTE, which were supposed to undertake different responsibilities relating to standard setting, continue to exist. They issue guidelines almost on a weekly basis on important issues relating to higher education, such as the guidelines issued by the UGC on Curriculum and Credit Framework for UG and PG programmes (December 2022), the National Credit Framework (April 2023), the National Higher Education Qualification Framework (May 2023), Guidelines for Innovative Pedagogical Approaches and Evaluation Reforms, and Notification on the Specification of Degrees and Suggested New Degree Nomenclature(s) (June 2023). It is unclear how many HEIs have attempted to incorporate them into their statutes. The sad reality is that there is no coordination between state higher education bodies and those established by the central government. 

Finally, since it is the admission season for HEIs, it is imperative to ensure that students and parents get clarity about the nature and duration of undergraduate and post-graduate programmes to enable them to make informed decisions.

(The writer is a former vice chancellor of Bangalore University and former
director of NAAC)

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