Draft NEP: a few tweaks to add value

Draft NEP: a few tweaks to add value

The Kasturirangan Committee deserves credit for delivering a nationally relevant and globally sensitive New Education Policy. The draft policy embeds the primary, secondary and higher levels of education in a transformative matrix. Yet, the complexity and profound nature of the challenges provide scope for some value additions in it.

A new National Education Commission (NEC) is envisaged to be headed by the prime minister, providing an exclusive planning authority for education.

A major objective of NEP is to propel the economy to $10 trillion GDP by 2050, using the higher education ecosystem as a hub for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To avoid undue pressures on dwindling natural resources, the draft NEP proposes to harness knowledge-based activities to mobilize resources. But given the infancy of the Indian knowledge economy and the sluggishness of higher education institutions (HEI) due to academic/bureaucratic bottlenecks, it appears a safe bet to vigorously continue to scientifically plan and protect our natural resources from overexploitation. For this purpose, NEP may enlarge the limited scope accorded to sustainable development (SD, principle 4-education for all) and instead adopt SD (all 17 principles, including climate change) as an integral part of an overarching national theme.

The proposed National Research Foundation could work in tandem to shift the currently over-polarized STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-based knowledge system to a holistic regime, giving due weight to hitherto ignored social sciences and biology. It is noteworthy that the US and China, with whom we aspire to compete, have integrated SD in their education system and offer degree/doctoral courses in SD in their premier HEIs.

The NEP may consider establishing strategically located, state-level accelerators (SLAs) for language empowerment, and crosscutting issues such as Indian culture and philosophy,  social inclusion and skill certification would help the NEP to reach out to the socially disadvantaged regions/sections, particularly regions identified under Special Status under the Constitution. The institution of special scholarships to top-scoring students from these regions, with a provision for admission in an institution of their choice across the country, would add a novel dimension to the student support programmes.

Programmes for the differently-abled students and transgenders envisaged for primary and secondary levels are noteworthy; they need to be extended to tertiary education as well. The recent central legislation — Rights of Persons with Disability Act/Rules (2016/17) — provides an excellent framework.  

Categorising HEIs into Type-1 (Research University), Type-2 (Teaching University) and Type-3 (College), each with well-defined features, aims to end the ambiguity in the present system. It is expected that by 2032, there would be no affiliating/affiliated universities/colleges; they need to be morphed into autonomous degree-granting HEIs. How the Centre/states support the existing affiliating universities to overcome the resources crunch during the transformative period would be fundamental to the success of this bold move. Otherwise, a high attrition rate of non/under-performing HEIs is to be expected. Importantly, states need to identify a new academic authority to sanction new Type-C HEIs and monitor them periodically.

Both 3-year and 4-year undergraduate degree courses are permitted to coexist in HEIs. The latter, awarded as Bachelor of Liberal Arts (BLA), focuses on specialisation and research. High importance is given to removing the existing silos/barriers among different knowledge streams, with corresponding policy initiatives put in place to nudge HEIs toward a multidisciplinary format.

Thus, HEIs will offer credit-based undergraduate degree courses under a ‘Liberal Education’ mode with students free to choose from a wide range of subjects hitherto fragmented under the faculties of sciences, social sciences, performing arts, agriculture, horticulture, education, engineering, etc. A general format for such a ‘Liberal Education’ already exists under the Choice-Based Credit System (CBCS) introduced in 2014-15. Since the intent and content of both CBCS and Liberal Education narratives originate from the axiomatic four pillars of education: i) Learning to know, ii) Learning to do, iii) Learning to live together and iv) Learning to be — developing one’s personality (International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, UNESCO, 1996), the draft NEP has rightly decided to strengthen the existing CBCS system.

The NEP encourages competent HEIs to participate in internationalization of education, to attract students from abroad with attractive degree/diploma courses. Additionally, states may be funded to establish International Student Centers as special purpose HEIs (in smart cities) to showcase their academic strengths and accomplishments.

Generation of new knowledge is a globally cherished objective of HEIs. In the era of globalization, such new knowledge with potential for marketable technologies needs to be insulated from global copyright/IPR regimes to derive full benefits to the country. The NEP needs to promote a robust culture of in-house publication of research journals of global standards to address the emergent issues. Similar concerns are also associated with high-quality text books, particularly in the HEIs of some states opting for local language as the medium of instruction even for PG degrees.

Academicians are looking forward to a consensus between the states and the Centre, rather than conflicts, to harvest rich dividends from the NEP.

(The writer is former Registrar, Bangalore University)

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