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August 07, 2019 Wednesday 10:43:30 AM IST

A Vision For a Mission

Cover Story

The last National Education policy in India was formulated in 1986 (though revised in 1992), a period in which the country was moving towards the phase of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The transition to LPG ideals in the country took place to a large extent only after 1991. The ramifications of LPG are so manifest in the field of education, where there has been a tremendous expansion of a large number of educational institutions in the private and aided sector. The development ofeducation sector in the past decade has necessitated a new education policy to cater to the needs of the country and to ensure that our educational system is compatible with the needs of the youth population in the country. Initially there was a pilot study by Former Cabinet Secretary, Late Mr. T.S.R. Subramanian, in 2016 and considering his report, a new Committee under the chairmanship of Dr K. Kasturirangan was appointed. The Dr K. Kasturirangan Committee, after several meetings and discussions, finally made shape to a new Education Policy and submitted the same in 2019. This paper examines the ramifications of some of the key recommendations in the new draft policy on higher education in India.

 The Policy

The Committee wants to rename Ministry of Human Resource Development into Ministry of Education to give more focus on education by the ministry. The new Draft Policy 2019 is a voluminous document spanning over 484 pages and has been divided into four parts such as School Education; Higher Education; Additional Key Focus Areas; and Transforming Education. Part II of the policy has exclusive focus on the issues in higher educational sector in the country.

The Draft Policy provides for certain path-breaking recommendations which will definitely bring a paradigm shift in the existing higher education system in the country. Some of the notable recommendations include restructuring of higher educational institutions into three types; Interdisciplinary curriculum for undergraduate courses; Professional development and training to teachers; Student Support Schemes; Increased financing of education, etc. Though the Draft is a well written document, there are some areas which need a second thought. Some of such areas are as follows:

a) Increase in Enrolment Ratio: The Policy identifies that when compared to other countries, the annual gross enrolment ratio in higher education is very low in India. So the Policy aims to achieve a target of 50% enrolment in higher education by 2035. On the face of it, this aim is an appreciable one. However, considering the reality in the country where many students who complete higher education are under-employed, increase in GSR will worsen the career prospects of students unlessa corresponding increase in employment opportunities is ensured.

b) Purpose of Higher Education: The Daft policy is silent on the need for higher education in the country. There are various stakeholders such as companies, organisations, institutions, government, employers, and the students in a higher education programme. However, the Policy is totally silent about whose interest is being considered and which is supreme. It is i the absence of any such direction or identification that the new policy wants to improve the enrolment ratio as well as quality of education.

c) Autonomy of Institutions: The Policy recommends that the higher education institutions would be given the authority of issuing degrees. Currently, the same is vested with Universities to which such institutions are affiliated. Being a country with large number of institutions, granting autonomy to such an extent would adversely affect the quality of higher education and there can be chances of selling degrees.

d) Blind Eye on Campus Politics: Any institution which focuses on research should be made politics-free. As far as research institutions are concerned, the working of such institutions are not like a teaching department where there is timing for working. If such an institution is actively involved in campus politics, it will adversely affect the functioning of the institution and quality of research. Unfortunately, the New Draft Policy is silent on the need for controlling campus politics in research institutions. 

e) Separation of NAAC: Currently, the accreditation of higher education is being carried out by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), an agency created by UGC. The Draft Policy envisages NAAC as a separate autonomous body so that it can function well. It is recommended that each and every higher education institutions in the country must obtain accreditation by 2030. It is to be noted here that, in a State like Kerala, there are more than two thousand higher educational institutions out of which nearly 200 institutions have undergone the process of accreditation so far. If accreditation is treated as a means for getting funds from Central Government and its agencies, the institutions under private management are unlikely to go for it. If there is no need to obtain any permission based on quality for providing higher education in the country, such institutions will continue to function, thereby adversely affecting the idea of accreditation. Though the Policy recommends that everyone must acquire accreditation by 2030, it is not clear as to how to circumvent those institutions which are purposefully evading the process of accreditation.

f) Establishment of New Higher Educational Institutions: As per the existing system a higher educational system, setting up of a higher educational institution is vested with Central and State Governments. The New Policy recommends that such an authority to establish higher educational institution should be vested withNational Higher Education Regulatory Authority. Higher educational institutions are of great significance; hence the decision to set up such institutions must come from the apex bodies like Parliament or State legislatures. Otherwise, it will end up in largescale corruption, resulting in collapse of the higher education institutions.

g) De-emphasis on English Language: The Policy aims to develop our higher educational system in a global way so that foreign students also get attracted to it.  However, the Policy says that courses could be offered in vernacular language also. This is not an appreciable trend. Though vernacular languages are important, the importance of English and the need for preparing Indian students to face the global challenges should not be undermined.

h) National Research Foundation: The introduction of National Research Foundation to ensure funding for research activities is a welcome step. However, it is to be noted that bringing multiple funding agencies into a monolithic structure would have serious repercussions on research. Under the prevailing scenario where there are multiple funding agencies, the criteria and focus areas of each agencydiffer, and accordingly, the researchers identify the areas and explore the same. Moreover, because of the presence of different agencies, there could be healthy competitions among researchers and institutions to grab the opportunity to get funding from different agencies. When all these are merged into one single umbrella, these welcome trends in the existing scenario will disappear. 

A new Education Policy is indispensable in the present scenario of changing societal needs and nature of education in India as well as in the world. The NEP 2019, if implemented, it can lay a strong foundation for the restructuring and development of higher education in the country. To conclude, ‘It’s a robust document with vision which needs to be implemented as a mission in its true spirit’.

Dr. Aneesh V Pillai

(The writer is Assistant Professor,

School of Legal Studies,

Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kochi.).

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