The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) with the aim for transformational reforms in school and higher education systems in the country. This policy will replace the 34-year-old National Policy on Education (NPE), 1986.
The policy makes impactful suggestions and advocates much required educational reforms - focus on multi-disciplinary, holistic higher education with the flexibility in the choice of subjects, and multiple entries and exit points for students. It also envisages a single regulator for higher education - the Higher Education Council of India (HECI) - including teacher education.
Multiple exit/entry and the credit bank will allow students to get educated while earning. "This will include all kinds of students in the education system who need to work to fund their education," says Partha Chatterjee, Head of Department of Economics at Shiv Nadar University. He adds that the question we need to think hard is how it will play out when people are in and out of the university instead of being continuously present for 3-4 years.
"While it gives academics the luxury to guide and mentor students for a longer period of time, it can also lead to their relationship becoming impersonal and transactional. That is a challenge we need to be aware of," says Chatterjee.
Another big step forward is the autonomy of colleges as it allows for much more innovation. "Our education system is stale in the sense that it has been dictated by the UGC. As colleges become independent, they will be free to experiment with new pedagogy, courses etc." But, this will also be a challenge for Tier 2 city colleges, cautions Chatterjee.
"The UGC will have to figure out how to support the second rung of colleges and those below. Their capacity building will have to go hand in hand - administratively, financially and academically - as they become independent," he says.
Experts believe that it is one thing to announce the policy and another to execute it. The devil lies in the details and the fine print is much awaited.
"Grand plans require grand infrastructure," says KR Shyam Sundar, Professor, HRM Area, XLRI Jamshedpur. He adds that the success of the NEP 2020 will depend on two key determinants. One is the infrastructure to support and another is the change in the orientation of the entities involved in the education system. They can be households, students, administrators, bureaucrats. Even the bureaucratisation of processes in the education sector has to be reduced.
All these plans will require investment. NEP 2020 has set the target to increase the public investment in the education sector to reach 6 per cent of GDP by the Centre and State. The Kothari Commission had recommended 6 per cent allocation way back in 1964.
"While we have increased the target we haven't moved the milestone ahead. We are still focusing on the 6 per cent milestone that was set 55 years back. One would like to see the Central government spend 6 per cent of the GDP. If we want to achieve the changes that are contemplated, it's time we revise it upwards," says Prof Sundar. According to Economic Survey 2019-2020, the public spending (by the Centre and the State) on education was 3.1% of the GDP.
Also, to meet the growing demand for quality education, the policy could have opened up the sector to private investments. Shishir Jaipuria, Chairman, Seth Anandram Jaipuria Education Society says that for India to meet Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030 to provide inclusive and equitable quality education for all, it would be unrealistic to expect such large investments coming solely from the government and purely philanthropic initiatives. "It is time they open up the education sector to private investment that will bring the cost of the education down and help in meeting the diverse needs of the country."
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